Programme 2018-19

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 (Harrods Room, unless otherwise indicated)


24 October 2018
Emma Dillon (KCL) – ‘The Châtelain de Coucy and his song: A vous, amant, plus qu’a nulle autre gent‘ (with a performance by Gopal Kambo)

My presentation examines a song by Gui, Châtelain de Coucy (c.1168-1203), one of the earliest poet-composers (or trouvères) writing songs in the French tradition of grand chant courtois. My presentation will begin with an orientation to his most famous song, A vous, amant, plus qu’a nulle autre gent, illustrated with a performance by Gopal Kambo. As with other first-generation trouvères, there are no written traces of this, or other songs by Gui, extant from his lifetime. The earliest record is in a notated songbook (chansonnier) dating from 1231, that is, almost thirty years after Gui’s demise. Yet Gui’s songs, and A vous, amant in particular, circulated widely, well into the fourteenth century, when the lyrics were quoted by the composer Guillaume de Machaut. Not only that, their attribution to Gui remained an integral part of the songs’ transmission: the most extreme version of this was their interpolation into a ‘romancified’ story of his life, dating from the end of the thirteenth century (the Roman du Châtelain de Coucy et de la Dame de Fayel). My presentation asks: what did it mean to know Gui’s song, in his lifetime, and beyond? And what place did Gui himself (as romancified protagonist of the song and later romance, and as a historical reality) have in the knowledge of this song? I will engage with these questions first, by examining the evidence extant for the song across its long transmission history, to consider how performers, readers, and scribes encountered and recorded the song in material form. And second, by exploring evidence of the historical Gui, castellan of the château of Coucy: in evidence from his lifetime (in charters), and of the memory of his life, and his death at sea in 1203, among later generations of the Coucy family. Knowing this song, I will suggest, was always, in some sense, about preserving the memory of the song’s maker. This paper offers soundings from Part II of a larger project, The Romance of Song, devoted to early trouvère song and its reception from 1160 to 1360, and supported by a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship, 2016-19.

21 November 2018
Naomi Weiss (Harvard) – ‘Performance, Memory, and Affect: Animal Choruses in Archaic and Classical Greek Vase Painting’

28 November 2018 (Timmy Hele Room)
Paul Hamilton (QMUL) – ‘Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies
Lyric and the musicality it makes its own was in the Romantic period a particularly conspicuous way of imagining a nation, at a time when there was an obvious need for many subject European peoples to do just that. The justification for a nation’s claim to be considered a nation now was usually the precedent of its past existence in some form. Imagining, therefore, was almost always re-imagining. What remained constant in both was the music, what varied was its performance then and now. The fact that traditional melodies and airs could drive new lyrical expression encouraged those re-conceiving their nation. Moore’s lyrical politics gain visibility and definition from comparison with European lyric and music put to the same purpose. The unified expression of the individual in a personal music, and then the representativeness that lyrical success can have for other nationalities, was rudimentary but crucial for Romantic nationalism.

6 February 2019
Helen Abbott (Birmingham) on the Baudelaire Song Project

20 February 2019
Miranda Stanyon (KCL) – ‘This is not a love song: Bodmer contra Minnesinger’

13 March 2019
Chloë Alaghband-Zadeh (Loughborough) – tba

8 May 2019 (Old Library)
Kirsteen McCue (Glasgow) – tba

22 May 2019 (Old Library)
Polly Paulusma (Cambridge) – tba

seminar conveners: Corinna Russell and Gavin Alexander


Past sessions

9 May 2018 – Micha Lazarus: ‘The English PetRAAWRK! Birdsong in an Elizabethan Madrigal’

25 April 2018 – Ewan Jones: ‘What entrainment can teach aesthetics’

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 (Saint Louis): ‘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’