Peter Atkinson

Department of Music
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD Title: British Wagnerism and British Composers, 1880-1945
Supervisor: Dr Ben Earle and Dr Matthew Riley
PhD Musicology


BMus (1st Class) University of Sheffield (2012)

MA Music (Distinction) University of Birmingham (2013)


I graduated with a first class honours degree in music from the University of Sheffield in 2012 and subsequently studied for an MA in music (specialising in British music studies) at the University of Birmingham, which I completed with distinction in September 2013.


I have taught undergraduate classes on the history and analysis of Baroque, Classical, Romantic and twentieth-century music.


My AHRC-funded doctoral research is concerned with the pervasive and multifaceted influence of Wagner’s music, aesthetics and politics on British composers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. British Wagnerism is often considered to be synonymous with a fin-de-siècle mood of decadence and aestheticism. My research, however, examines numerous and diverse strands of British Wagnerism (or ‘Wagnerisms’), covering a period from the premiere of Hubert Parry’s Prometheus Unbound in 1880 to the completion of Rutland Boughton’s Arthurian operatic pentalogy in 1945.

I first consider how British Wagnerism manifested itself before the decadence of the 1890s, examining, for example, Charles Villiers Stanford’s Meistersinger-inspired Wagnerism – ‘healthy’, ‘wholesome’, diatonic and ‘human’ - and Hubert Parry’s incomplete Arthurian opera, Guenever. I then show how British Wagnerism was embraced more wholeheartedly in the 1890s by a younger generation of composers, including Granville Bantock, William Wallace and Hamish MacCunn. I illustrate Wagnerism’s intersection with a number of other fin-de-siècle currents, such as Celticism, Arthurianism, medievalism, pantheism, Orientalism and a distinctive strand of mystical religiosity. Links with the Pre-Raphaelites and British literary Wagnerism are also considered, and a comparison is made with late nineteenth-century French Wagnerian composers – particularly with those who, like MacCunn and Bantock, wrote operas with a Celtic setting, such as D’Indy, Chausson and Lalo.

A chapter on Elgar picks up the Meistersinger thread of British Wagnerism discussed earlier in relation to Stanford. Elgar, too, was influenced by the healthy, human, and diatonic aspects of Die Meistersinger, and in particular by a Wagnerian notion of community (‘Gemeinschaft’) and fellowship. I follow this thread through a number of Elgar’s choral and orchestral works, from his 1893 cantata The Black Knight, to his last completed oratorio, The Kingdom (1906). I suggest that this strand of Elgar’s Wagnerism is equally important as the more conspicuous decadent strand stemming from Parsifal and associated with such works as The Dream of Gerontius (1900) and The Apostles (1903).

Another chapter surveys the impact of Wagnerism on Arnold Bax and the artistic and political circles in which he moved in Ireland. I provide a formal analysis and hermeneutic reading of Bax’s tone poem Tintagel (1917–19), showing how theosophical ideas about cyclical evolution, Wagnerian narratives of ideal-corruption-redemption, and issues to do with the feminine gendering of Ireland intersect in this work. Drawing parallels with Bax’s post-Easter Rising pro-Republican poetry, I suggest that the tone poem can be considered an implicit response to the events of 1916, and link its narrative to a revolutionary impulse to revive the ideals of an ancient heroic (Celtic) age in a post-1916 Ireland.

Other composers to be considered in my thesis include Frederick Corder, Alexander Mackenzie, Joseph Holbrooke and Rutland Boughton.

Other Research Interests

I am interested in the historiography of British music, analysis (especially Classical form, and the application of Hepokoski and Darcy’s Sonata Theory to later repertoires) and hermeneutics, musical criticism and journalism, and the reception of musical modernism in Britain. My master’s thesis focussed on the reception of the works of Cyril Scott (1879-1970), and aimed at elucidating what musical modernism actually meant to critics and audiences in the years before the First World War. I am currently writing a chapter on Scott’s reception for a planned multi-authored book on the composer.

I would be happy discuss any aspect of my research with those who are interested. Please contact me at, or via Twitter: @peterjatkinson.

Other activities

I am one of the Student Representatives for the Royal Musical Association (RMA), and act as chair of the RMA Student Committee from January 2015 to January 2016. I am co-editor of the RMA Student Blog.

I have been on the programme committee, or been involved in the organisation of the following conferences and study days: North-West Postgraduate Music Exchange Conference, Bangor University, 16 March 2013; Royal Musical Association’s Research Students’ Conference, University of Birmingham, 6–8 January 2014; ‘The State We’re In: Directions In Researching Post-1900 British Music’, University of Surrey, 16–17 April 2015; ‘Music and Mobilities’, A Joint Study Day of the Royal Musical Association and the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, University of Oxford, 15 May 2015.


  • University of Birmingham, College of Arts & Law Graduate School PG Research Support Fund, £195, 2015.
  • Musica Britannica, Louise Dyer Award, £100, 2015.
  • AHRC BGP Doctoral Award, maintenance grant of £13,726 per annum, and fees of £3900 per annum, 2013-16.
  • University of Birmingham, College of Arts and Law Fees Scholarship (Research Preparation Masters), £4950, 2012-13.
  • University of Sheffield, Thomas Beecham Scholarship (for highest overall marks in academic year), £750, 2010.


Journal Articles

  • '"An Ireland Built Anew": Bax's Tintagel and the Easter Rising', Music & Letters, forthcoming.
  • ‘The State We’re In: Directions in Researching Post-1900 British Music’ [Conference Report], Newsletter of the Royal Musical Association, 19/2 (Nov. 2015).
  • ‘Richard Henry Walthew (1872-1951): Composer, Conductor, Pianist and Teacher’, Journal of the British Music Society, 35 (2013), 53-69.

Conference Papers

  • ‘A Reassessment of Anthony Payne’s Elaboration of Elgar’s Sketches for a Third Symphony: Music, Methods, Motives and Morals’, presented at the North-West Postgraduate Music Exchange Conference, Bangor University, 16 March 2013.
  • ‘“Experimenting for his Planet”: The Reception of Cyril Scott’s “Ultra-Modern” Music, 1900–1909’, presented at the Royal Musical Association’s Research Students’ Conference, University of Birmingham, 6 January 2014.
  • ‘Another Strand of Elgar’s Wagnerism: Community, C major and the C/Eb Pairing’, presented at the Royal Musical Association’s Research Students’ Conference, University of Bristol, 10 January 2015.
  • ‘“An Ireland Built Anew”: Bax’s Tintagel and the Easter Rising’, to be presented at ‘The State We’re In: Directions In Researching Post-1900 British Music’, University of Surrey, 16 April 2015.
  • ‘Another Strand of Elgar’s Wagnerism: Community, C major and the C/Eb Pairing’, to be presented at the 10th biennial international conference on Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, 8-10 July 2015.

Pre-Concert Talks

  • Talk on the British composer Cyril Scott (1879–1970) before a performance of his Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 59, by Andrew Kirkman (violin) and Clipper Erikson (piano), University of Birmingham, 18 March 2013.