Peter Atkinson


Doctoral researcher

Department of Music


PhD Title: British Musical Wagnerism, 1880 – 1940
Supervisor: Dr Ben Earle
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.

My master’s thesis drew on a wealth of primary source material in order to provide an account of the reception of the English composer Cyril Scott during the first decade of the twentieth century. More broadly, the thesis aimed to elucidate what musical modernism actually meant to critics and audiences at the time. I argued that the reception of Scott’s (and others’) ‘ultra-modern’ music (as it was described by contemporaneous critics), undermines Richard Taruskin’s argument that all apparently modernist music from before the 1920s should be considered a form of ‘maximalism’.


I have taught seminars for the first-year undergraduate module 'Romantic and 20th-Century Music'.


My current AHRC-funded PhD research focuses on British musical Wagnerism. Whilst Wagner’s influence on literary figures, such as George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce, and on artists, such as Aubrey Beardsley, has received considerable scholarly attention, the impact of his music, aesthetics and politics on British composers remains a surprisingly underexplored area. It is only within the last decade that musicologists, such as Byron Adams and Christopher Scheer, have gradually begun to address the issue of Wagner’s multifaceted and pervasive influence on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British music.

My research aims to contribute to this nascent body of work. After initially tracing the path of Wagner’s influence from an older generation of British composers, such as Frederick Corder, to their pupils, I will consider how four British composers in particular – Edward Elgar, Arnold Bax, Rutland Boughton and Joseph Holbrooke (all of a younger generation, except for Elgar) – were affected by Wagner’s influence. I will examine this influence from not only a stylistic perspective but also from a political and philosophical one. For example, I aim to demonstrate the significance of Wagner in relation to Arnold Bax’s musical and poetic response to Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising and Wagner’s crucial role in the formation of Rutland Boughton’s communist ideas.


Journal Articles:

‘Richard Henry Walthew (1872–1951): Composer, Conductor, Pianist and Teacher’, Journal of the British Music Society, 35 (2013), 53–69.

Conference Papers:

‘“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, 6 January 2014, University of Birmingham.

‘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, 16 March 2013, School of Music, Bangor University.

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