Musicology Colloquium Series

Every fortnight during semester, our musicologists present a research lecture on a variety of topics. Designed as a showcase for SCM researchers and a venue for research visitors, this series is held in conjunction with the Alfred Hook Lectures (one per semester) and the ‘About Music’ Public Lecture Series and About Music Education Public Lecture Series (currently held 5pm on Mondays during semester).

For information on our past musicology events – please click here.

See below for details of our 2016 musicology colloquium series.

Semester 1 2016 

1. Nigel Fabb (University of Strathclyde) via SKYPE
Wednesday 9 March, 5:00pm sharp, Room 2174 (please not exceptional time of 5pm)

Two routes to epiphany in music, song and literature

I define an ‘epiphany’ as a subjectively significant experience, which is triggered by some external source (a piece of music, song, text, painting, etc), brief and sudden, and relatively rare.  The experience may be epistemically distinctive, involving some important but ineffable insight, or a meaning which is ‘difficult to understand’. The experience may be emotionally distinctive, and may involve ‘chills’ or tears or other autonomic arousal.  The study of these ‘secular’ epiphanies includes the sublime, and the study of special moments in literary studies, aesthetics and psychology.  In the psychology of music, there has been extensive experimental work on ‘chills’ and more generally on epiphanies in music (e.g., Gabrielsson’s ‘strong experiences in music’, or Liza Lim’s compositions and theory).   My long-term research project focuses on how epiphanies are triggered, and in this talk I discuss two different kinds of trigger, which however appear to be connected.

One type of trigger is ‘exogenous’, characteristically part of the primary sensory effects of the medium: in music, extremes and sudden changes in loudness (and crescendo) and tempo; in visual art, flash, shine and brilliance.  The other type of trigger is ‘endogenous’, characteristically emerging from the form of the text (tonal structure, or poetic metre, etc), and in this talk I focus on formal complexities which involve overlapping groups and the production of ‘liminalities’.  We perceive the world (and aesthetic objects) by forming elements into groups, these groups being events, narrative episodes, or musical ‘grouping structure’ (identified by Lerdahl and Jackendoff).  Normally, groups do not overlap, but in aesthetics, group overlap can be used for specific effect.  I illustrate with a simple example from Haydn, and in more detail with an ‘epiphanic’ overlap from Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse.

Having identified two distinct routes to epiphany, I ask whether they are connected.  I draw on work on Australian Aboriginal song (in its performance context), by Linda Barwick and others (Ellis, Marett, Turpin, Treloyn, etc), where ‘iridescence’ is both an exogenous and endogenous effect.  Exogenous triggers disrupt the surface of the text, while endogenous triggers such as group overlap disrupt the internal edges of the text; in both cases, liminality (surface/edge) is disrupted.  I conclude by asking why liminality disruptions should trigger the special experience of epiphany.

2.Martin Ennis (University of Cambridge)
Wednesday 23 March, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

Secrets of the Grave: New Light on Brahms’s Funeral works

That Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem, Op. 45) is strikingly original in both conception and design was immediately clear to his contemporaries.  After all, it challenged generic conventions in its unorthodox use of German texts and by its apparent refusal to espouse an overtly Christian message.  At the time of its premiere all but a handful of close friends believed the Requiem to be an autonomous art-work.  Over time, however, various connections with pre-existing musical material have come to light.  Perhaps most intriguing is the issue of whether or not the Requiem is based on a Lutheran chorale and, if so, which.  According to the Berlin-based conductor Siegfried Ochs, Brahms once claimed that a chorale lies at the root of the work, and corroborating or disproving Ochs’s claim has exercised numerous Brahms scholars over recent decades.  In the process, several chorales have been proposed as the Requiem’s source material.

This afternoon’s paper will attempt to advance the discussion by looking afresh at Ochs’s comments on the Requiem and by proposing a new perspective on the origins of the work.  This in turn should help answer once and for all the question about the chorale.

3. David Larkin (Sydney Conservatorium of Music)
Wednesday 27 April, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

The battle for hearts and minds: Liszt and the Viennese critics, March 1858

After an enormously successful early career as a performer, Franz Liszt withdrew from concertizing to focus on composition. The works he produced in the 1850s were highly contested at the time, attracting both passionate support and vehement opposition. The established narrative of Liszt’s career regards him as taking an increasingly passive line in the face of this critical storm, summed up in his mantra ‘I can wait’. However, in reality Liszt was assiduous in trying to create an audience for his works, not just through performing and pamphleteering, but also through concerted media campaigns and direct contact with the critics.

In this paper, I will focus on two concerts of his music which Liszt conducted in the Austrian capital in March 1858, for which there is rich extant documentation in the press and in his correspondence. Analysing the concert reviews reveals a journalistic infrastructure in which the reviewers seem as much to be responding to earlier reports as to the actual musical events. This is perhaps only to be expected at a time when the musical world was so sharply polarised. Even more intriguing is Liszt’s involvement in attempting to shape the popular and critical response, both in the run-up to the concerts and indeed afterwards. He fraternised beforehand with some members of the press as well as other power-brokers, and encouraged a few well-disposed figures to write favourable concert reports. From this detailed study of critical practices and reception politics Liszt emerges looking far less idealistic than has often been imagined.

4. Catherine Ingram (Sydney Conservatorium of Music)
Wednesday 25 May, 3:45pm sharp, Room 2174

Reconsidering Ethnographic Comparison in Music Research

The value of ethnographic comparison is not always addressed explicitly in ethnographic publications—indeed, in ethnomusicology in particular, there was a turn against comparison following the perceived detractions in Alan Lomax’s comparative cantometrics project of the 1950s–1960s (Lomax 1968). However, more careful consideration of the literature reveals that comparison remains at the heart of much of the most esteemed ethnographic work in both ethnomusicology and anthropology. Michael Herzfeld (2001) convincingly argues for the degree to which forms of comparison are invoked in most ethnographic studies, which are often reliant upon a reflexive comparison between the experiences of the ethnographer in and outside the field: “at one level, the fundamental ground of comparison is almost always the self of the ethnographer” (2001: 263). Herzfeld also notes how the use of cultural comparison by research participants themselves often forms an important part of ethnographic research in a variety of ways, even when research is conducted within one apparently distinct musical culture. Herzfeld’s advocacy for explicit forms of ethnographic comparison is echoed in a growing body of work that includes several articles utilizing comparison as a key feature of ethnographic analysis (Widlock 2001; Levy 2005; Narotzky 2009), and an edited collection entitled Anthropology, by Comparison (Gingrich and Fox 2002). This paper draws upon initial insights from my ongoing postdoctoral research into the music-making of selected cultural minorities in Australia and China to explore the ways in which new musical ethnographic comparative approaches may be developed that are dissociated from earlier, problematic connections between comparison and the production of “Grand Theory” (and other positivist approaches), and how comparison may be reinvigorated within new ethnomusicological analytical research frameworks.