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Professor Elizabeth Kenny 

Emeritus Professor

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I came to Southampton in 2006 as an Fellow in the Creative and Performing Arts.  I'm a lute player, and my three year project was  entitled "The Lion and the Unicorn", investigating improvisation practices in vocal music in seventeenth century England.  This enabled me to get more closely involved in the Music Department, and in 2009 I became Head of Early Music and a lecturer in Music.  At half time, I combine this with continuing to play concerts and make recordings on the lute, and founded a group arising from my research, Theatre of the Ayre.

For nine years I worked with students embedding a sense of historical performance practice in the performance life of the Department: some students specialise in historical performance, (mainly at postgraduate level) but for most it will be something that underpins their choices on modern instruments, and for singers it involves exploring the stylistic opportunities each type of music presents.    Larger scale projects included Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Blow's Venus and Adonis, Vivaldi's The four Seasons, Handel Concerti Grossi and Acis and Galatea, while smaller projects took us towards less familiar names such as Mazzocchi, Henry Lawes  and Bononcini.  Many of these were student-led or conducted, my role being to facilitate a deeper exploration of the music often from within the ensemble. I also coached chamber music with regular ensembles, taught continuo classes and performance and academic modules such as Performance Teaching Seminar and Seventeenth Century English Song.

My teaching work now takes me to Oxford University and the Royal Academy of Music, leaving early music at Southampton in the very capable hands of colleagues on the instrumental and academic staff.   I continue to perform in many and varied contexts on the lute, and am happy to be associated still with the Department as an Emerita.


Research interests

My research interests have led to critically acclaimed recordings of Blow, Lawes, Purcell and Dowland, and to national and international touring projects such as the Masque of Moments and Venus and Adonis. My writing on lute song and on English lute tablatures focuses on the traces left by performers on texts, an area that complements the composer-oriented research of the existing historical performance practice movement.

I regularly give lecture-recitals and papers on aspects of performance practice and theatrical improvisation at universities and conservatoires across Europe.


Affiliate research group

Music Performance Research

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(as guest editor), Early Music 41/2, ‘Dowland Anniversary Issue’ (2013).

‘Revealing their Hand: Lute Tablatures in Early Seventeenth-Century England.
’ Renaissance Studies 26 (2012): 112–137.

‘Beyond the Golden Age.’ Early Music 36 (2008): 179–180.

‘The Uses of Lute Song: Texts, Contexts and Pretexts for ‘Historically Informed’ Performance.’ Early Music 36 (2008): 285–300.


Select Discography

Projects Originated and Devised by Elizabeth Kenny:

John Blow Venus and Adonis (WHLive0043). Theatre of the Ayre. Recorded 3 May 2010.

Flying Horse – Music from the ML Lutebook (Hyperion CDA67776). Released September 2009.

Purcell: Dido and Aeneas (Chandos Records Chaconne CHAN0757). Directed Kenny/Devine, with Sarah Connolly et al. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. 
Recorded June 2008, released January 2009.

Dowland Lute Songs, Britten Nocturnal (Hyperion CDA67648)
. With Mark Padmore, Craig Ogdon.
 Recorded 2007.

Songs by Henry and William Lawes (Hyperion CDA67589). 
With Robin Blaze, Rebecca Outram, Rob Macdonald, Bill Carter, Frances Kelly.
 Recorded 2006.

Henry Purcell: Victorious Love (BIS-SACD-1536). 
With Carolyn Sampson, Anne-Marie Lasla, Laurence Cummings.
 Recorded 2006. (Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice for December 2007.)

Move Now with Measured Sound: Music by Thomas Campion (Hyperion CDA67268)
. With Robin Blaze, David Milller, Mark Levy, Joanna Levine.
 Recorded 2001.

English Lute Songs (Hyperion CDA67126)
. With Robin Blaze.
 Recorded 1999.


Collaborations with Other Artists:

Awakening Princesses: Recorders from the Bate Collection (Aeolus Records AE1086). With Peter Holtslag, Rainer Zipperling, Carsten Lohff. Released March 2012.

The Nightingale and the Butterfly: French Baroque Music (Linn records CKD 34). With Pamela Thorby, recorders. Released June 2010.

Love Bade me Welcome (BIS-CD-1446). 
With Daniel Taylor, James Bowman, Ralph Fiennes. Recorded 2004.

Biber Violin Sonatas (CD GAU 350)
. With Sonnerie. Recorded 2004.

Biber Violin Sonatas/Nisi Dominus (CD GAU 203)
. With Sonnerie. 
Recorded 2003. (
Gramophone Award Winner
; BBC Music Magazine Critics’ Choice.)

William Lawes Royall Consort Suites (CD GAUX 270).
 Recorded 1997.
 (Penguin Guide Critics’ Choice.)

Luigi Boccherini Five Sonatas for Violoncello (Cello Classics CC1001)
. With Sebastian Comberti, Ruth Alford. 
Recorded 2000.


Recordings with William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants (1992–2006):

Purcell Divine Hymns (Virgin Classics 0946 3 951 444 2 7).

Charpentier Divertissements Airs et Concerts (Erato 3984-25485-2).

Charpentier La Descente d’ Orphee aux Enfers (Erato 0630-11913-2).

Charpentier Les Plaisirs de Versailes (Erato 0630-14774-2).

Purcell King Arthur (Erato 4509-98535-2).

Monteverdi Il Combattimento do Tancredi et Clorinda (Harmonia Mundi France 901426).


Other orchestral recordings include collaborations with the Gabrieli Consort and Players, The Parley of Instruments, Collegium Musicum 90, The Symphony of Harmony and Invention, The English Consort and Concerto Vocale, and guest performances with The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, The Academy of St Martin in the Fields and the Janine Jansen ensemble.

I am one of Europe’s leading lute players. My playing has been described as ‘incandescent’ (Music and Vision), ‘radical’ (The Independent on Sunday) and ‘indecently beautiful’ (Toronto Post). In twenty years of touring I have played with many of the world’s best period instrument groups and experienced many different approaches to music making. I am a principal player and initiator of seventeenth-century projects with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

My research interests have led to critically acclaimed recordings of Lawes, Purcell and Dowland, which resulted in the formation of my ensemble Theatre of the Ayre (see below). My recital CD Flying Horse: The ML LuteBook was released by Hyperion Records in 2009. In 2013 I guest-edited a Dowland themed issue of Early Music, bringing performers and scholars together in celebration of the 450th anniversary of the composer’s birth. I was also invited to join the artistic advisory team for the York Early Music Festival, where I have been involved in programme planning from 2011 to 2014.

Theatre of the Ayre is a platform for bringing dramatically-minded singers and players together to create inspirational programmes of seventeenth-century music. Our first project, The Masque of Moments, drew on research undertaken during my AHRC Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Southampton; we toured England, Belgium and Germany in 2007–8, being broadcast in all three countries. We followed this with a tour of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, a live recording of which was released on the Wigmore Live label in January 2011. Several smaller-scale projects (Ayres and Dialogues, Dowland; Anniversary Collection and Setting the Baa High: English pastoral) toured the UK in 2013, as did a unique collaboration with members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Lutes and Ukes. Its education arm, ‘Youths, Lutes and Ukes’, involved the players teaching and performing with a total of 360 children in London and York. They finished the year with a project centred around Marc-Antoine Charpentier in which students collaborated with the ensemble in its appearance at Southampton’s Turner Sims Concert Hall.



‘a crack-squad of top instrumentalists.’ — Gramophone, October 2010.

‘Attracting audiences with the familiar is a well-worn tactic, but the Theatre of the Ayre likes to do things differently... Its weapons: a freshness of approach and a quasi-improvisatory freedom of delivery.’ — Financial Times, December 2013.

‘… this was the lutenist Elizabeth Kenny’s ensemble, Theatre of the Ayre, compellingly dramatizing the French Baroque in vocal and instrumental prowess …’ — The Times, December 2013.


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Professor Elizabeth Kenny
Music Department
Building 2
University of Southampton
SO17 1BJ

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