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Dr Thomas Irvine 

Associate Professor and Director of Programmes in Music

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Dr Thomas Irvine is an Associate Professor in Music at the University of Southampton and the Director of Programmes in Music for the academic year 2019-2020.

My goal in the classroom is to help students understand the musical histories we all carry around with us—nowadays in our smart phones! One of my greatest pleasures as a university teacher is hearing from former students who have gone on to find powerful musical voices—as teachers, managers, performers, composers and scholars. I am just as proud of Southampton music graduates who contribute to the ‘wider world’ as lawyers, civil servants, engineers, entrepreneurs and in businesses and charities of all stripes. I want all of our students to leave Southampton prepared to become advocates for the ‘musical’ way of doing things that brought us all together in the first place. As Director of Programmes I manage all teaching in Music, encouraging students and colleagues to use our department’s fantastic resources to create the best learning atmosphere for Music in the UK (at least according to the 2019 Guardian league table!)

I teach undergraduates and postgraduates across our entire course. I work with students on music history from 1600 to the present on topics including eighteenth-century music, jazz history, music and the British Empire and British musical modernism. In 2019/2020 I will be teaching ‘Transformations in Twentieth Century Music’ to first-years, a seminar-style module on Haydn’s time in London to second and third-years and contributing to postgraduate modules. I especially look forward to working with students on our new MMUS Pathway in Music Education. I have a strong interest in how music interacts with science and technology: I also teach and supervise postgraduates in Southampton’s Web Science Centre for Doctoral Training.

I have supervised PhD students in eighteenth-century music, Sino-Western music history, British music from 1750 to the present, jazz history, performance studies and Web Science. I welcome proposals in all of these areas, and any others that fall in the broad area of global music history from 1700 onwards.

Like many students and staff in our department I have an international background. I was born in Munich to American parents and grew up in Stony Brook, NY, USA. After studying viola at conservatoire (at the Shepherd School of Rice University and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music) I moved to Germany and played professionally, mostly in Early Music ensembles but also in symphony orchestras. I also taught for a year at the Frankfurt International School and worked as a manager for a large Early Music organisation.

In 1999 I found my way to musicology and back to the US, studying performance practice and musicology at Cornell University, where I took my PhD in 2005. In 2002 I crossed the Atlantic again as a DAAD scholar at the University of Würzburg Institute of Musicology, where I stayed on as a postdoctoral fellow in 2005/06. I have lived and worked in Southampton since 2006.

I am a Non-Executive Director of the Southampton Web Science Institute and currently serve as an external examiner at the Royal Academy of Music. I co-chair the American Musicological Society study group ‘Global East Asia.’ Outside of my teaching and research I am trying to learn Chinese and follow Southampton FC. Both can be challenging! I also sing a little.

Research interests

I started my career in musicology as a Mozart scholar. It’s always a pleasure to come back to such amazing music! More recent work has been in the global history of music. This led to a book about the Western sonic experience of China around 1800 that will be published this winter by University of Chicago Press.

In 2015–16 I was fortunate to be able to work on this project as a Mid-Career Fellow of the British Academy. Thanks to this fellowship I spent two months as a Visiting Scholar at Institute of Music at National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

In the coming years I plan to keep this global perspective, and the special interest in East Asia. My next book (working title: Freedom to Improvise: Jazz in Hong Kong after 1945) explores how jazz found a home in one of my favourite cities.

Together with my colleague Mark Everist I co-direct MOGS (‘Music on the Global Stage’) a new initiative in our department that brings together staff and postgraduates with interests in global perspectives on music history.

I continue to work on the European music history, particularly transnational crossovers between Britain and Germany. A volume co-edited with my colleague Neil Gregor (Dreams of Germany: Musical Imaginaries from the Concert Hall to the Dance Floor) came out last winter from Berghahn Books. My own contribution focuses on Hubert Parry’s understanding of German music history and the effect this had on his work as a teacher, administrator and composer.

Listening to China: Soundscapes of the Sino-Western Encounter, 1770-1839

From bell ringing to fireworks, gongs to cannon salutes, a dazzling variety of sounds and soundscapes marked the China encountered by the West around 1800. These sounds were gathered by diplomats, trade officials, missionaries, and other travellers and transmitted back to Europe, where they were reconstructed in the imaginations of writers, philosophers, and music historians such as Jean-Philippe Rameau, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, and Charles Burney. Thomas Irvine gathers these stories in Listening to China, exploring how the sonic encounter with China shaped perceptions of Europe’s own musical development.
Through these stories, Irvine not only investigates how the Sino-Western encounter sounded, but also traces the West’s shifting response to China. As the trading relationships between China and the West broke down, travellers and music theorists abandoned the vision of shared musical approaches, focusing instead on China’s noisiness and sonic disorder and finding less to like in its music. At the same time, Irvine reconsiders the idea of a specifically Western music history, revealing that it was comparison with China, the great “other,” that helped this idea emerge. Ultimately, Irvine draws attention to the ways Western ears were implicated in the colonial and imperial project in China, as well as to China’s importance to the construction of musical knowledge during and after the European Enlightenment.

‘With this book Irvine makes a vital contribution to the emerging field of global music history. He demonstrates the necessity of looking beyond Europe to discover how the West reflexively re-created its own sonic identity through engagement with China. From the desks of scholars to the throne room of the Qianlong emperor, and from the noisy streets of Canton to the decks of trading ships, Listening to China takes the reader on a journey that reveals how sounds from East Asia shaped a new wave of Western musical thought.’
David R. M. Irving, ICREA Research Professor at the Institució Milà i Fontanals–CSIC, Barcelona

‘Irvine has given us a brilliant study of Western sonic encounters with China around 1800. While musicologists have been interested in the history of Sino-European musical interaction for some time, Listening to China is original in the breadth of the archive Irvine has assembled and in the canny combination of postcolonial, global historical, and sound studies approaches he brings to bear on it. Writing in the tradition of Jürgen Osterhammel, Irvine is always attuned to the macrohistorical implications of the pasts he documents, yet he also brings a music historian’s ear to the nuances of sound and sense-making that he finds there. Irvine has a knack for historical narrative that makes this book a real pleasure to read, ponder, and teach.’
Olivia Bloechl, University of Pittsburgh


Affiliate research group

Musicology and Ethnomusicology

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Dr Thomas Irvine
Music Department
Building 2
University of Southampton
SO17 1BJ

Room Number: 6/1095

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