Professor Burkholder received his A.B. in Music (1975) from Earlham College and M.A. in Music Composition (1980) and Ph.D. in History and Theory of Music (1983) from the University of Chicago. He taught at the University of Wisconsin before coming to IU in 1988. He is also Adjunct Professor of Comparative Literature and served as Associate Dean of Faculties in 1995-2000. Professor Burkholder has several research interests.
His studies of musical borrowing have shown how and why composers from the Renaissance to the twentieth century reworked existing music to create new pieces. By emphasizing the variety of borrowing techniques used in each era and their continuity across time, and by sketching the first history of musical borrowing, he has helped to establish borrowing as a distinct field of study. He has reshaped views of the American composer Charles Ives by illuminating Ives's ideas, methods, training, artistic development, and relationship to the European classical tradition. In a series of essays on modernist composers, he has demonstrated their blend of tradition with innovation. He has also explored questions of what music means and how it conveys meaning.
Professor Burkholder is interested in pedagogy and has published on strategies for teaching music history. In 2001 he was asked to rewrite the leading music history textbook, A History of Western Music. His first edition, representing a complete reconception of the book, was published by Norton in 2005 and is now used by most music majors in North America. Professor Burkholder's research has garnered awards from the American Musicological Society, the Society for American Music, and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, among others. He has served as President of the American Musicological Society and is President of The Charles Ives Society.
Professor Burkholder retired in June 2019 with the title Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Musicology.