My current major research project, the Baudelaire Song Project (baudelairesong.org, @BaudelaireProj) has one main aim: to research all the song settings ever of the poems by famous French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). Working with Dr Mylène Dubiau at the University of Toulouse II, and the HRI Digital team at the University of Sheffield, we are building a pioneering digital dataset which brings together for the first time both pop music and classical music settings of Baudelaire's verse and prose poetry. Using innovative digital song analysis techniques devised and tested by our project Research Associate Dr Caroline Ardrey, we are able to produce rich, comparative data across a wide dataset, meaning we can answer questions such as: What are the performance trends in singing Baudelaire's poems? Which poems are never or rarely set to music, and why? How do composers and songwriters handle the challenges of setting French verse metre? Are there certain types of musical genres which are more suited to Baudelaire's poetry than others? The project is generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 2015-2019.
Related to this project, my most recent monograph, Baudelaire In Song 1880-1930 ( 2017/18) sets out a new methodology for analysing song settings of poetry. It takes five European song sets as its case studies from French, Russian, and Austrian composers of the fin-de-siècle/early 20th century, and reveals how understanding song means understanding the complex, multi-layered bonds that form and shape it. Drawing on existing theories from translation, adaptation, and word-music studies, it critiques and enriches these perspectives by exploiting recent neuroscientific research and developing new digital approaches for analysing song.
My inaugural lecture at the University of Birmingham on 17 November 2017 on the topic of 'Baudelaire in Song' is available to watch online:
Beyond the Baudelaire Song Project, my broader research areas include:
- Rhetoric, poetics, music and aesthetics 1850–1950, with particular emphasis on theories of voice
- Post-romantic French poetry, and in particular Baudelaire, Gautier, Mallarmé, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Verlaine, Valéry, and Post-romantic French song, and in particular Berlioz, Charpentier, Debussy, Duparc, Fauré, Vierne
- Aesthetic theory and neuroscience 1880–present (in particular the work of René Ghil, Jacques Rancière, and neuroscientific theories of ‘pre-movement’ and resource-sharing)
- Influence of French symbolist poetics on early twentieth-century Italian poetry (in particular the poetry of Dino Campana, Eugenio Montale and Gabriele D’Annunzio)
Central to my approach is working regularly with practitioners (songwriters, composers, singers, pianists, performers, actors). Current and recent collaborations, and events include:
- Series advisor to the Académie Francis Poulenc (Centre International de la Mélodie Française) 2017 season on Baudelaire
- Hector Berlioz / Théophile Gautier, Les Nuits d'été recitals, creative collaborations, and coaching sessions with professional singers (including Sophie Bevan) and translators (including Eleanor Brown) February 2014
- Aloysius Bertrand / Maurice Ravel 'Gaspard de la Nuit'. Related interview on ABC Australia 'Into The Music' (broadcast 6 April 2013)
- Co-organiser, with Richard Langham Smith (Royal College of Music), of Debussy symposium ‘Debussy Text and Idea’, London 12-13 April 2012 (fully podcast online). Related interview on BBC Radio 4 programme 'Songs for Madame Vasnier' (broadcast 10 January 2012).
- Collaboration with pianist Sholto Kynoch, Artistic Director of Oxford Lieder (including series adviser, and numerous pre-concert talks)
- Member of Oxford Song Network: Poetry and Performance research group (TORCH network)
- Member of SongArt Performance Research Group (podcasts available online)
- Collaboration with LLA-Créatis at Université Toulouse II-Jean Jaurès, working on French mélodie.
Current and previous research grant awards include:
- AHRC Standard Grant 2015-2019, Baudelaire Song Project (£594,000)
- AHRC Early Career Fellowship 2011 (£55,186)
- The Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence Scheme 2009 (£11,800)
- British Academy Small Research Grant 2008 (£2,477)