In the next instalment of our ‘Meet the Researchers’ series, David, our resident Literature scholar, talks about songs, Salzburg, and Oxbridge rivalry…
You arrived for this post in September. How are you settling in?
I’m enjoying being back in the UK, having spent the previous two years working in France, and have especially liked getting to know Oxford better. The University is a wonderful place to be a medievalist, both for the people, whether they are Oxonians or visitors, and for the resources. The project team is a very stimulating and supportive group, and I’m looking forward to a fruitful couple of years.
Is there any one type of literature you feel particularly drawn to?
I wouldn’t say that I am drawn by any particular type. What I find most stimulating are literary texts that challenge our expectations and ways of categorising things and people. My PhD work was focused on poems or songs that ‘moved’ around Europe, whether that was in the form of one melody being re-texted in different languages (think ‘One Song to the Tune of Another’), or songs whose lyrics resist linguistic labels like ‘French’ or ‘Italian’.
What was a court, and how did music interact with,
say, politics or the visual arts?
In the same way, the court of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg sits on the fault-line between secular power (the Archbishops were independent rulers) and the Church. So I am looking forward to thinking more how this mixture of influences and connections affected the cultural life of this milieu.
How would you explain this project to interested members of the general public?
Studying medieval courts is not in itself new. Nor is thinking about the musicians who performed there or the composers who wrote the music. MALMECC is something of an experiment in medieval studies: what happens when you take people without an academic background in musicology (with the exception of the project leader, of course), have them work together closely for four years? Essentially we are aiming to give a more integrated understanding of culture at court in the long fourteenth century. What was a court, and how did music interact with, say, politics or the visual arts?
What’s the most exciting thing about the project for you?
Something I am enthused by is being able to roam across the full scope of medieval studies and look for points of interactions disciplines other than literary studies. For instance, at the moment I am looking at the intersections of representations of the Virgin Mary in sculpture and in the songs of the Monk of Salzburg, something that I might not have thought about doing otherwise. Similarly, being able to work in depth with a single composer’s works, particularly one for which there is so much surviving music, is a refreshing change from my previous work on multiple troubadours. I’m particularly looking forward to getting to grips with the sound of the Monk’s songs and the court at Salzburg.
What are you up to when you are not researching?
Cake, both making and eating. Reading, of course—sometimes even things as recent as the nineteenth century! I also play the piano, in a somewhat agricultural style.
Finally, because I know where you took your undergraduate degree… Oxford or Cambridge?
What a question! I am enjoying life in Oxford tremendously, but to paraphrase Miss Jean Brodie, give me a medievalist at an impressionable age, and he is mine for life…