Conference Review: Art Song Platform: A Global Force, March 2024

In recent years, The Art Song Platform has emerged as an important musical forum for exploring art song under an interdisciplinary lens. Fostering new research insight and analysis, original compositions, and performances, since its inaugural conference in 2019, The Art Song Platform’s work reflects the evolving field of art song scholarship and promotes exchange that goes beyond the boundaries of the academy. In 2021, a study day explored the growing use of empirical approaches, pointing to a recent diversification of art song research methodologies. In 2022, the Platform addressed the impact of digital technologies and the pandemic’s disruption of traditional concert performances.

The Art Song Platform’s March 2024 online conference ‘Art Song as a Global Force’ explored art’s song’s global reach, highlighting the ways that art song has adapted (and continues to adapt) to changing musical, cultural, and sociological contexts at various points in time. The virtual format of the conference itself exemplified these trends, allowing connections to an array of international scholarship, with contributions by speakers from 13 countries, and delegates from 17 countries across four continents.

The event featured keynote contributions from Professor Philip Bullock (University of Oxford) and Professor Natasha Loges (Hochschule für Musik Freiburg).  These contributions situated art song academically, digitally, nationally, and internationally, and provoked the questions: what is the role of art song as a ‘global’ force, when shifting geopolitics means the role of ‘global’ itself is in question? And what tensions, changes, and opportunities does this create for our scholarship, performance, and reception of the genre?

A broad range of contributions from established scholars, early career researchers, PhD students and art song performers and producers featured throughout the day. Papers explored the boundaries of song and the value judgments placed upon songs at various points in history. Professor Christopher Reynolds (University of California, Davis) critiqued traditional definitions of art songs as songs of ‘serious artistic purpose’ and examined the role of ‘middlebrow’ songs in 20th-century art song recitals. Dr Jennifer Rushworth (University College London) investigated musical and literary preferences and their impact on the inclusion of Schubert’s songs in French song anthologies. Focusing on an earlier period, Dr Nicole Panizza (Coventry University) used Francesca Caccini’s songs to explore themes of identity, time, and place, and the composer’s commitment to song composition, education, and performance.

The conference embraced the interplay within poetico-musical relationships, poetic sound, and language norms across art song performance and scholarship. Kaitlyn Clawson-Cannestra (University of Oregon) explored how the sonic elements of poetry (text, texture, and timbre) combine to create ‘outpouring of emotions as sound’, demonstrated through analytical approaches to songs by Poldowski. Juliet Petrus (Royal College of Music) and Jialiang Zhu (University of Toronto) led a stimulating panel discussion on the growth of the Chinese art song movement, the development of Mandarin as a lyrical language, leading to an important provocation: ‘with nearly 1.4billion Mandarin speakers worldwide, shouldn’t we all be singing in Mandarin?’  Khairunnisa Diyana Md Noor similarly encouraged scholarship that fosters greater interest and appreciation for Asian languages in art song contexts, under the guise of Malay culture and poetry and the commissioning and performing of new works.

Translation emerged as a key theme.  A series of papers explored how the genre’s simultaneous and intensified use of inter-semiotic and inter- and -intra lingual translation strategies has impacted interpretation, audience experience, and the role and power of the translator at various points in history. Dr Makiko Hayasaka (Tokyo College of Music) examined the cultural and technical implications of translating Schubert’s Winterreise into Japanese, through the singer Tamaki Miura’s performances. Dr Frankie Perry (British Library) presented archival research on Astra Desmond’s conversations with A.H. Fox Strangways, highlighting the contemporaneous nature of translation debates that still pursue the genre today. Héloïse Baldelli (University of Stavanger) offered cotemporary perspectives from a performance lens, showing the use of dance, choreography and narration as complimentary artistic media and translation devices, in performances of French surrealist songs to Norwegian audiences.

The growing influence of digital technologies on art song performance and reception today was also brought into consideration. Yuemin He examined the resurgence of Chinese Boudoir lament in contemporary digital culture and how traditional lyrical themes both persist and transform within the digital age. Two papers explored recent work with Oxford International Song Festival. Dr Stewart Campbell (University of Birmingham) presented research on a new app that uses the International Phonetic Alphabet to develop new pedagogical approaches to language learning in art song contexts, drawing upon word-music relations and translation scholarship. Dr Verica Grmusa (Goldsmiths University) reported on the results of a multi-year study, examining art song performer attitudes and approaches, captured before, during, and after the pandemic.

Finally, a concluding set of papers explored how art song reflects and embodies the ‘spirit of the nation’. Fanni Molnár (Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music) explored the embodiment of national style in Hungarian art song through the lens of Gusztáv Szénfy’s folk-inspired songs and theoretical writings. Dr. Janani Sridhar presented a new song cycle, SingBites, with composer Dr. Nicholas Ho, exploring the spirit of contemporary Singaporean experience and how this is captured in song. Finally, Marija Benić Zovko (University of Zagreb) delved into 19th-century art song in Zagreb, investigating the complex relationship between aesthetics, politics, and national identity.

Plans are already in progress for a follow-up event in 2025. If scholars and performers are interested in finding out more about the work of the Art Song Platform, please contact:

Dr Stewart Campbell is a Lecturer in Music, Management, and Marketing at the University of York and a Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham.

Organising ommittee:

  • Dr Verica Grmusa (Goldsmiths, University of London)
  • Dr Stewart Campbell (University of Birmingham/University of York)
  • Dr Nicole Panizza (Coventry University)

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