Music in Historical Cultures

We study the ways in which music has played a role in society from the medieval period to the late twentieth century. Our work is historical, analytical and critical, and also practical: we are committed to bringing the music of the past back to life through research-informed performance.

We bring together performers and scholars in four areas of special focus: (1) Early Music and Performance, concentrating on the late medieval and early Baroque periods; (2) Musical Analysis and Criticism, featuring philosophically informed close reading of musical texts from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries; (3) British Music Studies, with a particular emphasis on the period 1860–1960; and (4) Music and Politics in the Twentieth Century, centred on the relationship of music and fascism in Germany and Italy.

Our people

  • Nicholas Attfield works on German and Austrian music and culture from c. 1870 to c. 1945.
  • Amy Brosius works on social and musical analysis of early modern Italian singing culture.
  • Ben Curry works on philosophical approaches to musical meaning and music analysis, usually with a focus upon late eighteenth-century classical music or African American music.
  • Ben Earle works on the history, analysis and aesthetics of twentieth-century music, especially Italian and British.
  • Andrew Kirkman is a scholar-performer working on late-medieval music and recording on the Hyperion label with the Binchois Consort.
  • Ceri Owen works on the history of twentieth-century British music, especially British song and song performance.
  • Matthew Riley works on the analysis and interpretation of music in historical contexts, especially classical instrumental music and British music c. 1880–1945
  • Paul Rodmell works on the musical culture of the British Isles in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, with particular interests in opera and church music.

Key publications

  • Nicholas Attfield, Challenging the Modern: Conservative Revolution in German Music, 1918–1933 (Oxford University Press/British Academy, 2017).
  • Amy Brosius, ‘Courtesan Singers as Courtiers: Power, Political Pawns, and the Arrest of virtuosa Nina Barcarola’, Journal of the American Musicological Society (forthcoming).
  • Ben Curry, ‘Valency – Actuality – Meaning: A Peircean Semiotic Approach to Music’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 142/2 (2017), pp. 401–43. 
  • Ben Earle, Luigi Dallapiccola and Musical Modernism in Fascist Italy (Cambridge University Press, 2013). 
  • Andrew Kirkman, The Cultural Life of the Early Polyphonic Mass: Medieval Context to Modern Revival (Cambridge University Press, 2010) 
  • Ceri Owen, ‘On Singing and Listening in Vaughan Williams’s Early Songs’, 19th-Century Music, 40/3 (2017), pp. 257–82
  • Matthew Riley, The Viennese Minor-Key Symphony in the Age of Haydn and Mozart (Oxford University Press, 2014).
  • Paul Rodmell, Opera in the British Isles 1875–1918 (Ashgate, 2013).

Our researchers talk about their work:

Music as patterned behaviour - Ben Curry

French music in Britain - Paul Rodmell

Gender and singing cultures - Amy Brosius
Late medieval music and performance - Andrew Kirkman


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