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Masterclass Prof. Rebekah Ahrendt (Yale University)

Transposed Lives: Music, Migration, and Mobility

Date: 21-22 January 2016
Time: 21 January, 16.15-19.00hrs; 22 January, 9.00-13.00hrs.
Venue: Utrecht University (21 January: Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, Stijlkamer; 22 January, Janskerkhof 15A, 2.01)
Credits: 2 ECTS
Open to: Research MA students in Musicology and in the Humanities
Fee (non-members): € 50,00
Coordinated by: Prof. Karl Kügle (UU)

Music has always traveled. Whether in the bodies of musicians, as notes on paper, or as sound files, music’s mobility has both reflected and enabled the mobility of humans themselves. Yet, accounting for the migrancy of music presents special challenges. This is especially true in historical studies, which often turn on the availability of material records. While the origins (roots) and destinations of travel are a frequent topic of study in histories of music, the actual routes are often overlooked. How can a consideration of the roads traveled, the people met along the way, the possibility of there being no final destination, alter our conceptions of musical labor or stylistic change?

Historical musicology stands poised to contribute centrally to studies of cultural mobility, particularly given the ways that performances by displaced musicians become sites of cultural negotiation. By accounting for the processes of migration and studying what changes when music crosses boundaries, the crucible of migratory environments focuses attention on identity formation itself. The last decades have seen an explosion of theorizing of diaspora, migration, and cultural mobility–Stephen Greenblatt’s “Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto” (2010) is but one noteworthy call to arms–but while such studies provide intellectual cohesion in other fields, musicology seems to lag behind. Especially urgent, as isolated musical studies multiply, is a pointed consideration of the theoretical directions that might prove most fruitful for our discipline. Other fields, like anthropology or sociology, have provided models, but music presents a special or otherwise case, requiring adaptation, if not a new model altogether.

While Ahrendt’s lecture proposes that transposition can provide a productive model for theorizing mobility, the masterclass will explore other models as well.

Rebekah Ahrendt (PhD University of California at Berkeley, 2011) is Assistant Professor in the Yale University Department of Music. Her work on music, migration, and identification at the turn of the eighteenth century has been internationally recognized, most recently by a Visiting Scholarship at St John’s College, Oxford (2015). She is a former Mellon Postdoctoral Scholar in the Humanities at Tufts University, and in 2014 she was a Scaliger Fellow at Leiden University. Much of Ahrendt’s recent work has focused on the interactions between music and international relations. She is the co-editor of Music and Diplomacy from the Early Modern Era to the Present (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), which drew in part on the Utrecht Early Music Festival symposium she organized in 2013, “Negotiating Music.” Her current monograph project, The Republic of Music, illuminates the musical networks maintained by the refugees, exiles, and migrants who traversed the landscape of the Dutch Republic. A graduate of the Royal Conservatory, The Hague, Ahrendt continues to perform and record on the viola da gamba.

This event is organised by the Huizinga Institute in cooperation with Research Group Musicology, Utrecht University, and Centre for Humanities, Utrecht University.


This master class will consist of a lecture and a seminar on the same topic held by Rebekah Ahrendt. The lecture outlines the stakes of mobility, whether of persons or of music, by examining the career of Charles Babel, a major performer and copyist at the turn of the eighteenth century. The lecture, and in turn the masterclass, departs from the following standpoint: While the origins (roots) and destinations of travel are a frequent topic of study in histories of music, what is often overlooked are the actual routes. How can a consideration of the roads traveled, the people met along the way, the possibility of there being no final destination alter our conceptions of musical labor or stylistic change? Part of the work in this seminar will thus be studying the practicalities and motivations of actual travel. How did music, instruments, and people get around? What motivated travel? What modes of transportation and communication were available? What sort of paperwork was necessary? Participants will also consider whether mobility-as-concept can serve as a metaphor for musical performance and composition.

Preparation and readings

To stimulate discussion, participants will read the following (in order) and prepare a short paper to present in class (instructions below).


Two positions on mobility

  • Clifford, James. Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1997): Prologue.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010): 1-23 and 250-53.

Early modern mobilities

  • Groebner, Valentin. Who Are You? Identification, Deception, and Surveillance in Early Modern Europe, translated by Mark Kyburz and John Peck (New York: Zone Books, 2007): Preface and Chapter 1.
  • Blanning, T. C. W. The Pursuit of Glory: Europe, 1648-1815 (London: Allen Lane, 2007; other editions available). Chapter 1, “Communications.”
  • Agnew, Vanessa. “Hearing Things: Music and Sounds the Traveller Heard and Didn’t Hear on the Grand Tour.” Cultural Studies Review 18, no. 3 (2012): 67-84.
  • Ahrendt, Rebekah. “Armide, the Huguenots, and The Hague.” Opera Quarterly 28 (2012): 131-158.

Postmodern reflections

  • Levitz, Tamara. “Introduction.” Colloquy: Musicology Beyond Borders? Journal of the American Musicological Society 65 (2012): 821-25.


You will prepare a short essay (max. 1000 words) and an informal presentation to share with the group.
To begin, briefly summarize the positions of Clifford and Greenblatt. What perspectives do you find useful? What might you question? Next, consider the special contingencies presented by studying past mobilities, as discussed by Groebner, Blanning, Agnew, and Ahrendt. What sorts of materials are available? What are the major differences (if any) between past and present migrations? How can we account for the distance of time as well as place? Finally, read Levitz’s position piece, which offers one perspective on how music scholars today ought to be conscious of movement.

Synthesize your reactions and thoughts into a brief, well-written piece of prose. Feel free to speak from your own perspective and to issue questions and challenges that we can discuss as a group. Most importantly: relate these broader questions of migration, mobility, travel, etc. to your own work. How might such considerations shape your future work, or how have they shaped your past? You may choose to focus your ideas on a piece of music from your own repertory. Be prepared to share your thoughts with the group in an informal presentation of c. 5 minutes.

The written part of the assignment has to be submitted to on or before the deadline of 21 January 2016, 9 am.

All assignments will be graded and receive 2 EC. Students wishing to audit the master class (1 EC) are expected to attend both sessions in full, do all preparatory readings, and participate actively in discussion but will not be called upon to submit written work or give a presentation.