Music

David Nicholls

Primary position:
Emeritus Professor of Music

Background

The University of Southampton
Professor David Nicholls's photo

Before moving to Southampton in August 2000, David Nicholls was Professor of Music and Research Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Keele University. Born and raised in Birmingham he studied for a BA at St John's College, Cambridge, primarily with the composer Hugh Wood. After graduating with a first in the Music Tripos, he undertook doctoral and postdoctoral research: in 1986 he was awarded a PhD for his thesis on the experimental compositional techniques of Ives, Cowell, Cage and others, and from 1984 until 1987 he was Keasbey Fellow in American Studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge.

In addition to numerous conference presentations in Britain, France, Germany, America, Canada, and Australia, he has on several occasions been an invited guest speaker at major international events: the 1997 Henry Cowell Centennial Conference and Festival in New York; the 2005 John Cage Conference at the University of Calgary; the 2005 John Cage Conference at the Royal Northern College of Music; and the 2006 radar festival in Mexico City, at which he was in residence for two weeks as curador, delivering a series of lectures and pre-concert talks on the music of Cage.  During Cage's Centenary year, 2012, he gave invited papers in Paris, Poland, and Chicago.

Until the mid-1990s, Nicholls was also active as a composer. Many of his pieces were performed both in the United Kingdom and abroad, while others were broadcast.  The string quartet, Winter Landscape with Skaters and Birdtrap, was commissioned by the Bingham Quartet and issued on CD, while the Cantata: Jerusalem, commissioned by the BBC, was premiered in London in November 1996.

Nicholls took early retirement in 2013, but is happy to give advice to graduate students if their research topics fall into his areas of expertise.  

Selected compositions and performances

Stars and Distances 1977-78; revised 1981 (16 solo voices, optional electronics; c.17')
26.01.83 St. John's, Smith Square, London. New London Chamber Choir, James Wood, John Whiting

Three Empson Songs 1978-79 (soprano, clarinet [both playing percussion]/soprano, clarinet, percussion; c. 9'. Texts by Sir William Empson)
26.06.80 BMIC, London (Jane Ginsborg, Philip Edwards)
24.08.82 Reid Concert Hall, Edinburgh (Jane Ginsborg, Philip Edwards)
14.06.88 Union Chapel, Islington, London (Eighth Almeida Festival. Sarah Leonard, Philip Edwards)
Broadcast 26.11.88 BBC Radio Three (Jane Ginsborg, Philip Edwards)

Reflections and Refractions 1978 (flute, clarinet, piano, string trio; c. 7')
15.01.79 University Music School, Cambridge (1913 Ensemble, Paul Webster)
12.05.81 Barkingside, Ilford (Nomos, Paul Webster)
13.07.81 Lauderdale House, Highgate, London (Nomos, Paul Webster)
26.11.82 University Music School, Cardiff (ad hoc ensemble, Oliver Knussen)

Pleiades 1979-80 (three groups of instruments - 20 players; c. 12')
28.01.81 St. John's, Smith Square, London (Orpheus Ensemble, Paul Webster)
10.08.90 Guildhall School of Music, London (Guildhall New Music Ensemble, James Wood)
In September 1981, this work was selected by the UK jury of the ISCM for submission to the international jury of the 1982 World Music Days

The Whole in Parts 1980-81 (piano; c. 6', currently withdrawn)
19.08.81 University Music School, Cambridge (Renée Reznek)
02.09.81 Natal University, South Africa (Renée Reznek)
11.09.81 Orange Free State University, South Africa (Renée Reznek)
17.09.81 Rhodes University, South Africa (Reéee Reznek)
30.09.81 Colchester Institute (Renée Reznek)
04.10.81 Guildhall School of Music, London (Renée Reznek)
31.10.81 Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Holland (Renée Reznek)
22.02.83 BMIC, London (Reéee Reznek)
11.05.83 St. Martin's-within-Ludgate, London (John Byron)
Broadcast September 1981 South African Radio (Renée Reznek)
Broadcast October 1981 Dutch Radio (Renée Reznek)

... with which to open ... and ... with which to close ... 1982 (soprano, clarinet, piano; c. 3'. Texts by Ben Johnson and Sir Thomas Wyatt)
27.11.82 Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London (Triple Echo)
28.11.84 Purcell Room, London (Triple Echo)
18.08.86 Dartington Hall, Devon (Jane Ginsborg, Nicholas Cox, George Nicholson)
14.06.88 Union Chapel, Islington, London (Eighth Almeida Festival. Sarah Leonard, Philip Edwards, George Nicholson)
26.10.88 Walter Moberly Hall, Keele University (Tapestry)
13.11.88 Selwyn College, Cambridge (Tapestry)
16.02.89 King's Hall, University of Newcastle (Tapestry)
08.11.99 Westminster Theatre, Keele University (Jane Manning / Janes Minstrels)

Competitive Strategies 2 1982 (oboe; c. 5')
07.07.84 St. John's, Ladbroke Grove, London (Barbara Bolte)
15.07.84 Church of the Redeemer, Toronto, Canada (Barbara Bolte)
Broadcast July 1984 CFMX-FM, Coburg, Canada (Barbara Bolte)

The Giant's Heart 1983 (mimes/dancers/puppets/actors, 7+ singers, 15 players, optional tape; c. 23'. Libretto by Richard Gaskell, after a short story by George Macdonald)
August 1986 Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh (CUOS, Martyn Harry/Life & Limb, Roland Kenyon, 8 performances)
October 1986 The Octagon, Cambridge (CUOS, Martyn Harry/Life & Limb, Roland Kenyon, 2 performances)
This work was the winning entry of the Cambridge University Opera Society's 1986 Composers' Competition. The copying of the performance material was made possible by grants from the Francis Chagrin Fund of the SPNM and the Faculty of Music, Cambridge

Chi 1983, revised 1987-88 (dancer, percussionist, live electronics; c. 20'. Commissioned by James Wood and John Whiting)
14.06.88 Union Chapel, Islington, London (Eighth Almeida Festival. Erica Knighton, James Wood, John Whiting)
03.05.90 Lilian Baylis Theatre, London (Percussion '90 Festival. Erica Knighton, James Wood, John Whiting)

Carol 1983 (8 voices, organ, bells, crotales; c. 5'. Texts from the Graduel Neumé and a fifteenth-century nativity carol. Commissioned by St. James's, Piccadilly)
18.12.83 St. James's, Piccadilly, London (Choir of St. James's, Ivor Bolton)

Seascape 1984 (strings, harp, celesta, 4 percussion; c. 10'. Commissioned by the SPNM)
1.9.84 The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Festival. The Koenig Ensemble, Jan Latham-Koenig)
Broadcast: 25.11.84 BBC Radio 3 (The Koenig Ensemble, Jan Latham-Koenig)
The copying of the performance material was made possible by a grant from the Francis Chagrin Fund of the SPNM

Gonepteryx rhamni 1985 (clarinet, piano; c. 12')
10.3.88 Purcell Room, London (Triple Echo)
13.3.88 Barbican Hall Foyer, London (Triple Echo)
14.6.88 Union Chapel, Islington, London (Eighth Almeida Festival. Philip Edwards, George Nicholson)

Siva Dances 1985 (flute, viola, harp, optional percussion; c. 8')
02.02.86 Selwyn College, Cambridge (Jeux)
10.02.86 Wigmore Hall, London (Jeux)
14.06.88 Union Chapel, Islington, London (Eighth Almeida Festival. Jeux)
10.01.98 Birmingham Chamber Music Society, Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham (Jeux)
29.01.98 Clore Auditorium, The Tate Gallery, London (Nancy Ruffer, Paul Silverthorne, Hugh Webb)

... whisperings upon leaves ... 1986 (soprano, 10 instruments; c. 11'. Text by Richard Gaskell. Commissioned by the New McNaghten Concerts)
10.02.87 Palace Green, Durham (Tracey Chadwell, Northern Sinfonia)
11.02.87 St. John's, Smith Square, London (Tracey Chadwell, Northern Sinfonia)

Mosaic 1986 (flute, clarinet, piano, vibraphone, violin, 'cello; c. 15')
09.04.87 St. John's, Ladbroke Grove, London (Nomos, Paul Webster)
18.02.88 Walter Moberly Hall, Keele University (Keele New Music Ensemble, David Nicholls)
22.04.89 St. John's, Ladbroke Grove, London (Nomos, Paul Webster)

In the Cage 1986 (singing/speaking recorder player, optional assistant/tape; c. 8'. Text by Tamar Hodes. Commissioned by Evelyn Nallen)
21.05.87 Wigmore Hall, London (Evelyn Nallen)
18.10.87 Melba Hall, Melbourne, Australia (Evelyn Nallen)
21.07.88 Packard Hall, Colorado Springs, USA (Evelyn Nallen)
19.11.90 Pembroke College, Cambridge (Evelyn Nallen)
Broadcast October 87 Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Evelyn Nallen)

2 Japanese Miniatures 1988-89 (8 players; c. 15'. Commissioned by Lysis, with funds provided by the Arts Council)
21.09.90 Sydney Conservatorium, Australia (austraLysis. 2 performances)
Broadcast September 1990 Australian Broadcasting Corporation (austraLysis)
Broadcast 28.11.91 BBC Radio 3 (Music in our Time. Lontano, Odaline de la Martinez)
Specially commended: 1991 Royal Over-Seas League Competition

Largo e Piano 1989 (14 players; c. 9')
31.05.90 Walter Moberly Hall, Keele University (Keele New Music Ensemble, George Nicholson)

Winter landscape with skaters and birdtrap 1989-90 (string quartet; c. 20'. Commissioned by the Bingham String Quartet, with funds provided by the Holst Foundation)
19.11.90 Walter Moberly Hall, Keele University (Bingham String Quartet)
07.02.91 Royal Festival Hall foyer, London (Bingham String Quartet)
08.07.91 Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, London (Platform One Festival. Bingham String Quartet)
Recorded July 92 (commercial release on NMC D006. Bingham String Quartet)

Several Elephants 1989-90 (soprano sax, tenor sax, trombone/bass sax; c. 17')
08.03.90 Walter Moberly Hall, Keele University (Keele New Music Ensemble, ii & v only)
13.11.93 Lindsay Studio Theatre, Keele University (Keele New Music Ensemble, v only)

Cantata: Jerusalem 1990-91 (soprano, 2 mixed choruses, 2 wind & percussion bands; c. 34'. Texts selected principally from the Old Testament and the works of William Blake. Commissioned by the BBC)
29.11.96 Maida Vale Studios, London (Radio 3 Invitation Concert. Sarah Leonard, BBC Singers, Lontano, Odaline de la Martinez)
Broadcast 27.12.96 BBC Radio 3 (Hear and Now. Sarah Leonard, BBC Singers, Lontano, Odaline de la Martinez)

Sam Bam and the House in the Sky 1994-95 (children's musical for voices and instruments; c. 25'. Text by Tamar Hodes; music by Tamar Hodes and David Nicholls)

Lily's Birds 1996 (a musical story for children; string quartet and narrator; c. 15'. Text by Tamar Hodes. Commissioned by the New Victoria Theatre)
05.01.97 New Victoria Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme (Lindsay String Quartet, Shelly Willets)

Songs of the Spirit 1998 (SATB chorus; c. 10'. Texts from various sources; written in collaboration with Benjamin Nicholls, who composed two of the five movements. Commissioned by The College of William and Mary)
18.04.98 The Wren Chapel, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, USA (The Botetourt Chamber Singers, James Armstrong)
30.04.98 Phi Beta Kappa Hall, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, USA (The Botetourt Chamber Singers, James Armstrong)
02.05.98 Phi Beta Kappa Hall, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, USA (The Botetourt Chamber Singers, James Armstrong)

Tears 1998 (soprano, clarinet, piano; c. 4½'. Text by Guido Gezelle)
08.11.99 Westminster Theatre, Keele University (Jane Manning / Janes Minstrels)

Research

Research Interests

David Nicholls research interests are in American music, and British rock.

He is author of American Experimental Music, 1890-1940 (CUP, 1990) and a musical biography of John Cage (UIP, 2007); the latter has also appeared in a Spanish translation (Turner Libros, 2010) and as an audiobook. He is a contributing editor of The Whole World of Music: A Henry Cowell Symposium (Harwood, 1997), The Cambridge History of American Music (CUP, 1998), the Cambridge Companion to John Cage (CUP, 2002), The Charles Ives Reader (OUP, 2014), and Each Is At the Centre: Essays for the Centenary of John Cage (Northwestern, 2014) and has also written articles and book chapters on a wide variety of contemporary American topics, including transculturalism and the American avant garde, the New York School, Earle Brown, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Charles Ives, and Donald Martino.

He was editor of the journal American Music for the period 2000-2005, and was the only non-American member of the Advisory Board for the second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of American Music.

A second strand of research relates to rock music in the 1960s and 1970s, and the application of narrative theory to popular music topics. An article on 'virtual opera,' focussing on extended albums by The Who, Genesis, and Frank Zappa, appeared in JRMA in 2004, and a study of the narratives of a number of chart-topping singles and albums was published in Music & Letters in 2007.  More recently, a book chapter on borrowing pop and rock music is to be published by the Paul Sacher Institute.

Affiliate research group:  Musicology and Ethnomusicology

Contact

Professor David Nicholls
Professor David Nicholls c/o Department of Music University of Southampton Highfield Southampton SO17 1BJ UK Email: D.R.Nicholls@soton.ac.uk