Olivia Knops

Olivia Knops

Department of Music
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD Title: The Life and Music of Michael Tippett under the Influence of the Psychologist John Layard
Supervisors: Professor Matthew Riley and Dr Ben Earle
PhD Musicology


  • BMus (University of Birmingham)
  • MA (University of Birmingham)


  • Autumn 2017: Postgraduate Teaching Assistant for BMus Year 1: Tonal Harmony and Counterpoint II
  • Spring 2018: Postgraduate Teaching Assistant for BMus Year 1: Tonal Harmony and Counterpoint II
  • Spring 2018: Postgraduate Teaching Assistant for BMus Year 2: Critical Musicology


My research explores the friendship between Michael Tippett and the anthropologist and maverick psychologist John Layard, and sheds new light on Tippett’s A Child of Our Time and The Midsummer Marriage. It uses the unexamined correspondence between Tippett and Layard—almost entirely neglected by scholarship—to show how Layard’s personality and theories influenced Tippett’s ideas and early works. While many critics have attempted to trace C. G. Jung’s theories through Tippett’s work in a general fashion, this is the first study to examine Tippett’s work from a Layard-based perspective.

The unpublished dreams that Tippett sent to Layard detail a moment of crisis in his life as regards his pacifism and its resolution. They pinpoint for the first time the moment at which Tippett fully came to terms with the moral implications of his pacifism and furthermore give insights into Tippett’s ideas on religion and society.

These ideas and those expressed in the correspondence suggest complexities in A Child of Our Time that have otherwise been overlooked. The oratorio is not merely a condemnation of war and the society that had created it: it is a call for a new mode of psychological existence. By viewing the work in this way, and re-framing it within its period, the problematic factors in the oratorio (a seeming endorsement of war in the third part) are reassessed.

My research examines The Midsummer Marriage in the light of this new mode of psychological existence. By using Layard’s technique of ‘depth’ reading, the seemingly disparate symbols of the opera are revealed for the first time as homogenous and part of a complex schema of rebirth. The Ritual Dances—often dismissed as a simple ballet—are shown to be a microcosm of the opera as a whole and influenced by Layard’s experience of the maki rites of Malekula. Similarly, by using Layard’s ‘Diamond Body’—a technique not used by Jung but familiar to Tippett—all of the opera’s characters are revealed as interconnected and part of a complex underlying schema.  I also demonstrate that the most important archetype in the opera is the Mother: an interpretation that sheds new light on both Tippett and the opera.

Research interests:

  • 20th century Musicology
  • British Musicology
  • Michael Tippett
  • Music and Analytical Psychology
  • Music and Spirituality/Religion
  • Music and Philosophy
  • Music Analysis
  • Music and Physical Gesture
  • Early Modern Vocal Music
  • Baroque Performance Practice

Other activities

Conference papers:

  • Summer 2018 Birmingham Research Poster Conference: ‘NONSENSE – but it’s Music!’ Decoding Michael Tippett’s Opera
  • Autumn 2017 International Conference on Music since 1900 (ICMSN) & Surrey Music Analysis Conference (MAC): A Forgotten Friendship: Michael Tippett, John Layard and The Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage.
  • Spring 2017 Research Students Conference & British Forum for Ethnomusicology: Follow your Dreams: Michael Tippett, Dream Analysis and The Midsummer Marriage.