Eero Aarne Pekka Tarasti


Honorary Degree (1997)
Doctor of Humane Letters
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Myles Neil Brand


Finnish musicologist and semiotician Eero Aarne Pekka Tarasti has been prodigiously productive as a scholar, teacher, and persuasive promoter of musical semiotics, a field in which his academic strengths converge. Widely considered one of the preeminent figures in this relatively new area of intellectual inquiry, Tarasti has made a significant impact on the scholarly community worldwide.

His publications—approximately 300 books and articles about semiotics, aesthetics, and music theory and analysis—are available in English, Finnish, French, and German. He has written a number of foundational semiotic texts, such as the path-breaking book, A THEORY OF MUSICAL SEMIOTICS (1994), written in part when Tarasti was a fellow at the Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study and published by the Indiana University Press. He has also written a definitive study of the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

In addition to his scholarly publications, Tarasti is the author of two novels. The first of these, THE SECRET OF PROFESSOR AMFORTAS, is currently being translated for publication in English. This multilayered work of fiction is based largely on Tarasti's personal experiences during the many visits he has made to the IU Bloomington campus.

Born in Helsinki in 1948, Tarasti exhibited early talent at the piano and gained a reputation as a musical child prodigy. He pursued his undergraduate studies at both the Sibelius Academy, where he majored in piano, and at the University of Helsinki, where he studied theoretical philosophy and musicology.
When he first encountered Claude Levi-Strauss's book THE MYTH OF ASDIWAL, Tarasti realized that Levi-Strauss's structuralism ideally combined his own main interests—philosophy and music. Thus Tarasti continued his studies in Paris after graduation from the University of Helsinki. There he met Levi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, and A. J. Greimas, who directed his doctoral thesis. In 1979 Tarasti founded the Semiotic Society of Finland, of which he is still president. Tarasti has occupied the highly influential Chair of Musicology at the University of Helsinki since 1984. He currently serves as president of the International Semiotics Institute, as well as a vice president of the International Association for Semiotic Studies.

Tarasti's colleagues at Indiana say that he has almost single-handedly brought together, shaped, and influenced the ongoing dialogue of a diverse community of musical scholars and semioticians. In the last decade, he has organized at least two international symposia a year and attended many such conferences abroad.

Tarasti's 18-year association with Indiana University has included research fellowships at the Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies and at the Institute for Advanced Studies. Tarasti initiated what has become an ongoing intellectual exchange of ideas between scholars at IU and the University of Helsinki. A recent joint publication contract between the Indiana University Press and the Finnish Academy of Sciences for a series of edited volumes, Acta Semiotica Fennica, serves as further evidence of this productive international and interdisciplinary dialogue. IU Professor of Music David Neumeyer praises Tarasti for successfully "linking music systematically to other intellectual disciplines." According to Neumeyer, Tarasti's "commitment to a sustained intellectual enterprise and to the vigorous entry of music into the world of ideas is worthy of emulation by all humanists."