ICE workshop: Music and the Myth of Intelligibility (CFP)

Sylvia Gosse, ‘The Old Violinist’, c.1918-9

‘The universal language of mankind’: Music and the Myth of Intelligibility.

Friday 17 May 2012, Wadham College, Oxford

In his 1938 poem, ‘The Composer’, W. H. Auden praises the immediacy of music, juxtaposing it with painting and poetry as arts that require mediation (‘All the others translate’) and reception (‘by painstaking adaption’). Auden’s poem is just one of the most famous articulations of the idea that, of all the arts, music is the one that requires no intervention to render it intelligible across time and space (as suggested equally by Longfellow’s reference to music as ‘the universal language of mankind’). This workshop aims to scrutinise this influential yet problematic myth with a particular focus on the period 1870-1920. Papers may wish to address (but are not necessarily limited to) the following themes:

– the rise of comparative musicology as an academic discipline in the nineteenth century and its relationship to other disciplinary historiographies;

– the relationship between philosophy and music in the establishment of the myth of universality;

– music and spirituality in a transnational context;

– performers, composers and critics as agents of cosmopolitanism and internationalism;

– concert programming and the reception of national repertoires;

– music and the other arts (especially ballet, design, architecture, as well as literature and visual culture);

– Wagnerism, Nietzscheanism and the search for the Gesamtkunstwerk;

– modes of writing about music (analysis, criticism, biography, appreciation, etc.);

– music and politics (militarism, nationalism, pacifism, idealism, etc.);

– music and the rise of new technologies and modes of dissemination (sound recording, periodical and journal culture, etc.);

– music festivals and the culture of leisured travel;

– music in the formation of gendered and sexual sub-cultures.

Proposals are invited for 20-minute papers that address the workshop theme from a variety of methodological, disciplinary, historical, cultural and linguistic viewpoints. Please send an abstract (max. 300 words) and short bio by 15 January 2013 to Philip Bullock,, copied to

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