Katharine Ellis, ‘Looking for Trouble: Archives of French Music History’

Inaugural lecture as 1684 Professor of Music, delivered at the Faculty of Music on 3 October 2018. 

Used in dialogue with documentary evidence from Paris, France’s provincial archives underpin this discussion of the tensions inherent in the ‘national’ French music education system of the century from the 1830s to Vichy. The lecture underscores various levels of difference between the Paris Conservatoire, its official (and subordinate) branches, and a small clutch of private or municipal conservatoires that either denationalised or never joined the national system. Case studies relating to the distinctive place of working-men’s choirs and female pianists in provincial conservatoires, and their distance from Parisian practice, lead to a more general exploration of Paris/province power relations in which French centralisation emerges as a concept under permanent strain — a fact acknowledged by civil servants from at least the 1870s.


Professor Katharine Ellis is the 1684 Professor of Music at the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge. She previously held Lectureships at the Open University and Royal Holloway, and chairs at the Universities of London and Bristol. A cultural historian of music in France during the 19th and early 20th centuries, she studies music ranging from medieval plainchant to Stravinsky. She seeks to explain the cultural import of musical tastes and practices, while also asking how those in the art-worlds of music negotiated France’s complex aesthetic, social and regulatory frameworks. Her current, Leverhulme-funded project, reappraises the history of French musical life from provincial viewpoints.

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