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 1 2017

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

15 March Daniel Herscovitch
29 March Vincent Plush (University of Adelaide)
12 April Christopher Coady
26 April Richard Cohn (Yale University)
10 May Chris May (University of Oxford)
24 May Michael Burden (University of Oxford)


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?