Programme 2017-18

About the Song Seminar

The Song Seminar is run by the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Song Group, a network of researchers from a range of disciplines, including English, Music, Modern and Medieval Languages, Philosophy, Theology, History, and Classics. We are all of us, in our different ways, interested in songs – what they are, how they work, how they are used. Our regular lunchtime seminar fosters cross-disciplinary conversations about songs – their forms, functions, relations, histories – and about the poets, composers, songwriters, and performers who make them. We consider songs of all periods and traditions, and try to feature live performances when we can. See below for a list of past events, and watch this space for upcoming sessions. If you’d like to hear about the seminar programme and to receive materials (texts, scores, links to recordings), please join our email list by clicking here and following the instructions.


Upcoming sessions

All meetings of the seminar are on Wednesdays, 12.30-2 pm in Emmanuel College


25 April 2018 (Harrods Room)

Ewan Jones: ‘What entrainment can teach aesthetics’

This paper will explore the ethnomusicological and biological concept of entrainment, which explores the tendency for organisms to synchronise their endogenous rhythms to external periods or phases.
Under its aspect, I will consider eighteenth- and nineteenth-century texts by writers including Adam Smith, Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Some of these texts feature songs.


9 May 2018 (Old Library)

Micha Lazarus: ‘The English PetRAAWRK! Birdsong in an Elizabethan Madrigal’

Why does the nightingale sing? Petrarch takes up this question in two closely-related, intricately musical sonnets, RVF 311 (‘Quel rosigniuol’) and 353 (‘Vago augelletto’), imitating a rich topos found in Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Virgil, and elsewhere, in which Philomel’s articulate loss collapses into the nightingale’s music of lament. That collapse of semantics into sound in turn shapes a madrigal setting of sonnet 311 by Peter Philips, its only English translation, in an extraordinary case of acoustic imitation. The sonic patterning of this English setting takes on additional significance in the light of Philips’s own complicated cultural identity as an English Catholic composer of Italianate madrigals, who insisted on the title ‘Inglese’ even as he spent his career in the Spanish Netherlands. Domesticating the sound of Petrarch for English ears, this passage of birdsong suggests there are many more varieties of imitatio that we might detect in Renaissance poetry, and offers a remarkable instance of the symbiosis between text and music, sound and sense.


seminar conveners: Corinna Russell and Gavin Alexander


Past sessions

21 February 2018 – Caroline Egan: ‘Aztec Baroque: the uses of Nahuatl in Sor Juana’s carols’

7 February 2018 – Heather Glen: ‘What happens to words in songs?’

23 November 2017 – Lucy Taylor (mezzo-soprano) and Jeremy Thurlow (piano) performing and discussing Baudelaire settings with Miranda Gill

8 November 2017 – Sean Curran: ‘Music writing and music history in a thirteenth-century song’

25 October 2017 – Discussion session: Katherine Bergeron, ‘A Bugle, A Bell, A Stroke of the Tongue: Rethinking Music in Modern French Verse’, Representations 86 (2004): 53–72

17 May 2017 – Rachel Adelstein on what we talk about when we talk about ‘a song’

3 May 2017 – Ross Cole: ‘Cannibal Song? Poetics and Personae in “Visions of Johanna” and “Diamonds & Rust”‘

8 March 2017 – Phyllis Weliver: ‘Triangulated Criticism, Song, and Daniel Deronda

22 February 2017 – Simon Jackson and Simone Kotva: ‘Writing animal song: the case of Charles Butler’s “Melissomelos, or Bees’ Madrigall” (1624)

8 February 2017 – Ceri Owen and Corinna Russell on Vaughan Williams’s ‘Linden Lea: A Dorset Song’

23 November 2016 – Composers Jeremy Thurlow and Tim Watts in performance and conversation

9 November 2016 – Katharine Dell and Danielle Padley on the Psalms

26 October 2016 – Gavin Alexander and Edward Wickham on Dowland’s ‘In darkness let me dwell’