Composers have been present in Oxford ever since the (obscure) beginnings of the University. The first Oxford degrees were awarded to composers, the earliest of which were the B.Mus. awarded to Robert Wydow in c.1499 and the D.Mus. to Robert Fayrfax in 1511. Today, the Faculty’s work in composition is led by Robert Saxton and Martyn Harry, whose own output is broad and varied, including operas for radio and children, string quartets, ensemble pieces, orchestral works, and works involving electronics.

Their compositions have been performed around the world and to great critical acclaim. A substantial body of graduates is to be found working in Oxford on all manner of compositional research projects for conventional instruments, for electronics and mixed media, and through improvisation. 

Ethnomusicology is a tradition of scholarship concerned with the social and cultural study of music, and rooted in ethnography, which is to say the study of musical practice in cultural context based on participant-observation fieldwork. Often, though not exclusively, ethnomusicologists concern themselves with non-western musical cultures, in order to think about cross-cultural difference in music-making. It connects, as a discipline, with earlier (and continuing) traditions of comparative musicology, the anthropology of music, the psychology of music, and popular music studies. Today, ethnomusicologists work on issues such as: modelling musical interaction in jazz and rock; studying the impact of ‘world music’; considering the politics of music-making in migrant communities in the UK; enabling access and creative musical engagement with ethnographic archives in South Africa; analysing Bollywood film music. And, of course, many other things.

Ethnomusicology has been taught in Oxford in the Department of Anthropology and in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, as well as at the Faculty of Music and the Bate Collection, by, amongst others, Gerhard Baumann, Jeremy Montague and Helene La Rue. Currently, ethnomusicology is taught at Oxford in the Faculty of Music, mainly by Jason Stanyek, whose research covers a broad range of theoretical issues, Brazilian hip hop, Pan-African jazz, improvisation and posthumous duets. He is currently completing an ethnographic monograph on Brazilian diasporic performance and is co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies and a volume on Bossa Nova in the United States

Professor Georgina Born, one of the world’s leading researchers in music and anthropology, also contributes to graduate and undergraduate teaching and research training in ethnomusicology, particularly the teaching of ethnographic methods. Between 2010 and 2015 she led a major research programme, funded by the ERC, called Music, Digitization, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies. The programme represents the cutting edge in ethnomusicology, crossing over into the study not only of non-western musics but western art and popular musics.

Ethnomusicology research students at Oxford can take advantage of a wide range of relevant expertise and resources (many of unique historical value, including important collections of recordings and instruments) in Anthropology, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Bate Collection in the Faculty of Music. Students working on specific regions also have access to area studies centres and libraries, the former usually world-ranking research environments in their own right (for instance, the African Studies Centre, The Centre for Middle East Studies, the Nissan Institute).  The Faculty also offers concerts and workshops by performers of various musical traditions, which may be of interest to ethnomusicology students, and runs a seminar in ethnomusicology.

The Music Faculty at Oxford sustains a large and diverse research culture in musicology, broadly defined. With an institutional structure that enables and encourages exchanges between researchers within and across disciplines, world-class library and research resources, musicology at Oxford attracts leading international researchers to its full-time staff, alongside a significant body of postdoctoral fellows and research students. The Faculty is also committed to enhancing the impact of its research activities beyond the academic community, through the engagement of its researchers with public organisations such as orchestras, opera houses, broadcasters, and festivals.

Current musicological research activity can be grouped under the following broad headings:

  • Early Music (Margaret Bent, Elizabeth Eva Leach, Christian Leitmeir, David Maw, Owen Rees, Reinhard Strohm)
  • 18th-Century Studies and Opera (Suzanne Aspden, Michael Burden, Reinhard Strohm)
  • 19th-Century Studies (Laurence Dreyfus, Peter Franklin, Daniel Grimley, Claire Holden, Laura Tunbridge, Susan Wollenberg)
  • Music Post-1900 (Georgina Born, Eric Clarke, Jonathan Cross, Peter Franklin, Daniel Grimley, David Maw, Gascia Ouzounian, Jason Stanyek, Laura Tunbridge)
  • Music Theory and Analysis (Eric Clarke, Jonathan Cross, Daniel Grimley, Elizabeth Eva Leach, David Maw, Gascia Ouzounian, Jason Stanyek, Laura Tunbridge)

The Faculty’s research embraces a wide variety of modes of research (individual scholarship, practice-based research, research teams, knowledge exchange partnerships), including a significant number of collaborative and externally funded research partnerships. Principal among these (both past and present projects) are:

  • Ballad Operas Online, a project in association with Goldsmiths College, University of London, and hosted by the Bodleian’s Oxford Digital Library
  • Towards a Global History of Music, the Balzan Prize Research Programme in Musicology, led by Reinhard Strohm
  • Creative Practice in Contemporary Concert Music (CPCCM), a project led by Eric Clarke as part of the AHRC Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (CMPCP)
  • Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music (DIAMM), which has received significant funding from the AHRC and the Mellon Foundation
  • Hearing Landscape Critically, led by Daniel Grimley and supported by a major grant from the Leverhulme Trust
  • London Stage Project, 1800–1900 led by Michael Burden and funded by Gene Ludwig through the Ludwig Charitable Trust, and its related Oxford-Princeton Partnership in Opera in London and New York 1770–1870, supported by the OUP John Fell Fund
  • Oxford-Princeton Partnership in Music Theory and Analysis, led by Jonathan Cross and supported by the OUP John Fell Fund

Oxford’s Music Faculty has a long and distinguished track record as a centre for outstanding performers.  That this is a continuing living tradition can been seen in the current activities of Faculty members whose achievements are celebrated nationally and internationally both on disc and in the concert hall.  In the field of choral conducting, they include: Steven Grahl (director of Christ Church Catherdral Choir), Robert Quinney (Director of New College Choir) Owen Rees (Director of The Queen’s College Choir and the early-music vocal ensemble Contrapunctus) and in the field of early-music performance, Michael Burden (Director of New Chamber Opera).

The Faculty works closely with a number of professional ensembles, notably the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), to expand its existing performance-led research activity. The Faculty hosts a large AHRC-funded five year research project (2016-21) entitled Transforming C19th Historically Informed Practice (TCHIP), led by Claire Holden with the Royal Academy of Music and the OAE as partners; and was host (2009-14) to a project entitled Creative Practice in Contemporary Concert Music (CPCCM), led by Eric Clarke as part of the AHRC-funded Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (CMPCP). Other collaborative projects (with OAE) have included the first modern production since the 18th century of Rameau’s Anacréon directed by Dr Jonathan Williams, Director of Music at St Hilda’s College, from his own edition of the score completed as part of his Oxford DPhil, and published by Bärenreiter in the Complete Rameau Edition; of Zaïs at the Queen Elizabeth Hall; and of Rameau’s Dardanus, with English Touring Opera.

Broadly conceived, research in the Psychology of Music is concerned with understanding the psychological processes involved in listening to music, playing music, and composing and improvising music, using empirical, theoretical and computational methods. Psychologists, computer scientists and musicologists all make contributions to this highly interdisciplinary research domain, and their research encompasses experimental work on music perception and cognition, computer modelling of human musical capacities, the social psychology of music, emotion and meaning in music, psychological processes in music therapy, the developmental psychology of music, music and consciousness, music and embodiment, and the neuroscience of music.

The psychology of music has had a presence in the Music Faculty since 2002, and was firmly established in 2007 with the appointment of Eric Clarke as Heather Professor of Music. Eric Clarke has research interests in the psychology of performance, ecological approaches to music perception and musical meaning, the psychology of musical rhythm, music and consciousness, and music and embodiment. He is involved in collaborative research and publication with Nicola Dibben and Stephanie Pitts at the University of Sheffield, and with David Clarke at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne; with members of AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM); and (from 2009) with colleagues in the AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (CMPCP). Current and forthcoming research projects include a co-authored volume on Music and Mind in Everyday Life (OUP, 2009); an edited volume on Music and Consciousness (OUP, 2010); a project on Creative Practice in Contemporary Concert Music (funded by the AHRC as part of the Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice, 2009-2014); and a book on Musical Subjectivities arising out of his RHUL/BL Distinguished Lectures in Musicology.

The Faculty has excellent facilities for  research in the psychology of music, including a very well equipped three-roomed electronic music studio, two Disklavier computer-monitored pianos for performance research, high quality portable digital audio and video equipment for fieldwork, outstanding library holdings, and collaborative links with colleagues in Psychology, Neuroscience, Anthropology, Archaeology and Fine Art. Former research students of Professor Clarke’s have completed doctorates on a wide range of topics including:

  • the perception of hierarchical structures in tonal and atonal music
  • connectionist modelling of rhythm perception
  • the perception and semiotics of music in film
  • music and paranormal phenomena
  • experimental studies of sight-reading
  • the perception of electroacoustic music
  • musical performance and bodily movement
  • expressive performance in young cellists
  • music and synaesthesia
  • music and consciousness