Oxford Seminar in Music Theory & Analysis

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), ‘Translating modes and the problem(s) of cross-cultural music analysis: the case of Maqam Nahawand’

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 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’

Sibelius’s early tone poem, TheSwan of Tuonela,has a long-established reception as a ‘sound-sheet’ devoid of harmonic motion. Yet this interpretation tended to ‘flatten’ features that do not conform to its idealized hearing as a static landscape – a swan gliding in the Finnish underworld’s river. This particular reading also seems to have repelled rigorous analytical approaches. The work’s few dedicated investigations emphasize its ‘formlessness’ or describe it in terms similar to Glenda Dawn Goss, as an ‘exquisite moment of stasis’. What is more, its popularity and standing as an example of quintessential Sibelian symphonicism, have both supported the commonplace and, at times, exoticising association of Sibelius’s music with proto-minimalist depictions of Finnish landscapes.

This seminar will reappraise what has, itself, become a static and enduring interpretation of The Swan of Tuonela by revealing that this Sibelian variation form is not, in fact, static. Small disruptive ‘tears’ or ‘slashes’ can be heard in the work’s fabric. At these breaks in the cor anglais’s recurring melody and at the ‘seams’ of the form, ‘timbral outsiders’ – to use John Sheinbaum’s term – call out across a conceptual distance. These Suspensions, in the Adornian sense, establish a dialogue with the cor anglais’s musical material that suggests a double-tonic complex between keys from different tonal systems. The paper will also introduce several new analytical tools to Sibelius’s music in a full voice-leading analysis of the piece, including ‘multivalent’ or ‘sonorous voice-leading’ and ‘timbral uncovering’. By examining a particular quirk in the work’s publication history, along with the textual transformation of its programme, and unexamined markings in Sibelius’s copy of The Kalevala,the seminar will arrive at a new programmatic reading of TheSwan of Tuonela that recontextualises the work in the heroic Kalevala-narrative of Sibelius’s suite of tone poems, Lemminkäinen,Op. 22.

Dr Sarah Moynihan is a Lecturer in Music Theory and Analysis at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. She has also taught at Nottingham University and Royal Holloway. She completed her AHRC-funded PhD on Jean Sibelius’s music at Royal Holloway, University of London, supervised by Professor J. P. E. Harper-Scott. She holds a BA in Music from St Hugh’s College and an MA in Composition from University of Bristol. Her research examines ideological approaches to Jean Sibelius’s music to create new analytical tools that nuance the composer’s historical position as an ‘early modernist’. She is winner of the 2019 Theory and Analysis Graduate Prize for her paper entitled ‘Sibelian Rotational Projection: Erfüllung in Sibelius’s Työkansan Marssi’, to be published in the next Society for Music Analysis newsletter.