University of Leeds, 6th March 2014

From left to right: Andrew Cheetham, Danielle Hood, Daniel Holden, Joseph Knowles, Martin Curda, Derek Scott and Stephanie Jones.

The latest meeting of the Postgraduate Writing Club took place on 6th March 2014. The event, sponsored by the SMA, was hosted by the music department of the University of Leeds and chaired by Professor Derek Scott.

Although the number of participants was lower than last time, this was not to the detriment of the intensity and richness of discussion. The quality of the meeting was also ensured by the fact that all papers reflected a late and mature stage of research, and are now being prepared for publication. On this occasion the Writing Club allowed us to test our work against friendly criticism of fellow postgraduates before subjecting our papers to the full rigour of the peer-review process. As ever, the meeting unfolded in a climate of good humour, friendship and mutual support.

Martin Curda’s study of ‘The Body, the Grotesque and Carnival in the music of Pavel Haas’ relates the work of a relatively obscure composer to the context of Czechoslovakian avant-garde of the 1920s, thus bringing new material into the Anglophone musicological discourse. The discussion initially focused on the problem of translation of the terminology used by Czech musicologists and the idiosyncratic theoretical language of Leoš Janáček. Subsequently, attention was shifted to the position of Czechoslovakian avant-garde in the plurality of European avant-garde movements of the 1920s. Comments have also been made on formal structure of the text in relation to the problem of transition from a PhD thesis chapter to the format of a journal article.

Andrew Cheetham’s recent conference paper, combining archival research with comparative analytical enquiry, brings to light a hitherto unknown connection between particular works of English seventeenth-century composer George Jeffreys and the madrigals of the (in)famous Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. The panel suggested ways to expand the analytical section of the paper, which is to become a chapter in a collected volume dedicated to Gesualdo, by considering broader issues of genre and style. It has been pointed out during the discussion that further research might focus on Jeffreys’s choice of literary text and scrutinise the extent to which it corresponds with the expressive language, apparently inspired by Gesualdo. Andrew was also encouraged to elaborate on the historical and technical implications of the fact that Gesualdo’s madrigals were transcribed into figured bass notation for a performance in which Jeffreys himself is believed to have taken part.

After lunch, Derek Scott enlightened us with his talk on ‘how (or how not!) to deal with T.V. and radio’. Drawing upon his widespread experience with all forms of media, Derek selected a couple of his most recent appearances, such as BBC Breakfast TV (2011), The One and Only Mrs Mills (2012) and Len Goodman’s Dance Band Days (2014) to provide advice about what really went on behind the scenes, the most important of which was ‘what might interest you might not interest the BBC’ (there were plenty of examples). Moreover, we are all now thoroughly informed that the BBC do at times try and recruit junior academics for research on the cheap and that it is often best to politely decline certain requests. Not that Derek wanted to put us off from enjoying a few minutes of fame here and there. Indeed, a public appearance looks great when having to demonstrate ‘impact’ in a research proposal. All in all, it was very interesting and useful to hear about the realities that an academic can face when dealing with media appearances.

Danielle Hood contributed her study of ‘The Uncanny Topic in the Fünf Orchesterstücke Op. 16’, approaching Schoenberg’s music in a novel way – from the perspective of Freud’s theory of the unconscious. Outlining the continuity with the ‘Ombra’ topic of earlier music, she identifies in Schoenberg’s works the topic of ‘the Uncanny’. Drawing on Freud’s description of the term, she suggests ways in which anxiety, repression and castration complex are signified in Schoenberg’s music. During the discussion, several pieces have been identified which might be eligible to scrutiny from a similar perspective. Finally, several remarks were made on the form of the soon-to-be-submitted article; given the breadth of Danielle’s (brilliant, one must say) conceptual argumentation, a careful use of subheadings might help the reader navigate in the text.

The research seminar which was to conclude the day was, unfortunately, cancelled. However, this provided the company with welcome opportunity to continue the discussion over a pint at the local pub, and what a discussion it proved to be! Small talk aside, some of the serious topics that came up included conference presentation experience, academic opportunities, research methodologies and avoiding sexism in academic writing. Now, lest anyone gets the wrong impression, we actually had fun – not only in the pub but throughout the day. The Writing Club meetings offer much more than a platform for heavy academic discussion: they create a sense of community. We would therefore like to thank the people who made it happen this March and encourage more people to join us for the next meeting, details of which will be advertised in due course. Finally, special thanks are due to Derek Scott for the advice, encouragement, support and wonderful hospitality.

Martin Curda