Current research projects

This is a sample of current projects, representative of the range of research at the Academy. A fuller list can be found by visiting the staff profiles of Academy researchers.

Ricercare: the inner life of the cello

Is the cello more than just a ‘tool’ for playing music? Through documenting and critically examining the collaborative process and performance of two new pieces on film, Professor Neil Heyde aims in this project to reveal the ways in which musicians 'build an instrument' through composing and performing rather than literal making.

Part of the project involves selecting cellos from the Royal Academy of Music’s collection on which to play Michael Finnissy’s Chi Mei Ricercari (2013), in which each of the seven ricercars is performed on a different cello. Finnissy explicitly plays out a ‘fantasy’ that instruments ‘remember’ the music they have played, and our work on the piece will provide a platform for exploring some of the ways in which we project an idea of an instrument, and, in turn, how the instrument itself reshapes our projection. The complementary collaboration will be on a piece by Richard Beaudoin based on a micro-timed analysis of a recording of a Bach sarabande by Pablo Casals, providing a platform for an exploration of the way a defining instrumentalist shapes our idea of the instrument.

Songs of Fauré

Dr Roy Howat is Principal Investigator for The Songs of Gabriel Fauré: New Critical Edition, a three-year project funded by the Arts and Humanties Research Council and based at the Royal Academy of Music. Dr Emily Kilpatrick is working alongside Roy as Research Assistant.

Composed between 1861 and 1921, the songs of Gabriel Fauré (over 100 in total) crucially shaped the French art song tradition, and are a staple of song recitals and study. No comprehensive critical edition of them has been available, and the piecemeal nature of their original publications has left some of them in obscurity. The present project is designed as the main part of a complete critical edition of Fauré’s songs, to be published by Peters Edition London as a core item in their wider series of Fauré critical editions prepared by Roy Howat. The AHRC project comprises three volumes, each to be issued for high and low voice, which will include all Fauré’s songs except for his four late song cycles (which are planned to follow later). A major work of documentary and musical scholarship, the edition will be a vital resource for scholars and performers, its development and research supported and communicated by engagement with students, teachers, professionals and the wider community, through a wide-ranging programme of performance and research events. Related outcomes will include scholarly articles dealing with the specialised challenges and discoveries, along with articles for singers’ journals.

The large volume of sources and other data involved in this project demands a comprehensive understanding of Fauré’s life, work and musical practices. Roy Howat’s extensive experience of Fauré editing has made him closely familiar with these issues, including the composer's sometimes idiosyncratic treatment of his own texts. Ambiguities of tempo indication, phrasing, dynamics and articulation are inherent in Fauré sources (and thus generate performing issues), and often call for a judicious blend of editorial delicacy and boldness. The editorial norm of giving priority to the composer's final readings will be taken as a general basis but treated with flexibility to allow the resolution of some intractable source problems. This will match the principles established in Dr Howat’s highly regarded existing editions of Fauré piano and chamber music.

Roy Howat’s career has been devoted to integrating scholarly research with active performance. His editions are internationally regarded as having set new standards in that regard, and in having positively influenced performance practice through blending scholarly integrity with musical and practical insight. The new edition will develop his commitment to interactive performance and scholarship, and will reflect the composer’s own declared practice of basing editions directly on performing experience. The research environment of the Royal Academy of Music, in which Dr Howat has been a core participant over many years, with its open events and presentations based on interactive workshops, concerts and seminars, offers a perfect forum for the necessary exploration and experimentation with students, teachers and scholars. These activities are also being shared internationally through Dr Howat’s links with many other musical and academic institutions; associated workshops have already been held at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and the University of Melbourne.

One compelling motivation of this project is that of accessibility. The editorial preparation is being done with a communicative and consultative approach that involves students, teachers, performers and the listening public. Songs and vocalises will be made easily available that hitherto have been unpublished, out of print or difficult to access. Publication is by a leading international publishing house. The editorial findings will also be disseminated to students, teachers and the wider community through performances, seminars, lectures, recordings, broadcasts and published articles.

Messiaen, Catalogue d’oiseaux

Roderick Chadwick is working on a PhD thesis entitled ‘The Passage of Time in Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux’ at the University of Cambridge. His aim is to demonstrate how Messiaen achieves his goal in this work of ‘vividly reproducing’ the hours of the day in condensed form by turning the clock back – reflecting on his earlier career and the music of other composers, as well as his personal life – whilst creating portraits of the natural world that are ostensibly in the present tense. Aspects of the work's performance are an intrinsic part of the investigation.

Roderick Chadwick is also engaged in writing a study of the Catalogue’s genesis and performance with (Professor) Peter Hill (of Sheffield University), for Cambridge University Press’s Music in Context series. This will draw extensively on the composer’s cahiers de notations des chants d’oiseaux, examining the impact of these on our understanding of Messiaen's working process, and of the music itself. It will also offer an assessment of the Catalogue’s place within Messiaen's oeuvre and the broader postwar context, and will consider key aspects of performance with particular focus upon Yvonne Loriod's two complete recordings and Peter Hill's experiences preparing the work under the composer's guidance.

Biography of Kenny Wheeler

Nick Smart is collaborating with the American scholar Brian Shaw on a biography of Kenny Wheeler. It will draw extensively on the collection of Kenny Wheeler’s working papers which Wheeler donated to the Academy in 2013. This includes business papers as well as performance materials and compositional sketches and drafts. The biography is due to be published in 2016.

Mozart Fragments

Professor Timothy Jones is collaborating with Academy performers to reassess the musical style of Mozart's fragmentary instrumental music from 1778 to 1791. Building on the work of Alan Tyson and Ulrich Konrad, among others, the project is investigating what can be learned about the development of Mozart's style during those years from the pieces he did not complete. An innovative aspect of the project is that the micro-analysis of the music is informing the generation of multiple completions of each fragment. This addresses an essentially contingent, open aspect of Mozart's style, and is an attempt to bring some of the fragments into the performing repertory. Outcomes from the project are a website, editions of the scores, and recordings.

European Models of Jazz Pedagogy

Pete Churchill is directing this project, in collaboration with a team of leading European jazz teachers, to survey the field of practice in jazz pedagogy in Europe. As Jazz is perceived as a largely American art form it is understandable that many European institutions look to the United States for pedagogical models for their own Jazz programmes. But an alternative approach acknowledges the American roots of this music while fostering distinctively European trends in improvisation and composition. By gathering a large body of testament to this second approach, and subjecting it to critical scrutiny, this project aims to share innovative practice and further develop a distinct approach to the teaching of Jazz in Europe. Outcomes will include a website and textbooks. 

The British Symphony in the Twentieth Century

Dr Timothy Bowers is writing a social and musical history of the British Symphony from 1908 (the date of Elgar’s Symphony no 1) to 1976 (the date of Davies’s Symphony no.1). Drawing extensively from the Academy’s collections as well as from the archives of the BBC and the Cheltenham Festival, this study explores the meanings and significance of the genre in British musical culture, and investigates the cultural structures which shaped the genre’s development in this country: who commissioned symphonies, which organisations supported the development of new talent, and what impediments and opportunities British composers faced in fulfilling their symphonic ambitions. Finally, the project will ask if a distinctively British take on the genre emerged during the twentieth century. 

Creative Strategies in Composer-Performer Collaboration

This collaborative project between Professor David Gorton and guitar player Stefan Östersjö has two broad aims:
•    to generate detailed documentary and analytical material about their long-term composer-performer collaboration to enhance the small number of similar case-studies in the published literature.
•    to explore the artistic possibilities afforded by the intentional blurring of their respective roles of composer and performer.
The project is generating new compositions for guitars with other instruments, performances and analytical writing.

The Age of the Maestro, Elder on Music and Richard Strauss in Context

Professor Raymond Holden is writing a critical history of twentieth century conductors, provisionally entitled The Age of the Maestro, is completing a book of conversations with Sir Mark Elder, entitled Elder on Music: Sir Mark Elder in Conversation with Professor Raymond Holden and is contributing two chapters to Cambridge University Press’s forthcoming book, Richard Strauss in Context

The Neoclassical Trumpet

As part of their critically-acclaimed series of projects to expand the trumpet repertoire, Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Daniel-Ben Pienaar have re-imagined past re-imaginings -- seminal Neoclassical works from the last century in new transcriptions for trumpet and piano. These include Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, Fauré’s Masques et bergamasques, and Respighi’s Gli uccelli. Outputs include scores of the transcriptions and a recording on Hyperion.

The Calleva Project

The Academy is collaborating with the Calleva Foundation to commission musical instruments from the world’s leading makers, with a view to building a working collection that – in the longue durée – will present a nuanced picture of the finest qualities of instrument making in the early 21st century.