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 (not scheduled for 2017) 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 2017 musicology colloquium series.

Semester 2 2017

All talks will take place in room 2174 starting at 4.15pm.

2 August Dr Myfany Turpin (University of Sydney)
23 August Dr Michael Webb (University of Sydney)
6 Sept Professor Dorottya Fabian (UNSW)
13 Sept Laura Hassler (Musicians without Borders)
4 Oct Dr Zoltán Szabó (University of Sydney)
18 Oct Dr Alan Maddox (University of Sydney)


1. Dr Myfany Turpin (University of Sydney)
Tracing the origins of an Aboriginal travelling song: the Wanji-wanji of the Western Desert

Wednesday 2 August, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

Classical Indigenous Australian culture consisted of ceremonies that were not only land-based songs, but also ‘travelling songs’ (McCarthy 1939). Like folk songs, these toured across political, ethnic and linguistic divides, quickly gaining popularity despite being in a foreign tongue. Many were purely entertainment or ‘fun’ songs, with no religious significance. Early colonists adopted the term ‘corroboree’ from the Sydney region word for this genre, carib-berie.

The most well-documented travelling song is the Molonga, known to have travelled from inland Queensland through central Australia and South Australia (Hercus 1980, Kimber 1990, Gibson 2015). In this paper I trace another example of this genre, first documented in 1913 and recorded more recently by myself and linguist Felicity Meakins some 2470kms away. In 2015 we recorded a number of song sets performed by Gurindji men and women in Kalkaringi, NT. Upon further investigation, 11 of these songs had also been recorded 800 km to the south in 1975 (Moyle 1979). Furthermore, one of these, known as Wanji-wanji had also been documented in WA in 1913 and recorded in 1970 (Bracknell 2015: 167).

Like the Molonga, Wanji-wanji is known by different names across the country, and is said to have come from neighbouring or more distant language groups along trade routes and stock routes. In this seminar I present the musical and linguistic evidence to show that these are all the same song and coupled with a discussion of the socio-historical context in which the songs were performed, suggest their possible origins and meanings.

2. Dr Michael Webb (University of Sydney)
Melanesians and Music on the Move: South Sea Island Shipboard and Plantation Performance in Queensland, 1860s-1906

Wednesday 23 August, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

In this diachronic, archive-based ethnomusicological study, I argue that shipboard and plantation music and dance practices cast new light on the ways South Sea Islanders (SSI) acted out agency and asserted new identities as they became tangled up in the dynamics of colonial encounters. Trading ships started to operate in Melanesia in the 1840s and island men were quickly drawn to the nautical life. Contact with the West brought opportunity but also exploitation when in 1863 the recruitment of Islanders for farm and plantation work in Queensland began (between 1863 and 1904, some 62,000 men, women and children were brought to Queensland, most from the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu). Labour trade practices were marred by ongoing abuses and many Melanesians lost their lives. As they ventured out into the unknown on recruiting ships, Islanders engaged in performance in order to establish cross-societal bonds with villagers from islands other than their own, and also with European sailors and settlers. White settlers viewed the SSI through the prism of minstrelsy, the popular entertainment of the day, derided their ancestral dances as savage, and exoticised them in their own entertainments. For their part, Islanders took advantage of musical contexts to form alliances with whites, in an attempt to gain a footing in the new settler world.

Pieced together, the surviving fragments of archival information reveal that SSI achieved this through holding balls, acquiring new instrumental skills, performing in concerts, attending stage productions, learning and teaching hymns, and having their voices recorded on wax cylinders. They experimented with any and all modes of sound making, looking to music as a source of enjoyment and a means of individual and collective self-advancement. They took instruments, repertoire items, and gramophones back to their home islands as evidence of their familiarity with the wider world, and as creative resources to employ in the changing times ahead of them. Those who remained in Queensland at the beginning of the 20th century faced the challenge of how to integrate and indigenise the new musical ideas, and transform them into life and community sustaining expressions.

3. Professor Dorottya Fabian (UNSW)
Analyzing Difference: Compositions, performing traditions, and individual artistic signatures

Wednesday 6 September, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

Through a case study of recordings of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solos Violin the paper argues that enlisting Deleuzian concepts when analyzing multiple performances of the same piece is useful for the exploration of practices of performance. Such analysis reveals a continuously shifting-transforming performance style and provides a rich tapestry of diversity within and across nominally agreed upon stylistic trends and characteristics such as romantic-expressive, classical-modernist or historically informed. This supports a non-categorical, non-hierarchical approach to analysis as a method for investigating diversity in performance. The paper shows that such an approach can not only highlight the complex interactions of parameters that readings in the multi-dimensional space of “style”, but also assists our understanding of “the work” as emergent and a multiplicity.

4. Laura Hassler (Founder and director, Musicians without Borders)
War Divides, Music Connects: music as a tool for empathy

Wednesday 13 September, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

As active and concerned human beings, how do we understand the state of our world and our species in these turbulent times? As musicians and music professionals, which core qualities of the art form we know and love can we access to contribute to saving lives, bridging divides, and healing the wounds of war and injustice? How do we connect effectively and appropriately with people affected by war and conflict? As artists and arts professionals, how do we frame our activism, our scholarship, our community involvement, our devotion to social change?

Musicians without Borders works in some of the world’s most intransigent conflict and post-conflict regions: Kosovo, Rwanda, Uganda, Palestine, Northern Ireland, El Salvador—and in Europe, with people driven from their homes by war, only to meet walls, fences and a climate of fear and exclusion.

In collaboration with musicians around the world, Musicians without Borders brings music to people in communities struggling with division, isolation and loss. Originally a project organization, Musicians without Borders now works to expand its impact through its training program, and by collaborating with academic communities and other artists and arts organizations. Laura Hassler, director of the organization, explores how musicians may be our era’s most powerful peacemakers.

5. Dr Zoltán Szabó (University of Sydney)
Varietas delectat: Alternative readings in the sources, editions and performances of J. S. Bach’s Solo Cello Suites

Wednesday 4 October, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174 

For a performer, it is of vital importance to be able to trust the information in the score regarding pitch, rhythm, articulation etc. The recognition that this may not always be a realistic expectation is a foundational reason behind this examination of the complex source and edition history of the Bach Cello Suites and other similar repertoire. A study of the Suites reveals a confusing multitude of conflicting details from the various primary sources, and of even more concern, these divergences relate to all aspects of the notation (including features as basic as pitch). Taking the Suites as a case study, this paper will investigate how a piece can and often does undergo momentous alterations during the process of composition, copying, editing, publishing and, finally, performance. The alternative readings in the sources and later in the editions create multiple layers of interpretations, which can subtly or even substantially modify the piece even before the ‘artist is added to the artwork’. As even the critical editions of the last few decades have significant disagreements in their initial scholarly approach and ultimate result, the modernist aspiration to reproduce accurately the composer’s intentions faces major challenges.

6. Dr Alan Maddox (University of Sydney)
Music and Intellectual History: the case of J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

Wednesday 18 October, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

Recent thinking about Intellectual History has moved beyond studying only verbal texts, to encompass other kinds of visual and aural texts that can be vehicles for generative thought. Where might music fit into this expanded conception? If ideas are defined purely as concepts that can be expressed in words, music can be no more than an “epiphenomenon”, a consequence or representation of ideas that lie behind it, but not capable of embodying those ideas in itself. Yet to many musicians, it seems obvious that music can function as a way in which ideas are developed and worked out. What kinds of knowledge might be embodied in music, then, and how do its meanings change over time? In this paper, I examine some of these issues through consideration of one of the key texts of Western art music, J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, exploring how it was conceived in a liturgical context in Bach’s time, how its meaning changed when transposed to the very different milieus of concert performance in nineteenth-century Berlin and colonial Sydney, and as it has been re-imagined in a variety of recent staged and recorded versions.

Semester 1 2017

1. Daniel Herscovitch (University of Sydney)
The Art of Fugue in the Context of Bach’s Final Decade

Wednesday 15 March, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

The Art of Fugue marks the conclusion of Bach’s compositional career. This presentation discusses the work in its relationship to the other five major compositions of his final decade. Issues which are raised include the genres of these works, the implications of their titles (the names by which these are known today are, for the most part, not Bach’s own designations), the forms in which they have come down to us and their place within the performance practices of the time. It will challenge received wisdom and conclude by discussing various issues to be confronted in preparing a performance of this work on the modern piano. Intended as a preface to a performance of The Art of Fugue by the speaker on 21 March, this talk will shed new light on a work which Paul Henry Lang has fittingly described as ‘a philosophical breviary, every measure of which invites reflection and thought.’

2. Vincent Plush (University of Adelaide)
Music in the Life and Work of Patrick White

Wednesday 29 March, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

There is music on practically every page of the work of Patrick White (1912-1990), Australia’s best known – and perhaps least read – novelist, and thus far our only winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1973). Music was one of White’s greatest loves, and yet there has been so little commentary devoted to this dimension of his work. My decade-long investigation has been based on a number of sources, primarily the two pivotal volumes by David Marr (the Life and the Letters); also an examination of the notebooks and correspondence (most of it unpublished) by White and his associates: interviews with surviving members of his circle; and my own experience of life in Sydney in the 1970s-80s, a period which may now be viewed as a kind of ‘golden age’ for the creative arts in White’s home city.

My research has created an inventory of the music White experienced whilst writing his novels and plays. It has also revealed the more interior role of music as a structural foundation for White’s novels and his characters. I contend, for instance, that Voss is a symphony, based on Mahler and Bruckner, with the figure of Laura Trevelyan derived from Berg’s Violin Concerto. Until now, our appreciation of White’s work has been hampered by a lack of awareness of the place of music in his writing. This study suggests a template for examining the role of music in the lives and works of our writers and other creative artists.

3. Christopher Coady (Sydney Conservatorium of Music)
St. Augustine High School and the Spectre of Teen Activism in New Orleans 1961-1963

Wednesday 12 April, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

The past several decades of United States civil rights scholarship has painted an increasingly complex picture of both the breadth and nature of contributions to the movement. Recent work undertaken by Jim Hall (2016) on the Mississippi Freedom schools of 1964 is notable in this regard for placing the actions of teenagers, as opposed to those of college students or adult activists, front and centre in a discussion of how energy in the civil rights movement was sustained in the face of substantial setbacks. Yet Hall’s tendency to conceptualise this energy primarily in terms of a swelling of activist ranks leaves the unique symbolism teen participation held for particular communities largely unexamined.

In this paper, I outline the way political action undertaken by teenagers enrolled in St. Augustine High School in New Orleans during the first half of the 1960s resonated with and inspired community members engaged in parallel political pursuits. Extending Robin Bernstein’s (2011) work on the symbolic nature of childhood, I argue that the desegregation battles fought in New Orleans following the Brown v. Board of Education decision elevated the importance of what was coded as Catholically distinct behaviour in the city. Politically active Catholic teenagers were then used by both the white and African-American press as galvanising instruments, capable of shaming adults to action, in the lead up to the 1963 Freedom March. Such findings demonstrate that the salience of teen participation in civil rights protests was intimately tied to the values of the communities in which they took place.

4. Richard Cohn (Yale University)
Poetic and Empirical Theories of Musical Meter: Cognitive Dissonance in the Historical Archive, the Laboratory, and the Modern Conservatory Classroom

Wednesday 26 April, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

18th-century theories of musical meter, derived from poetry, teach that the binary strong/weak classification of beats is absolute. But every musician knows that, in common and compound meters, there are beats that are simultaneously weaker than the downbeat and stronger than the counting beat. This talk theorizes the distinction between these two views of meter, and traces the tension between them as it is negotiated by 18th-century theorists in Germany and Scotland; by modern-day writers of music-theory textbooks, who uncritically perpetuate the 18th-century view; and by recent scholars in perceptual psychology.

5. Chris May (University of Oxford)
Colourful Dreams: Arvo Pärt’s Soviet Film Music

Wednesday 10 May, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt left the Soviet Union in early 1980, a few years after first writing in his so-called ‘tintinnabuli’ style. In the two decades before his emigration, he composed nearly forty original scores for Soviet cinema. This body of music is substantial and diverse, yet a critical literature focused on tintinnabuli has produced barely any scholarship on it. This paper has grown out of my preliminary research on Pärt’s film output, conducted in 2015 in Tallinn. It proceeds in two stages, both bound up with wider questions of how best to study living composers and music from the Soviet Union. I first ask why the Soviet film scores are habitually written out of critical narratives about Pärt, concluding that none of the major reasons is especially robust. Using several case studies, I then try to place some of the film music into intertextual dialogue with Pärt’s concert scores, arguing in particular that film work was a crucial forum for his experiments with both dodecaphony and tintinnabuli.

6. Michael Burden (University of Oxford)
Singing ‘fantastically in Italian’: Farinelli, Porpora, and the third style of composition

Wednesday 24 May, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

On 27 March 1756, the actress Kitty Clive chose David Garrick’s ever-popular Lethe as the afterpiece on a bill for her benefit. The play was advertised with ‘a new scene by Garrick… New Mimic Italian Song by Mrs Clive’, and with the addition of a new character, Lord Chalkstone, for Garrick. In the play, Clive’s character, Mrs Riot, on being told that there are no glittering balls, enchanting masquerades or ravishing operas in Elysium, responds: ‘What! no Operas! eh! no Elisienthen! [Sings fantastically in Italian.] ’Sfortunato Monticelli! banish’d Elysium, as well as the Hay-Market! Your Taste here, I suppose, rises no higher than your Shakespears [sic] and your Johnsons …’

Tate Wilkinson recalled that Clive was universally encored when she sang her ‘song from the Italian Opera, where she was free with a good ridiculous imitation of Signora Mingotti, who was the darling favourite at the King’s Theatre, and admired by all the amateurs’. Mingotti was not only a favourite; she was a major opera star, who had arrived in London via Dresden and Madrid (where she sung at the Spanish court under the direction of Farinelli), and in the next season would be both the first woman and the first performer to act as impresario at the Opera House. But she was also representative of a circle of singers taught by the composer Nicola Porpora, singers such as Felice Salimbeni and Gaetano Caffarello, whose performing skills had resulted in what some commentators called a ‘third style in musical composition’.

The question this paper sets out to answer is just what was the ‘third style’? Did it really exist, or was it a critic’s fantasy? And perhaps most importantly, what did it mean to sing ‘fantastically inItalian’ in an English play?