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Professor John Deathridge

John Deathridge

Emeritus King Edward
Professor of Music





Research Interests
  • Wagner
  • New music/philosophy
  • Social theory
  • Music criticism
  • Editing/translating
  • Beethoven
Educational and Professional Background

John Deathridge was King Edward Professor of Music from 1996, when he joined the Department after being Reader in Music at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of King’s College Cambridge since 1983. He also taught at the Universities of Princeton and Chicago and continues to be active as a performer (he is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists) and regular broadcaster. In 2002 he was elected a corresponding member of the American Musicological Society and is immediate past president of the Royal Musical Association.

Research and Teaching Portfolio


John Deathridge’s main research interests are German music, in particular Richard Wagner, and social theory. His groundbreaking work on Wagner is reflected in his book on Rienzi (Oxford 1977) and three collaborative publications, The New Grove Wagner (with Carl Dahlhaus), the WWV: Verzeichnis der musikalischen Werke Richard Wagners und ihrer Quellen (with Martin Geck and Egon Voss), the Wagner Handbook (with Ulrich Müller and Peter Wapnewski), and his latest book Wagner Beyond Good and Evil. His current research includes a new translation of Wagner’s Ring (Penguin Classics), a revisionist reappraisal of the life and work of Beethoven (Faber), and an extended essay on German Music and its consequences (Music on Trial).

Research Supervision

Past doctoral students supervised by John Deathridge include Alex Rehding (on nature and nationhood in Hugo Riemann’s harmonic theory ), Julian Horton (on late 19th-century tonality and Anton Bruckner) and Nikolaus Bacht (on music and time in Adorno). Recent successful PhD candidates are Áine Sheil (on the reception of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in the Weimar Republic), Mary Gifford (on the life of Lord Berners), Anna Papaeti (on woman and sacrifice in Wagner's dramas), Beate Willma (on Ingeborg Bachmann and the musical avant-garde), Rebecca Frost (on music and early BBC religious broadcasting), Christoph Knöpfel (Ferneyhough and compositional expressivity) and Hugo Shirley (reappraising Strauss/Hofmannsthal). Current students are researching a variety of subjects, including Berg and Strauss operas (Marc Brooks), Nietzsche’s theories of music and language (Kathy Fry), post-1945 fascism and music aesthetics (Huw Hallam), Wagnerian opera under the Third Reich and beyond (Luke Berryman) and Lacanian theory and musical listening (Jun Zubillaga-Pow). 

Teaching Portfolio

John Deathridge has taught undergraduates at King’s in all three years, including courses on the Symphony from Berlioz to Mahler, Issues in Music Historiography (the long 19th century), Wagner, and the Origins of Twentieth Century Music.

He has also taught postgraduate courses on Music and Enlightenment, Music Historiography, Wagner’s Ring, and Theories of Modernism and the Avant-garde.

John liked to centre his courses around works that are established in various repertories and media, subjecting them to musical and social analysis with several tools ranging from Keynote /Powerpoint to piano to blackboard and pen. He prefers classes to formal lectures, expecting students to engage, wherever they can, in an ongoing conversation about history as a way of understanding music in the present, and how it ‘works’ as composition and performance.

Selected Recent Publications

2011: ‘Public and private life: on the genesis of Tristan und Isolde and the Wesendonck Lieder’, Richard Wagner|: Tristan und Isolde, ed. Arthur Groos, Cambridge University Press, pp. 19-35 (Cambridge Opera Handbooks).

2011: Review of Alain Badiou, Five Lessons on Wagner (2010), The  Wagner Journal 5/1 (Guest Editor, David Trippett), pp. 103-108.

2010: ‘Ring-Inszenierung und Reichsdämmerung’, Richard Wagners Der Ring des Nibelungen: Europäische Traditionen und Paradigmen, ed. Isolde Schmid-Rieter, Regensburg: ConBrio Verlagsgesellschaft, pp. 113-125 (Schriften der Europäischen Musiktheater-Akademie: 8).

2008: Wagner Beyond Good and Evil, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 302 pp. (lead article review TLS, 11 September 2010, 2-4).

2007: Richard Wagner: Lohengrin: new critical edition of full score (with Klaus Döge), Mainz: Ernst Eulenburg & Co, 665 pp.

2006: ‘The Invention of German Music, c. 1800’, Unity and Diversity in European Culture c. 1800, eds. Tim Blanning & Hagen Schulze, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2006, pp. 35-60 (Proceedings of the British Academy: 134).

Media and Engagement

He is also currently advisor and contributed to the BBC 4 TV series The Symphony: A History in Four Movements screened in Autumn 2011.

Outside Interests
Fitness, pond-care, good Martinis
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