Composing the Historical 2

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Composing the Historical 2 follows on from the inaugural event at the University of Sussex, published in REFRAME, in which a wide range of British composers were interviewed about their use of historical materials. Three of these composers, Ed Hughes, Evelyn Ficarra and Tom Armstrong, present again, shedding further light on this aspect of their practice. They are joined by composers Steve Goss and Tom Hall from the University of Surrey and composer/double bassist Christopher Williams from the University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz.  

As Ed Hughes writes in his introduction to the REFRAME interviews, Composing the Historical has happened throughout Western musical history. Composers have turned to the past to help forge new languages, to place old materials in new contexts or to intensify them from within, to model experiences of time and memory in their art, or to explore the tension between the emotional significance of an original and the transformations enacted upon it. Composers may approach the past in the service of technique or of more personal explorations around rootedness and identity. Composing the Historical today prompts different debates than those around modernism and postmodernism of several decades ago and yet the choice to engage actively with past music is still one that composers may not make lightly.

Many of these currents and others besides are explored in the six papers presented in Composing the Historical 2. Ed Hughes and Tom Hall both show how they have responded to the work of other artists who have themselves engaged with the past in the shape of the English composer Jonathan Harvey and the Australian writer Gerald Murnane. Steve Goss and Christopher Williams discuss their respective engagements with music as diverse as that of Manuel de Falla and Thomas Playford; Goss celebrates the pluralism enshrined in his source whilst Williams looks for dissonance and historical discontinuity. Evelyn Ficarra and Tom Armstrong both draw on recordings, explaining how they have managed to find new contexts for them in part through processes of fragmentation and erasure.

13.00-14.00 Lunchtime session Christopher Williams ‘Composing with minor historical dissonance’

14.15-18.15 (with break!) Afternoon session Ed Hughes ‘Paraphrase and elaboration: from chant to contemporary polyphony’ Steve Goss ‘Hiraeth: Manuel de Falla, Andrés Segovia, and the politics of nostalgia’ Evelyn Ficarra ‘Beethoven on the roof’ Tom Hall ‘Approaching Gerald Murnane’s poetry: the confessional turn, the implied author and the textual many’ Tom Armstrong ‘The Gramophone Played’

18.45-19.45 Video concert Tom Armstrong Berceuse 1917 Ed Hughes Sinfonia (mvts 2 and 5) Evelyn Ficarra Rooftop Scene from Mary Armentrout Dance Theater's The Woman Invisible to Herself Steve Goss Precipitato and Hiraeth

19.45-20.00 Concluding remarks

To register for Composing the Historical 2 and obtain the necessary Zoom link please visit the Eventbrite site at