Exploring the musical past through French publishing
Prof Deborah Mawer, Prof Graham Sadler, Prof Barbara Kelly, Dr Rachel Moore
This research, ‘Accenting the Classics’, aims to measure a varying French accent brought to bear upon earlier European music. In order to achieve this aim, the project focuses on French publisher Durand’s Edition classique (particularly volumes from the decade 1915–1925), a vast collection of European piano music that, despite featuring established French composers as editors, has been largely dismissed. In essence, the project looks to discover more about attitudes to the musical past in early twentieth-century, wartime France, and to hear how the past was made to sound to French ears.
The research project gained a solid foundation following the creation of the French Music Research Hub, as well as the hosting of an international symposium, Historical Interplay in French Music. Putting together a strong team of mostly senior researchers, the team spent six months developing and refining an AHRC research grant application. In assessing the project bid, the reviewers rated especially the blending of early–late historical timeframe, professorial and early career scholars, analytical and cultural research, and the coupling of music history to performance. The grant bid was also designed to be timely, coinciding with the centennial commemoration of the First World War.
Methods of research
The research began as something of a detective game, trying to acquire second-hand original volumes on Abe Books. Beyond this, an ambitious mix of techniques is proving necessary to deliver new knowledge that will chart the breadth and cultural scope of the edition, but also probe the depth in music case studies. Therefore, the research methods are historical (archival, cataloguing, French language-based), cultural, analytical, editorial and performance-related, exploring and testing ideas in action alongside Conservatoire students.
The project will benefit musicologists, cultural historians and music performers, both professional and student, by increasing knowledge and understanding about how earlier history was viewed from a specific time and place (early twentieth-century Paris). More widely, it links to topical debates about nationalism, European transnationalism and internationalism. The project will create a large annotated catalogue, journal articles, an edited book, a programme for BBC Radio 3, an international symposium and performance workshops. Additionally, for Conservatoire students, this research will feed into a new French music module and existing modules on editing, as well as helping to foster more critical attitudes to using editions in performance and their varying effects.