The North American British Music Studies Association

The North American British Music Studies Association

CFP: A Great Divide or a Longer Nineteenth Century? Music, Britain and the First World War

Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies One-Day Conference
21 January 2017
Durham University, UK
CFP Deadline: 1 September 2016

Conference website:

Keynote Address

‘Disruption or Continuity? Elgar’s Cello Concerto and the Modern Romantic Ideal’
Charles Edward McGuire (Oberlin College)

Call for Papers

Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory (1975) casts the First World War as the birth of the Modern psyche for Britons. Through analysis of war literature and soldiers’ life writing, he argues the cataclysm of the war evinced a rupture with the clear moral standards, innocence, traditional artistic representations, and ways of constructing memory of pre-1914 Britain. In his “Modern” post-1914 Britain, disorientation, alienation, and irony become the dominant modes of representation. In contrast, Jay Winter, in Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (1995), argues historical inquiry into the responses to the First World War have over-emphasized the progressive, Modernist responses, and in the process have ignored the traditional motifs in the myriad of responses to the war. He writes ‘this vigorous mining of eighteenth and nineteenth-century images and metaphors to accommodate expressions of mourning is one central reason why it is unacceptable to see the Great War as the moment when “modern memory” replaced something else, something timeworn and discredited, which (following contemporaries) I have called “tradition.”’  These two influential viewpoints have structured much of the subsequent discourse on the First World War coming from the disciplines of literature and history in the last several decades; it however has received little attention within music.

This conference aims to bring to music this crucial framework for understanding artistic and cultural responses to the First World War. We seek papers that explore these themes of rupture/ disillusionment and “mining of nineteenth-century” modes of representation/ tradition within the context of musical life throughout the British Empire. Participants from a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives that engage with music are particularly welcome.

Possible topics on these rupture/ tradition themes are (but are not limited to):

1. How did British art music composers react to the war? Do we see rupture with the past or continuation of nineteenth-century practices?

2. How can we understand British Musical Modernism within this dichotomy of rupture/ tradition? How does it compare with European Musical Modernism? In what ways can we understand the Pastoral in these contexts?

3. What bearing does this rupture/ tradition dichotomy have on the historiography of British music and the notion of the long nineteenth-century?

4. In what ways did popular music—whether repertoire, performers, or the industry—change because of the war? In what ways did it carry on Edwardian and Victorian traditions?

5. In what ways did musical life in Britain help define, blur, or shatter traditional boundaries between
•    the home and war fronts?
•    wartime public and private spaces?
•    civilians and soldiers?
•    within the army (officers and non-ranking men, wounded and healthy)?
•    social classes?
•    men and women?
•    the motherland and dominion countries?

6. How does music contribute to Britain’s commemoration of the war and those lost and wounded? Do the modes of remembrance used indicate a break with the past, or do they carry on traditional mourning practices?

Abstract Submission Information

Abstracts are invited from academic staff, postgraduates, and other researchers for 20-minute individual papers and panels of three (90 minutes) or four papers (120 minutes).

All abstracts should be no longer than 300 words. Please also include your name, institutional affiliation or city, and a bio of up to 100 words.

Papers accepted will be considered for inclusion in a future edited collection.

Please send abstracts by 5pm (GMT) on 1 September 2016 to Michelle Meinhart at Acceptance decisions will be made by 1 October 2016.

This conference is supported by the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies and the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

by Samantha Barnsfather

Martin Anderson, Scottish writer and founder of Toccata Press and Toccata Classics, referred to Stevenson as “the arch-internationalist who embraced ‘world music’ in his own compositions long before the term became fashionable.” Stevenson’s unique musicianship, his brilliant pianistic virtuosity, compositional abundance, socio-political consciousness, and his lifelong fascinations with fellow composer-pianists such as Ferruccio Busoni, Percy Grainger, Ignacy Paderewski, and Kaikhosru Sorabji may appear to be on the peripheries of conventional musical canons and repertoires. For Stevenson, these gentlemen were the inspirations that prompted one of the most intriguing musical lives of the late 20th century.

His exceptional musicality as well as his dashing good looks and flashy fashion sense seemed out of place within the postwar world. He wore an eagle pendant round his neck in place of a tie, maintained an elegant goatee beard, and composed using a quill in his “den of musiquity.” He incorporated world music in his orchestral works, such as his Violin Concerto “The Gypsy” (1977-1979) and his Second Piano Concerto, “The Continents” (1970-1972). In the latter work, he combined musical ideas from five continents while playfully paying homage to Ché Guevara. His strong sense of his adopted Scottish identity and an appetency to connect his music with intensely held political beliefs were innovative for his time.

In addition, Stevenson was also a political artist in the way of Alan Bush and Michael Tippett. As a pacifist, he was imprisoned for two years for refusing to go into the National Service. He spent two years as a Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Cape Town (1963-65) where he found the apartheid regime unconscionable. During his time in South Africa, he composed a short piano piece merging the liberation hymn “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika” and the national anthem, “Die Stem”. While lecturing at the same university, he stressed how his Passacaglia on DSCH (1960-1962) included a tribute to Lenin and the South African police came calling soon after the presentation. In December 1968, he was a guest at the fourth Congress of Soviet Composers in Moscow. In 1985, he spent several months as a visiting lecturer at Shanghai Conservatoire and saw the effects of Marxism put into practice. As a result, its arguments vanished from his intellectual arsenal.

While Stevenson had a busy and successful career, there was a more private side to the man, especially later in his life, which kept him out of the limelight and denied him some of the acclaim his admirers felt was due. Stevenson worked outside the confines of the London musical world in his tiny cottage in West Linton, south of Edinburgh, surrounded by his beloved family. He and his Marjorie had one son, Gordon (a luthier), and two daughters, Gerda (an actress) and Savourna (a clarsair). His granddaughter Anna Wendy Stevenson continues the family’s traditions by being an outstanding folk fiddler, lecturer, and composer. Students and friends from all over the world visited their home, while local children took piano lessons there.

Stevenson also had an innate affinity for other dissident composers by advocating for such figures as Havergal Brian, Nathaniel Dett, John Foulds, Leopold Godowsky, Bernard Stevens (a personal friend and fellow Marxist) and numerous others in concert, on air and in print. For example, Stevenson was one of the first to take a genuine interest in the music of Percy Grainger. Even though they never met, they exchanged letters for the last three years of Grainger’s life (Their correspondence was published in 2010 under the title Comrades in Art by Toccata Press).

Stevenson was a renowned musicologist, writer, and lecturer. He held senior lecturing posts at the University of Cape Town, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, at the Juilliard School, New York and at Melbourne University. The Edinburgh-born concert pianist, Susan Tomes, told The Scotsman how much, as a teenager, she valued Stevenson’s “inspirational lectures”. She said: “Using wide-ranging examples from music, poetry, philosophy and politics he drew our attention to many valuable and perhaps under-acknowledged ways of looking at music.” He also wrote for Musical Times, Tempo and The Listener. In the 1970s, he was heard on the radio, both in recital and discussing the music of Busoni, about whom he also made a BBC documentary. During this time period, he also presented a series of programs on Radio 3 on Busoni’s music and a BBC2 documentary soon followed. In 1981, Stevenson wrote an extended series for BBC Radio Scotland on the bagpipe, clarsach, and fiddle music of Scotland.

Until a series of strokes in his mid-sixties, Stevenson was consistently giving public performances and lectures. He was a loyal patron of local music events, amateur and professional. Stevenson was the Vice-President of the Workers’ Music Association, which supported internationalism, peace, and social justice. In 2008, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra performed the world premiere of his choral symphony, Praise of Ben Dorain, based on a Gaelic poem by Scottish poet Duncan Ban MacIntyre. It had taken Stevenson more than 20 years to compose. It was scored for two choirs and two orchestras featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra, a chamber orchestra, the chorus of Scottish Opera, the Edinburgh Singers– all conducted by James Grossmith. The Scotsman critic wrote that there were “unquestionable flashes of keen perception.” At the conclusion of the performance, the 80-year-old Stevenson was “cheered to the rafters.”

Despite the extent of his output – more than 500 works – and the occasional recordings for Hyperion, Toccata and Altarus, he was basically untouched by promoters, orchestras and audiences. If the scope of his work is hard to encapsulate, the style of his composition is even more difficult to define which may have contributed to his music’s neglect. He composed a number of large-scale orchestral works, chamber music, and hundreds of piano pieces and songs. His most famous composition, the epic Passacaglia on DSCH, is thought to be the longest single-movement work in the piano literature. It uses Dmitri Shostakovich’s musical initials to build up a monumental 80-minute structure. He presented the score to the Russian composer at the 1962 Edinburgh Festival and four years later performed it himself at the Aldeburgh Festival.

His 300 settings of verse by such poets as William Blake, Robert Burns, Alan Bold, George Buchanan, Hugh MacDiarmid, Walter Scott, James Joyce, Tagore and Ho Chi Minh show a vast array of influences. Poetry by German and Italian writers have also been set along with texts in Lancashire and Aberdeen, and Scots Gaelic dialects. His regard for the human voice and lyric melody stemmed from recollections of his father’s tenor singing voice.

His vocal music falls under the broad headings of eclecticism and nationalism. His self-confessed aim is for an “epic” music, which absorbs elements from the East and from Africa, along with Western culture. Stevenson simultaneously draws inspiration from the folk music of many countries and uses the most sophisticated Western techniques, such as in his Asian-inspired song cycles, Four Vietnamese Miniatures (1965) and Nine Haikus (1971), and in his Scottish inspired song cycles, Songs from Factories and Fields (1977) and Hills of Home (1974). Stevenson’s nationalistic impulse was brought about by his studies of the songs by Scottish composer Frances George Scott (1880-1958). Scott had served as mentor to his former pupil and poet Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1972) who also influenced Stevenson. Scott and MacDiarmid fronted the music-literary movement of the 1920s, known as the Scottish Renaissance. Stevenson is considered their successor. His study of Scottish folk dance, poetry, and song gave his work a distinctive national point of reference.

My research explores whether Stevenson’s political leanings factor into his compositions, taking into account whether historical and cultural events of 20th– and 21st– century Scotland shaped Stevenson’s long held beliefs including socialism and pacifism. It also addresses the issues surrounding Stevenson’s lack of major recognition outside the United Kingdom. Publication of his songs is a crucial step towards their wider performance, and in turn, a major step toward deserved recordings. The Ronald Stevenson Society is making commendable progress in this direction. It was founded in 1993 in Edinburgh to disseminate the music of Stevenson through performance, recording, and the publication of Stevenson scores. In addition, more scholarly work on the history of Scottish art music and rediscovery of its composers will likely result in modern performances of these works. This writer believes that a broad distribution of Stevenson’s music will result in a favorable reception from history, the final arbiter in all human endeavors.








The State We’re In: Directions in Researching post-1900 British Music University of Surrey

16-17 April 2015


Dr Joanna Bullivant (University of Nottingham), Dr Christopher Mark (University of Surrey)

The last thirty years have witnessed a surge of interest in the study of British music since 1900 and a number of landmark publications. Among a diverse body of work, the concept of ‘British modernism’; the role of theory and analysis versus cultural and reception history; the question of the cultural value of indigenous music; and issues of national musical identities in the face of radical change internationally, a declining Empire, an increasingly multicultural society, and strengthening nationalisms within the constituent British nations, have proved to be major – and contested – themes.

In recognition both of the diversity of work already embarked upon, and the topicality of issues of national identity and cultural value in Britain today, we believe the time is ripe for a dedicated forum to enable the exchange and development of new ideas. This initial, exploratory conference is intended as the first step in the establishment of a new research network. It will incorporate several keynote ‘perspectives’ on the state of research from within academia and the music profession, and conclude with an open meeting concerning the goals of the proposed network. We warmly encourage papers on any aspect of music in Britain since 1900, and particularly welcome submissions from research students as well as more established scholars. Possible themes include, but are not limited to:

*      British modernism(s).

*      The role of institutions and media in modern British music, both historical and current.

*      Theory and analysis.

*      Historiography.

*      Nationalism(s) and identity.

*      Music and Empire.

*      Folk and popular music.

*      National and regional musics within the UK.

*      Gender and sexuality.

*      Reception history.

*      Technology/film music.

Proposals for 20-minute papers should be sent as abstracts of not more than 300 words to by 5.00pm on Friday 5 December.

Conference website:

Enquiries should be directed to Chris Mark at

Supported by the Royal Musical Association

The Music of War: 1914-1918 conference, to be held 29-31 August 2014 at the British Library, will feature numerous papers and a keynote of interest to NABMSA members.  Click the link for details and the conference program.


During the latter half of the 1950s young musicians were influenced by Lonnie Donegan and the idea that bands with guitars, drums, a washboard and a tea-chest bass could find chart success. With American roots in blues and folk hundreds of amateur skiffle groups formed across England.  Like many of their peers the Quarry Men were looking for fun, fame, and fortune.  Their love of rock ‘n’ roll and their pursuit of musical knowledge transformed a fledging skiffle group into the Beatles.  Five decades after the fab four made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show we have yet to hear or see another musical group that arrives on the national scene fully developed or one whose music evolves at such an amazing pace as the Beatles did.  Their ability to mesmerize or inspire listeners can be found in a myriad of ways.  In the early music their raw energy is heard in moments such as the drum roll that launches “She Loves You,” the throat wrenching power scream of “Twist and Shout,” and even the flawless vocal harmonies of “This Boy.”  Live performances at the height of Beatlemania illustrated the fab four’s ability to create a flawless musical show while steadfastly holding their audience’s attention in the palm of their hands.  As a studio band their albums changed the way we listened to music and oftentimes their songs opened up hidden meanings to our own lives.  Revolver challenged our definition of popular music.  When before had we heard pop songs that featured drones, tape loops, or a sitar to enhance lyrical meaning?  Sgt. Pepper provided a unique, private Beatles performance that called attention to the unsettled nature of our own world, and with Abbey Road we heard the means by which symphonic form was melded to rocker mentality.  However, it was more than the sublime construction of an album that held our attention.  The Beatles’ quest for artistic perfection and their creation of hypnotic soundscapes challenged musicians and listeners alike to match their criterion.

Where else can we find such a tantalizing example of excellence?  An obvious place to look is in the field of sports.  Such moments arose when we watched Mariano Rivera closing a Yankees game, Michael Phelps swimming to a record 8 gold medals, or Shaun White flawlessly executing a Double McTwist 1260.  Just as the Beatles blew their competitors out of the water so too has another elite athlete.  In collegiate wrestling all roads lead to Dan Gable who defined perfection as a collegiate and world wrestler and then redefined it as a coach at the University of Iowa.  As a wrestler Gable laid the foundation for an aggressive style that drove him to build records of 64-0 in high school and 118-1 in college, win several world titles, an Olympic gold medal, and leave an imprint on the sport of wrestling that has not been matched or surpassed.  Wrestling for Harold Nichols at Iowa State University, Gable’s dedication to training and his relentless intensity led to his entering the 1970 NCAA tournament his senior year undefeated.  When he lost his final match to the unknown Larry Owings, the wrestling world was stunned.  The Russians believed that a flaw in Gable’s style had been exposed which would make him more vulnerable during the 72 Olympics in Munich.  They were wrong.  Just as the Beatles realized in 1966 that there were no more musical idols to seek for inspiration or to unseat, Gable looked within and raised the bar.  Because he was so focused and motivated, not a single takedown or even a point was scored against him in the Olympics. Gable’s superbly focused concentration and aggressive style made him invincible.  Like the Beatles Gable stayed true to himself and never backed down or turned away from a challenge.  As a wrestler he had the drive, desire, and determination that propelled his achievements to what others had once believed were unimaginable heights.

It is rather uncanny to contemplate traits shared by two seemingly disparate entities.  However, the most common attribute between the Beatles and Dan Gable is that all roads in their respective domain lead to them.  Let me explain.  The Beatles are still considered the most influential band in popular music history.  As they rise in popularity during the 1960s they change where and how we listen to music.  Their concerts move from small clubs to theatres, from television sets to boxing arenas and baseball stadiums, and finally to the rooftop of their studio and business, Apple Corps at 3 Savile Row.  During the early sixties aspiring British musicians launch their careers by performing covers of American rock ‘n’ roll. The Beatles change our musical expectations.  With the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership we find a competitive duo who seeks to write songs on par with Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, and Brian Wilson.  It is a duo that utilizes their competitive tension to elevate the craftsmanship of songs as well as define their function in a fractious society.  The Beatles’ work in the recording studio changes the dynamics of recording forever.  While George Martin shaped their early output, he also had a deep understanding of and respect for their creativity.  He and his engineers acted as partners in the Beatles’ sonic exploration which led to singles such as “Rain,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” as well as set the standard of artistic perfection with the release of albums from Rubber Soul to Abbey Road.

 Dan Gable is the rock superstar of the wrestling world. Even after he stopped wrestling competitively in 1976 and retired from coaching in 1997, his eminence has not diminished.  Like Lennon during his New York City years, Gable walks freely around Iowa City and is approachable.  The first time you see him outside the wrestling arena you wonder what all the fuss is about.  The man is so low key, nonchalant and gracious that first looks lead you to believe he is a computer programming wizard rather than a ferocious athletic competitor.  You wonder what he did that still brings USA Today, the New York Times and Sports Illustrated to Iowa City repeatedly to write about his accomplishments.  It is only when you look him straight in the eye that you see the competitor – the man who won Olympic gold and who built a powerhouse wrestling program at the University of Iowa.  Once your eyes meet, the man’s genius is revealed.  Gable’s laser eyes lock on you and in a split second size up your strengths and your vulnerabilities.  Mentally, he will always be several steps ahead of you, and he will know your next move before you have even made the gesture.  Before Mariano Rivera, Michael Phelps or Shaun White, there was Daniel Mack Gable.  He is an institution in the sport of wrestling and is regularly called its greatest ambassador.  Not only is Gable the most celebrated wrestler of his time, he is the one who set the standard wrestlers across the world still strive to meet.

Just as today’s youth are mesmerized by the Beatles, young wrestlers are drawn to Gable.  His aura among wrestlers who had yet to be born when he won Olympic gold or coached the Iowa Hawkeyes beams brightly.  During home dual meets at Carver Hawkeye Arena aspiring wrestlers always know where Gable is.  One of their eyes focuses intently on the action at hand and the other on him.  If Dan is not doing color commentary for Iowa Public Television, he will be sitting in the stands with his family; that is, if the Hawkeyes are performing to his standard.  If things are not going well in an individual match or it is hard fought, then Gable moves closer to the action.  If he is disgusted with what he sees, he will head for the tunnel.  The eyes never lose sight of him and when he pauses in his walk around the arena – then it happens.  Gable finds himself surrounded by at least half a dozen boys who want to talk wrestling or get his autograph.  He is a true champion because he stops and talks with every single boy.  He may ask them to crouch a little so that he can keep an eye on the current action, but he never turns them away.  Gable takes care of his fans just as the Beatles had taken care of their devout followers in Liverpool.

Attaining perfection in any discipline is filled with years of hard work, sacrifice, and even tragedy. When Paul McCartney’s mother died from breast cancer in 1956, Paul turned to music.  It became his sanctuary and his public way of coping with a very private loss.  In many ways Lennon’s life was marked by death.  His uncle George Smith, a father figure, died in 1955, his close friend Stuart Sutcliffe died at the age of 21 in 1962, and Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager and another father figure, died from a drug overdose in 1967.  As horrifying as these deaths were, it was the untimely death of his mother Julia in 1958 that irrevocably altered his life.  Julia became John’s muse, and music was his way of trying to reach and communicate with her as well as coping with his pain and the uncertainty of living in a cruel world.

Gable’s road to becoming an elite athlete was also shaped by tragedy.  Just after his sophomore year of high school his 19 year old sister Diane was murdered in the family home.  It was Gable who summoned the strength to show his parents that life moved forward rather than standing still.  Like McCartney, Dan turned to wrestling to work out his pain and like Julia, Diane became his muse.  He trained with single-minded devotion until he became one of the best wrestlers in the country.  Then he trained some more and turned himself into the most dominant wrestler in history. Just as the Beatles’ work ethic set them apart from their peers, so too did Gable’s.  He trained longer and harder than his teammates or any other wrestler in the world.  Losing his last collegiate match in 1970 gave Dan added motivation for his work-outs and ultimately helped him forge the path toward an Olympic gold medal.  There were no shortcuts to the medal stand especially when the competition believed you were within their reach.

What made Gable so unique was that his legacy extended far beyond his accomplishments as a collegiate wrestler and an Olympian.  His work as a collegiate coach defined the parameters used to judge all who followed.  Gable was the head coach at the University of Iowa from 1976 to 1997.  In 21 years his teams won an unprecedented 21 Big Ten titles and 15 NCAA titles.  As a head coach Gable became an amalgamation of George Martin and his engineers as he molded his team to get the best out of each wrestler.  Gable’s foundation was built on fundamentals, work ethic, and honor.  From the moment a match began until its conclusion Iowa wrestlers were known for their ability to wear down their opponents and cast them aside in pursuit of the next great challenge.  During their seven minute matches many were relentless, merciless and methodical in the way they demoralized their opposition. The Iowa way of wrestling was known for its action in the center of the mat and with a focus on take downs, back points, and pins. Yet, Gable never put his wrestlers on a pedestal.  He knew what it took to perform at an elite level, but he also knew that his wrestlers were unique young men who had their own personalities and different training methods that helped them reach their peak.  Gable never denied his wrestlers’ individuality or their style of wrestling. He was the master psychologist who tweaked each athlete’s style to perfection.  Because he got to know his wrestlers’ mindsets so well, he knew how far he could push them and when to ease the intensity of that push.  Gable built the top wrestling program in the country because he had All-Americans and soon-to-be All-Americans wrestling each other every day in practice.  When a wrestler graduated or was withheld from competition due to injury, his heir stepped onto the mat without losing a step.  If your goal was to win a national title and a gold medal, then you came to Iowa.  Gable’s coaching tree offered yet another testimony to his impact on the sport.  Just consider the number of former assistants and wrestlers who have gone on to coach at the collegiate level: Tom Brands (Iowa), Barry Davis (Wisconsin), Jim Heffernan (Illinois), J Robinson (Minnesota) and Tom Ryan (Ohio State University).  While each program has its own personality and style, Gable’s imprint is firmly implanted in their foundation.

Whether attending a sporting event or a concert we are all spectators who are inspired by perfection or by seeing the impossible attained.  It does not matter whether we are listening to our favorite Beatles’ album or watching a wrestling meet.  The inner strength and determination we hear in vocal and instrumental lines and see in an individual wrestler provides motivation as we attempt to achieve our own impossible – to break through personal barriers as we pursue our dreams.  That is the legacy of the Beatles and Dan Gable.