Oxford Seminar in Music Theory & Analysis

The new 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, 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.

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


Next seminar: Wednesday 21 November 2018

Richard Widdess (SOAS, London)

‘Analysis in real time: listeners’ perceptions of Indian music’

How do listeners make sense of unfamiliar music at first hearing, without conscious awareness of its structure or cultural meaning? Further exposure normally leads to increased familiarity and acceptance, but does not depend on gaining explicit knowledge of structure. This capacity to absorb musical languages informally presumably underlies cross-cultural musical exchanges across history, including the international reach of Indian classical music since the 1960s, the rise of other ‘World Music’ genres, and the global spread of Western musical styles.

It appears that listeners are cognitively able to perceive some of the inherent structural features of unfamiliar music, at least implicitly, in real time. Martin Rohrmeier, Tudor Popescu, and myself are investigating processes of implicit learning and segmentation with the help of the sitarist Dharambir Singh. How far are listeners unfamiliar with Indian music able to distinguish the different melodic grammar of two rāgas? Can they detect the hierarchical phrase-structure of the music? In investigating these questions we aimed to avoid the bias towards Western musical genres, and the reliance on artificially generated test materials, conventional in music psychology research.

Richard Widdess‘ interests in both teaching and research focus on music as a universal human activity, a non-verbal expressive system communicated primarily through sound. He is interested in understanding how different musical systems work in the contexts in which they are performed, or were performed in the past, and in developing tools for analysing their structure and meaning. He is interested in the cognitive capacities that link music with other domains of human culture such as language, religion, and visual arts. In regional terms his interests focus on South Asia, particularly classical and religious music traditions of northern India and Nepal. His publications include The Ragas of Early Indian Music (1995), Dāphā: Sacred Singing in a South Asian City (2013), and with R. Sanyal, Dhrupad: Tradition and Performance in Indian Music (2004).


Programme 2018–19

17 October 2018: Peter H. Smith (University of Notre Dame), ‘The “Type-2” Sonata Form in the Nineteenth Century: A Case Study from Mendelssohn’s Octet’

7 November 2018: Leah Broad (Christ Church, Oxford), ‘Purely incidental? Analysing theatre music’

21 November 2018: Richard Widdess (SOAS), ‘Analysis in real time: listeners’ perceptions of Indian music’

13 February 2019: Julian Horton (Durham University), ‘Rethinking sonata failure: structure and process in Mendelssohn’s Overture Die schöne Melusine

27 February 2019: Emily Tan (Merton College, Oxford) on analysing late Strauss


Further details, titles and abstracts will be published here shortly.