The Dent Medal, struck in memory of the distinguished scholar and musician Edward J. Dent (1876-1957), has been awarded by the Royal Musical Association annually since 1961 to recipients selected for their outstanding contribution to musicology. A list of candidates is drawn up by the Council of the Association and the Directorium of the International Musicological Society.
The Dent Medal for 2021 is awarded to Laura Tunbridge.
Laura Tunbridge completed her PhD at Princeton in 2002 and subsequently held lectureships at the Universities of Reading and Manchester. She is currently Professor of Music at the University of Oxford and is Henfrey Fellow and Tutor in Music at St Catherine’s College.
Tunbridge’s research has focused primarily on German repertoires of the nineteenth- and twentieth centuries. She did much to challenge the reception of Schumann with her first monograph Schumann’s Late Style (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and co-edited collection Rethinking Schumann (Oxford University Press, 2011), and has subsequently made a major contribution to the history of song with the monographs The Song Cycle (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and Singing in the Age of Anxiety: Lieder Performance in New York and London between the World Wars (Chicago, 2018), and the co-edited collections German Song Onstage (Indiana University Press, 2020) and Song Beyond the Nation: Translation, Transnationalism, Performance (Oxford University Press, 2021). Her most recent book, Beethoven: A Life In Nine Pieces (Viking, 2020), has been warmly received across a broad media spectrum, winning the ‘Best Composer Biography’ award from Presto Books in 2021.
Tunbridge’s work is distinguished by her dedication to the historical specificity and contingency of musical meaning, whether unpicking the way that Schumann’s biography shaped the reception of his music, the role of recording technology in communicating the idea of a song cycle, or the agency of performers (or radio producers, or filmmakers) as they engage with and interpret repertoires we think we know. In The Song Cycle, this led Tunbridge to challenge musicologists to take seriously as song cycles concept albums by twentieth-century popular artists as disparate as Joni Mitchell and Radiohead alongside earlier, “classic” examples by Schubert and Schumann. Singing in the Age of Anxiety, meanwhile, is exemplary in its subtle, productive intertwining of performing and cultural histories.
Tunbridge’s scholarly achievements are particularly remarkable given the work she has also undertaken as an administrator and public intellectual. She was editor of the Journal of the Royal Musical Association from 2013-2018; she was elected to the Directorium of the International Musicological Society in 2017; and she features regularly in the media. The widespread success of Beethoven: A Life in Nine Pieces has cemented Tunbridge’s standing as one of the most significant public musicologists in Britain today. It marks a milestone in a career distinguished by collegiality as well as impressive productivity.