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Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute
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Dr Thomas Irvine 

Associate Professor in Music

Dr Thomas Irvine's photo

Dr Thomas Irvine
Associate Professor in Music
Doctoral Programme Director

Thomas Irvine is Associate Professor of Music and Director of Graduate Studies.

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.

I teach undergraduates and postgraduates across our entire course. I work with students on music history from 1600 to the present on topics including jazz history, musical ‘authenticity’ and British musical modernism. In 2018/19 I will be teaching a new module on music in the British Empire. 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 and performance studies. 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 there 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 scholarship holder 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. I currently serve as an external examiner at the Royal Academy of Music and just finished a term on the Council of the American Musicology Society. Outside of my teaching and research I am trying to learn Chinese and follow Southampton FC. Both can be challenging!

Research interests

Much of the work I did earlier in my career engaged with Mozart and Enlightenment thought. 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 next year by the 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. I’m currently gathering material for a study of jazz in colonial Hong Kong and for a larger collaborative project comparing the history of Western music in East Asia with the history of Western science and technology.

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) is coming out later this year 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

Listening to China explores two complexes of sources about Western listening practices in and to China around 1800: ‘ear-witness’ accounts by travellers, including diplomats, trade officials and missionaries, and writings about Chinese music and Chinese languages by European writers, philosophers, and music historians who reconstructed Chinese sound worlds in their imaginations. Together, these sources tell the story of a slow but clear shift in Western attitudes towards Chinese sound worlds. At the beginning of the period, at the height of the ‘Canton System’ under which Westerners fully respected Chinese sovereignty, Westerners were open to China and its soundscapes. Europeans and North Americans in China made music with Chinese business partners, enjoyed Chinese sung drama, and wondered at the variety of interesting sounds they encountered, such as bell ringing, fireworks, and most of all the sound of the millions of people gathered in China's large cities. Back in Europe, music theorists such as Jean-Phillipe Rameau studied the information about Chinese music sent to them by missionaries and concluded that West and East shared common approaches to harmony and acoustics.

As the Canton System broke down, Western attitudes hardened. Participants in Lord Macartney's unsuccessful mission to the court of the Qianlong Emperor in Beijing in 1792-94, including several musically interested members of his staff, were alternately impressed and repulsed by what they heard in China. In Canton, Western travellers focussed more and more on China's noisiness and sonic disorder, and found less to like in its music. Writers in Europe began to view Chinese music as backward and Chinese listeners as ignorant and stubborn because they refused to accept European compositions. The increasingly critical attitudes of the music historian Charles Burney, whose writings on Chinese music (and active role in musical preparations for the Macartney Embassy) structure three chapters of the book, embody this change. German writers were even more sceptical. The final chapter traces the music theorist Adolph Bernhard Marx's comprehensive dismissal of Chinese music on the grounds that had remained the same for thousands of years. Marx was a Hegelian. He valued only music that, in his words, revealed the ‘World Spirit of music history’--in other words the canon of great works by the Viennese composers Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven that he did so much to promote. In the end, China's music was of interest only as folklore.

Listening to China tells the story of how the West stopped listening, and endeavours to explain why. It brings together music history, sound studies, global history, economic history, and the history of the senses. With this book I hope to contribute to a rapprochement between musicology and related fields, and draw attention to ways in which Western ears were implicated in the West's growing colonial and imperial project in China.

Affiliate research group

Musicology and Ethnomusicology

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Listening to China: Sound and the Sino-Western Encounter (1770-1839). Chicago: University of Chicago Press (forthcoming November 2019)

Edited Books

(with Neil Gregor) Dreams of Germany: Musical Imaginaries from the Concert Hall to the Dance Floor. New York: Berghahn Books (forthcoming December 2018)

(with Oliver Wiener and Wiebke Thormählen) Musikalisches Denken im Labyrinth der Aufklärung. Wilhelm Heinses Roman Hildegard von Hohenthal. Mainz: Are Musik-Verlag, 2015.


Articles and Book Chapters

‘Hubert Parry, Germany, and the “North”’ in Dreams of Germany: Musical Imaginaries from the Concert Hall to the Dance Floor, ed. Neil Gregor and Thomas Irvine. New York: Berghahn Books (forthcoming).

‘Klang und Souveränität. Soundscapes der Begegnung in Kanton (Guangzhou) um 1800.’ Das achtzehnte Jahrhundert Themenheft “Globale Aufklärung” [special issue ‘Global Enlightenment’] 40/2 (2017): 229-238.

‘Handel at the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts, 1900–1914.’ Göttinger Händel-Beiträge (2015): 55-75.

‘“Behold that twilight realm, as in a glass, the future”. Charles Hubert Parrys Prometheus Unbound, eine musikalische Moderne für England?.’ In Der entfesselte Prometheus. Der antike Mythos in der Musik um 1900, ed. Laurenz Lütteken. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2015 (in press).

‘Lesen, Hören und Handeln in Wilhelm Heinses Hildegard von Hohenthal.’ In Musikalisches Denken im Labyrinth der Aufklärung. Wilhelm Heinses Roman Hildegard von Hohenthal, 107-130. [Translation of ‘Reading, Listening, and Performing in Wilhelm Heinse’s Hildegard von Hohenthal (1796).’ Journal of Musicology 30/4 (2013): 502–529.)]

‘Reading, Listening, and Performing in Wilhelm Heinse’s Hildegard von Hohenthal (1796).’ Journal of Musicology 30/4 (2013): 502–529.

‘Normality and Emplotment: Walter Leigh’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Third Reich and Britain.’ Music & Letters 94/2 (2013): 295–323.

‘Das Bürgertum schafft sich ab. Zur Gründung der Philharmonic Society in London, 1813.’ In Zwischen Tempel und Verein. Musik und Bürgertum im 19. Jahrhundert, ed. Laurenz Lütteken. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2013. 154–167.

‘Musik (musique).’ In Rousseau und die Moderne: Eine kleine Enyzklopädie, ed. Stefanie Stockhorst and Iwan d’Aprile. Heidelberg: Wallstein, 2013. 211–220.

‘Musical Performance, Natural Law and Interpretation.’ In Law and Art: Justice, Ethics and Aesthetics, ed. Oren Ben-Dor. London: Routledge-Cavendish, 2011. 231–244.

‘Hindemith’s Disciple in London: Walter Leigh on Modern Music 1932–1940.’ In British Music and Modernism 1895–1945, ed. Matthew Riley. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010. 197–220.

‘Der wohlgelesene Kapellmeister. Leopold Mozart und die Literaturen der Aufklärung.’ Acta Mozartiana55/1–2 (June 2008): 6–16.

‘Mozart, Mannheim, and Musical Performance.’ Mozart-Jahrbuch 2006: 163–76.

‘The Foundations of Mozart Scholarship.’ Current Musicology 81 (June 2006): 7–52.

‘Execution and Expression: Leopold Mozart on the Aesthetics of Performance.’ Neues musikwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch 14 (2006): 63–81.

‘“Das launigste Thema.” On the Politics of Editing and Performing the Finale of Mozart’s K. 593.’ Mozart-Jahrbuch 2003/2004: 3–23.

‘Mozarts KV 475: Fantasie als Utopie?’ Acta Mozartiana 50/1 (June 2003): 37–49.

Publications also include: numerous scholarly reviews, articles for the Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia, entries for the New Köchel, numerous CD and concert program notes, scholarly translations from the German.



Book Chapters

Dr Thomas Irvine
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute University of Southampton Southampton Boldrewood Innovation Campus Southampton SO16 7QF

Room Number: 6/1095

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