Report on Laidlaw Summer 2021

A report summary on my research this summer, culminating in a research paper entitled 'Clara Wieck-Schumann’s Op. 7: An Historical Network'

Like Comment

Please describe the research you have conducted this period

My research focusses on the context of Clara Wieck-Schumann’s Piano Concerto Op. 7 by surrounding it in an historical network. The paper I wrote draws on the works of Julian Horton, Benedict Taylor and Claudia MacDonald to address the problematic analysis of this piano concerto by Stefan Lindemann in his ‘Structural Novelty and Tradition in the Early Romantic Piano Concerto’, as understood through the context of deconstructing the ‘deformational’ aspects of this piano concerto, a term coined by James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy. This is achieved through a discussion of Wieck-Schumann’s performing career, relationship with her husband, Robert Schumann, and understanding the cultural influences on this work. There is a specific analytical focus on works by Moscheles, Mendelssohn, John Field, Chopin, and Louis Spohr. All of these composers wrote concerti which influenced the genesis and conception of Clara Wieck-Schumann’s Op. 7, and the extent to which each of these influences the Op. 7 is discussed at length. Doing this meant I made connections between Louis Spohr’s Violin Concerto No. 8, Moscheles’ Piano Concerto No. 6, and John Field’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and the Op. 7 particularly. The Spohr concerto is of note because Wieck-Schumann dedicayted the work to Louis Spohr; the primary theme of the first movement is incredibly reminiscent of the primary theme of the third movement of Spohr’s Violin Concerto No. 8. The other works also have structural similarities with Wieck-Schumann’s Op. 7, though none as biographically relevant as Spohr’s.

How is the research work you have been undertaking impactful or important?

As a member of an oppressed group myself, I know how important it is to feel represented in the curriculum and the deficit of analytical works on women composers is perpetuating a cycle of inequality. My research emphasising the validity of Clara Wieck-Schumann as a woman and composer in her own right without being overshadowed by her husband would prove the cycle of sexism in music can be broken. Contextualising Clara’s work also gives her greater validity within academia, given that there is a significant lack of analytical discourse about her music. The research aims to start to fill the gap left by centuries of sexism which has affected composers, performers and researchers alike Music by women should be integrated equally into the syllabus and I can start to break that cycle of inequality by showing the academic community that composers such as Clara Wieck-Schumann can enrich discussion. As part of my research, I have also started a campaign with Music Durham as the Chair of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee to champion women in music for all of 2nd term this academic year. We will be asking all ensembles to programme more than one piece of music by a woman in all concerts in that term. I have created a document of music written by women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of colour, amongst other minority composer. This also includes links to freely available copies of the works and allows ensembles to access works they might not ordinarily perform without any financial implications. We will also be celebrating International Women’s Day as part of this.

What impact has conducting research had on your degree course and university experience?

Doing this research has been incredibly important to me and really allowed me to network with researchers across the world; I’ve been working with people from England, Scotland, Canada, and Germany mainly, and I have fostered relationships with numerous academics. Establishing these relationships is incredibly useful for further research and study in my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Being part of the Laidlaw community has meant that I have reached out and connected to academics outside of my institution. This was really stimulating for me as I had intellectual conversations with many academics across a range of disciplines all of whom have had insight into my research paper. I also feel that I have improved my ability to argue in a paper so that there is more coherency to my paper to make a stronger case for my argument.

What leadership skills do you believe you have gained from the research period?

I think I have gained some new leadership skills in that I am now more adept at time management and planning. I spent some time at the beginning of the project planning what I was going to investigate for the first three weeks of work; I focussed on how I was going to build my network and workshopped my research question until I found something conducive with my goal of understanding Wieck-Schumann’s Op. 7 Piano Concerto. I also believe I have improved my communication skills as I have had to regularly communicate with my supervisor and other academics. This is important for my future goals to work in academia and efficiently communicate research proposals.

What activities have you been involved in to disseminate your research?

I have written a research paper published on the Laidlaw Scholars Network entitled ‘Clara Wieck-Schumann’s Op. 7: An Historical Network’. This paper explains my research this year. As a result of the promotion of this paper through my Instagram page, I have connected with Molly McCann in the USA who is working on www.henselpushers.org, a database of the complete works of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, along with where scores can be purchased and free PDFs. My work with this site has been helping promote it, source manuscripts, and create new PDF editions of works. This connection helped me to establish a link with Durham University Classical Ensemble and help them find an edition for Mendelssohn-Hensel’s Overture for orchestra. I have also formed a more general link with Music Durham by becoming the Chair of their Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee. In this role I have met with Music Durham to start work on creating a month of music by women to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year Music Durham is trying to diversify the compositions played in Durham concerts and this effort is part of this.

What are your future career or educational plans?

In the long term I want to remain in academia to PhD level. I would then like to use my skills as an academic, orator and educator to feed back into the state education system in which I was brought up by redistributing the social capital I have gained through education. I am very keen to actively remain in academia to raise awareness of, and facilitate the change of, the structures within academia that often prevent people within minority groups from accessing education. Specifically, I intend to be a leader in academia and inspire young academics whilst completing my PhD. I look forward to teaching during my PhD as I hope to encourage critical thinking and motivate independent learning. During my undergraduate and master’s degrees, I am focussing on equality, diversity and inclusion Continuing to break this cycle of sexism in academia is something I would like to continue in my role as a research lecturer.

Ultimately, I want to be an inspiring leader who challenges people to think critically to both better themselves to become more open and receptive to other views. As a disabled, gay, working-class Welshman I want to be an example that one’s social status and background are not barriers to one’s attainment; I aspire to achieve equality in musicology by being vocal about my story and promoting minority voices. 

Benjamin Alexander Southwick (he/they)

Student, Durham University

I'm an undergraduate student at Durham University, UK reading Music at Stephenson College. I have a research interest in those who are underrepresented in music, mainly focussing on women and LGBTQ+ people. I am currently working on decolonising the music curriculum at Durham University alongside my undergraduate degree.