Oxford Seminar in Music Theory & Analysis


In the context of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, all physical seminars have been cancelled for Trinity Term 2020. However, we hope to run the OSiMTA seminars as planned but on an online platform. Please return here for further details.


The Oxford Seminar in Music Theory & Analysis (OSiMTA) meets two or three times a term. Its convenors are Professor Jonathan Cross and Dr Sebastian Wedler.

Our conception of theory and analysis is critical, plural and interdisciplinary. In shaping the seminars, we aim to reflect the broad range of activity taking place under the heading of theory and analysis today, as well as to challenge boundaries, embracing not only ‘conventional’ practices and histories of theory, but also new interdisciplinary approaches that engage with cultural studies, ethnomusicology, aesthetics and philosophy, psychology, politics, performance studies, popular music studies, and so on. Speakers will include distinguished local, national and international scholars.

These seminars are open to all, including the general public. Sessions will last 90 minutes, refreshments are served, and lively discussion is encouraged. They take place on Wednesday afternoons, beginning at 16.30, in the Committee Room of the Music Faculty.

Regular updates will appear on these pages. You can also follow OSiMTA on Twitter.

Abstracts for seminars in Season 1 can be found by following the link on the left.

For further information email Jonathan.Cross@music.ox.ac.uk or Sebastian.Wedler@music.ox.ac.uk

We are delighted to announce below the programme for Season 2 of OSiMTA. Abstracts for each talk will be published in advance. Please return here for further information ahead of each seminar.


Programme 2019–20

23 October 2019: Naomi Waltham-Smith (University of Warwick), ‘A motley music: the music analyst lends an ear to democracy’

20 November 2019: Sarah Moynihan (St Anne’s College, Oxford), ‘Unpicking a static reception: unheard suspensions at the seams of Sibelius’s Swan of Tuonela

29 January 2020: Martin Stokes (King’s College, London), ‘Sentimental gesture and the politics of “shape” in the performances of Abd al-Halim Hafiz’

26 February 2020: Elizabeth Eva Leach (University of Oxford), ‘Imagining the un-encoded: analysing affect in a twelfth-century love song’

29 April 2020: Jack Boss (University of Oregon), ‘Visions of moonlight and global coherence in “Mondestrunken” from Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire’

13 May 2020: Chloë Zadeh (University of Manchester), ‘Femininities in circulation: gender, emotion and north Indian semi-classical music


Next Seminar, Wednesday 29 April 2020

Jack Boss (University of Oregon)

‘Visions of moonlight and global coherence in “Mondestrunken” from Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire’

The sixth chapter of my new book, Schoenberg’s Atonal Music, presents Pierrot lunaire as autobiographical.  The collection of 21 melodramas in three parts portrays Schoenberg being led astray into atonality by the moonlight of modernism, suffering the consequences (alienation from his audience, excoriation by the critics), and attempting to return to his older style but falling short.  These different stages of Pierrot/Schoenberg’s journey are depicted in each of the melodramas by ‘basic (visual) images’ drawn from the first two lines of text that then motivate the pitch and rhythmic organization.  In my lecture, I will explain one of these basic images in detail: in ‘Mondestrunken’ the image of moonlight streaming down toward the composer in waves gives rise to unending chains of tetrachords linked by common pitch classes, that is, weak and strong Rp relations (Allen Forte’s term).  Though other images interrupt the steady streams of descending moonbeams at times, such as expanding and contracting intervallic ‘bodies’ at the beginning of the second stanza, and the image of the unsteady poet at the beginning of the third, the melodrama returns again and again to the descending moonbeams, and in them it finds its coherence.

Jack Boss received his PhD from Yale University in 1991, where he studied Schoenberg’s atonal music with Allen Forte and David Lewin.  He is presently Professor of Music Theory and Composition at the University of Oregon, where he has taught since 1995. His book Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone Music: Symmetry and the Musical Ideawas published by Cambridge University Press in 2014; in 2015, it received the Wallace Berry Award from the Society for Music Theory.  A second book, Schoenberg’s Atonal Music: Musical Idea, Basic Image, and Specters of Tonal Function, was published in August 2019, also with Cambridge University Press.  His articles may be found in the Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Spectrum, Perspectives of New Music, Music Theory Online, Music Analysis, Intégral, Gamut, and Konturen. He has also given a large number of scholarly presentations throughout the USA and in England, Ireland and Belgium, on different aspects of Schoenberg’s music and theory.