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Modernity and music

Modernity and music

Our research explores how music has been key to the development of cultural, intellectual and political modernity, giving rise to new perspectives on the history, philosophy and criticism of music.

We investigate the music and environments of 20th-century composers including Benjamin Britten, Claude Debussy, Edward Elgar, Hans Werner Henze, Arnold Schoenberg, Karol Szymanowski, William Walton and Anton Webern. Our readings are often shaped by interrogations of philosophies, using approaches from critical theory to elucidate the aesthetic, ideological and political implications of music. We also explore the technological transformations involved in the circulation of sonic cultures in the early 20th century, including the sounds of early cinema. Challenging Eurocentric notions of modernity, our research explores the transnational transfer of music, science and technology, and the relationship between modernity and post-colonialism. 

Funded research projects include Arnold Schoenberg and Intellectual BiographyAustro-German Exile in America 1930-45Music, Voice and Language in French Musical Thought; and Uncovering Ideology in Britten’s Operas. We have contributed to the international research infrastructure in this area through activities including editorship of Twentieth-Century Music, contributions to the Royal Musical Association’s Music and Philosophy Study Group, and organizing conferences including Sonic Circulations: Musical Thought, Scientific Fantasies, Global Contexts. Our PhD students benefit from rich interactions between their topics, fostered via reading groups such as the Critical Theory for Musicology study group.


Mark Berry’s work in this area examines Wagner and compositional successors such as Schoenberg, Dallapiccola, Nono and Henze, including how such artists and performers of their works have confronted political, social, economic and cultural challenges of the modern world. 

Julie Brown’s research on early cinema music exposes the role of technology and mass reproduction in popular cultures of early 20th-century modernity; her work on Bartók and Schoenberg tackles questions of race, identity and gender. 

Stephen Downes investigates the history and aesthetics of music of the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly the music of Central and Eastern Europe (notably Poland), addressing repertory or topics marginalised by dominant historical and critical discourses. 

Julian Johnson’s research explores the idea of modernity from the late 16th to the late 20th century, working against the usual divisions of style history to understand music’s deeper connections to the making of the modern world.

Lucia Camacho Acevedo, Texture and counterpoint in Bartók, Stravinsky and Berg.

Clare Brady, ‘The open voice: vocality and listening in three operas by Luciano Berio’

Oliver Chandler, ‘Edward Elgar's Chamber Music, 1918-1919: Tonality, Form, and Aesthetics’

Annika Forkert, ‘British Musical Modernism Defended against its Devotees’

William Fourie: musical modernism in post-apartheid South Africa; decolonial perspectives 

Mirjam Frank: ‘Berlin, Harlem, Vienna: Conflicting ideas of Heimat in Alexander Zemlinsky’s late songs, 1929-38’

Amanda Garcia Fernandez-Escarzaga: Felipe Pedrell

Michael Graham, ‘Shakespeare and Modern British Opera: Into The Knot Garden'

Nathan Mercieca, ‘Music, Writing and Subjectivity: the Ethics of Musicology’

Russell Millard, ‘Musical Structure, Narrative, and Gender in Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé’

Sarah Moynihan, ‘Sibelius and Materiale Formenlehr: Projections Beyond the Edges of Musical Form’

Frankie Perry, ‘Arrangements and Re-imaginings of Lieder in the 21st Century’

James Savage-Hanford, 'Memory, Enchantment, Dream: The Later Chamber Works of George Enescu'

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