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From 1 Jan–31 Dec 2018 Katherine Butler Schofield has been awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (£100,578) to hold a series of public lectures and conversations at the British Library. These tell the forgotten stories of musicians, patrons, and the courtly culture they inhabited during the tumultuous transition from Mughal to British rule in India. Music scholars have previously thought that there are no written sources for this period because musicians were “illiterate”. But this is not the case.
In Katherine's 2011–15/16 European Research Council Musical Transitions project, her team documented an enormous archive of Indian writings on music c.1700-1900, most of which has been overlooked.
Through the British Academy Fellowship Kaherine aims to bring this archive to wider public attention, to demonstrate how to read these diverse writings and in doing so, to tease out of them stories that don’t just provide us with much needed new histories of music and listening in late Mughal India, but also of wider events in the critical period of regime change from Plassey to the Uprising.
The Musical Citizen, 4-25 May 2016
IMR Distinguished Lecture series, Senate House, University of London
Three lectures, open to the public, and available as podcasts - ‘How Musical is the Citizen?’, ‘Citizens of the Night’ and ‘The Citizen in the Crowd’. The lectures plot a route for ‘the musical citizen’ in today’s rapidly changing nation-states and global cities.
Each lecture was preceded by a seminar bringing participants together from around the country to discuss ‘Music, migration and citizenship’, ‘Public Music studies and Citizenship’ and ‘Theorizing Music and Citizenship’. These involved, amongst others, colleagues from KCL music (Dr. Frederick Moehn, Dr. Tom Hodgson). The lectures will eventually be a book. The series was supported by Nick Baker and presented in association with the School of Advanced Study, University of London.
“Lessons in Love and Violence”, the successor to “Written on Skin” (see 'Past projects' tab), was first seen at the Royal Opera House in London in May 2018. Set in the troubled court of Edward II in the 1320s, this is a story which focuses on the impact of human desire on political power and the terrible consequences which can ensue. Set in only six scenes and a brief epilogue, its scale is broader and its tone (and vocal tessitura) darker than “Written on Skin”. The cast – eight singers – as well as the orchestra are larger, and the theatrical framing devices which characterised the earlier work now have gone.
The word-setting usually moves at a faster rate than in “Written on Skin” and, as a result, there are many more vocal ensembles, some of them fairly dense. The orchestral writing, also, is more contrapuntal than that of its predecessor, with the texture frequently diffracted into simultaneous strata which attempt to trace the psychological paths of the individual protagonists.
Each of the scenes inhabits a specific compositional identity, intended to capture a specific atmosphere and setting while remaining sufficiently ductile to map the work’s dramatic evolution. At times this desire necessitated the creation of quite complex rhythmic-harmonic substructures to underpin the music and its evolution, “scaffolding” whose existence evaporates the moment the music is complete.
While “Written on Skin” expanded the normal orchestral landscape with mandolins, a bass viol and glass harmonica, this new score’s tone is coloured by cimbalom, basset-horn, contrabass trombone and a mass of rare drums. As in Aix-en-Provence, the initial production of this opera was directed by Katie Mitchell and designed by Vicki Mortimer.
In this current season George Benjamin will lead performances with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Ensemble Modern and the Royal Concertgebouw and, in his role as composer-conductor, he is currently involved with two residences in Germany, one at Hamburg’s new Elbphiharmonie, the other with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. “Lessons in Love and Violence” receives its German and French premieres respectively in Hamburg and Lyon in spring 2019.
Music in London 1800-1851 was a five-year research project (2013-2018) funded by the European Research Council, based in the Music Department at King’s College London. The project was headed by Principal Investigator Professor Roger Parker and comprised a team of dedicated scholars, including five full-time post-doctoral research fellows, three post-doctoral research associates, an administrator and a very large number of visiting scholars.
Music in London 1800-1851 was an attempt to rewrite the history of music in early nineteenth-century London, emphasising the city’s unique position in European musical culture. It strove to encourage an approach to music history firmly centred on social and political meanings, in the process establishing an extensive dialogue between music history and related disciplines. The project’s driving rationale was that musical activity in the city could be addressed in the broadest possible manner and from an interdisciplinary perspective. Subject areas included common musicological ports-of-call such as concert music, operatic entertainment and music aesthetics. But other activities, less often considered, also became central to the project: the phenomenon of street music and ballad singing; popular theatre (in particular melodrama and popular musical entertainments); music and print culture; listening practices; music and politics; the multiple intersections between music and science; the manner in which music functioned in time of war.
Throughout its five-year programme, the project hosted a large number of events from small reading groups to large-scale conferences, the latter typically taking the form of group discussion of pre-circulated papers. In all, some twenty books (or special issues of journals) directly emerged from project activities.
For more information, see the “Music in London” permanent website
Most of George Benjamin's last decade has been dedicated to creating two full-scale operas, both with the British playwright Martin Crimp. The first, “Written on Skin” premiered at the Aix-en-Provence festival in July 2012. It tells an Occitan story concerning a rich and arrogant landowner, his neglected wife and the young artist he invites into his kingdom to glorify his achievements in the production of a beautiful illuminated book.
Set in the early 13th century, this tale of passion, cruelty and revenge is framed by 21st century Angels who bring the action to life, comment on it and – on occasion – participate within it. Told in 15 mainly short scenes, the ambition was to tell a simple and direct narrative on the lyric stage in a new way.
Particular priorities while composing were the comprehensibility of the text and audibility of the vocal lines. As a result the orchestral environment is as transparent as possible, though my desire also was that the harmonic and timbral palette would be wide, in part to respond to the numerous instances when the text evokes the wonders of medieval illumination. On occasion, however, the mass of the orchestra engulfs the action in forceful tuttis whose power is telling.
Please see the 'Current projects' tab to read about its successor “Lessons in Love and Violence”.
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