Research Areas

Musicological. The revival of early music during the first half of the 20th century and its connections with modernism. Musical neoclassicism. Music technology. Phonograph Culture. Silent film sound.

Organological. Social and cultural history of musical instruments. Development and reception of player pianos and other mechanical instruments. The harpsichord in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The 20th-century pipe organ, particularly the German orgelbewegung and the American neo-baroque movement.

Publications 

“Arnold Dolmetsch’s Green Harpsichord and the Musical Arts & Crafts”

Keyboard Perspectives 10 (2017): 145-167.

Abstract: This study uses Arnold Dolmetsch’s “Green Harpsichord” as a starting point for a larger discussion of the relationship between Arnold Dolmetsch, William Morris, and other members of the Arts and Crafts movement who were active in London in the 1890s. Built in 1896 and displayed that same year by the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, the Green Harpsichord was the harpsichord built in England in nearly a century, and its design and decoration reflect its position as an object that had to negotiate the aesthetics of the past and the practical needs of the present. The article concludes by looking at how the relationship between the early music revival and the Arts and Crafts movement. At a time when many in the musical establishment were saw early music as little more than a curiosity, the enthusiastic support from Herbert Horne, William Morris, and others within the Arts and Crafts community did much to validate Dolmetsch’s efforts, not only by providing him with spaces to perform and exhibit, but also by promoting an aesthetic ideal that was particularly well-matched to his work. 

“The Death and Second Life of the Harpsichord”

Journal of Musicology 30, no. 2 (Spring 2013): 180-214

Abstract: Though far from being the only historical instrument to receive renewed attention during the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century, the harpsichord holds a special place in the history of the early music revival. No other instrument played as visible—or, perhaps, as controversial—a role in popularizing musical activities during the revival. As a large and visually distinctive presence, the harpsichord has a tendency to garner attention wherever it appears, whether in a museum case or on the concert hall stage. In this article I explore the harpsichord’s nineteenth-century “death” and its subsequent revival—the two periods of its history that have been most neglected. By reexamining the ways in which the harpsichord was portrayed in both words and images, I show that the instrument’s eventual acceptance in the twentieth century was far from a fait accompli, but rather depended largely on an extensive and deliberate renegotiation of both its image and cultural identity.

In the first half of the article I explore the harpsichord’s nineteenth-century existence as an evocative emblem of a vanished past: an instrument turned relic that was frequently laden with supernatural literary tropes and ghostly imagery. In the second section I examine the instrument’s revival, focusing on the ways in which the harpsichord was brought before modern audiences, ultimately in a form that was heavily reengineered and reconfigured. Indeed, in its journey from museum piece to modern musical instrument, the harpsichord underwent a marked transformation in both form and character. The process involved a gradual rejection of much of the cultural baggage the harpsichord had accrued during its long dormancy in the nineteenth century and resulted in a transformation that ultimately won it a place in the modern musical world. 

Grove Dictionary of American Music, second edition (2013)

Eight entries, including “Mechanical Instruments,” “Player Piano,” “Theremin,” and “Toy Instruments”

Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, second edition (2014)

Four entries, including “Corrugaphone,” “Membranopipe,” “Ellen Fullman,” and “Sharon Rowell”

 

Selected Conference Papers

The Organ’s Controversial Voice: A Critical History of the Vox Humana

(Presented at Reformations and the Organ, 1517-2017, organized by the University of Notre Dame and the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies, September 2017)

Abstract: Dating back at least four centuries, the vox humana is one of the organ’s oldest reed stops. Despite being found in a diverse range of instruments, and frequently called for by a wide variety of repertoire, it has often been the object of criticism. In his 1775 musical travelogue, Charles Burney frequently disparaged the vox humana stops found in the organs he encountered while touring Germany and the Netherland. Upon hearing the famous organ at Haarlem, he commented that its vox humana did “not at all resemble a human voice, though a very good stop of the kind: but the world is very apt to be imposed upon by names.” Indeed, the name imposed upon the rank often seemed to set listener expectations that it could not possibly satisfy. A century later, in 1876, an anonymous critic for the Boston-based magazine The Musician & Artist would write “I never could like a vox humana; the only human voice it resembles is that of a ninety-year-old French tenor, with a very bad cold.”

In this paper I will provide a brief history of the vox humana, looking both at its technical evolution—from the era of Arp Schnitger to the theater organs of the early 20th century—and the critical discourse that has developed around it during that time. Drawing from a wide variety of sources, I will explore the ways in which the stop’s nominal vocality has proved to be both an asset and a liability over multiple centuries of reinventions and reformations.

 

“From Hauntings to Historicity: The Harpsichord in the Nineteenth Century”

(Presented at Cembalophilia: Hidden Histories of the Harpsichord, organized by the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies, June 2016)

Abstract: The 19th-century was undoubtedly a period of dormancy for the harpsichord—a time when it rarely appeared before the musical public. Though largely unheard, the instrument was not forgotten: it persisted as a cultural artifact, surviving in museum displays, contemporary iconography, and in often-fanciful fictional accounts. In this paper I explore the harpsichord’s 19th-century existence as an evocative emblem of a vanished past: an instrument-turned-relic that was frequently adorned with supernatural literary tropes and ghostly imagery. I conclude with a brief discussion of some of the ways in which the potent associations that formed during the harpsichord’s quiescence helped to shape the early 20th-century revival and, arguably, remain a part of its legacy even today.

“The Green Harpsichord Revisited: Arnold Dolmetsch, William Morris, and the Musical Arts and Crafts”

(Presented at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Musical Instrument Society, hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.)

Abstract: Wandering through the crowded galleries of London’s 1896 Arts and Crafts Exhibition, one would have encountered a vast array of objects—from decorative panels in cast bronze to stained-glass windows and intricately-cut woodblock prints—in short, all the trappings of a society which was dedicated to advancing the cause of fine craftsmanship and “ignoring the artificial distinction between Fine and Decorative art.” But even in the company of this eclectic gathering, one piece would have stood out as being particularly remarkable: a large single-manual harpsichord, newly constructed by Arnold Dolmetsch and decorated by a talented young artist named Helen Coombe. Measuring over eight feet in length, the harpsichord’s exterior had been treated with nothing more than a coat of green lacquer. A glance inside the case, however, revealed a meticulously decorated soundboard embellished with ribbon-entwined bundles of colorful fritillaries, their variegated blooms illuminated with lustrous silver paint. Just below, on the sinuous strip of soundboard lying between the harpsichord’s bridge and bentside, a continuous line of music had been carefully painted in the mensural notation of the late Renaissance. Long known as the “Green Harpsichord,” this unique instrument was far from being a simple attempt at recreating an object from the musical past. Indeed, its innovative design and distinctive decoration betray a rich mixture of artistic influences that freely combined elements of the present and the past. In this paper, I will use the Green Harpsichord as a starting point to investigate Arnold Dolmetsch’s connection with the larger cultural scene of 1890s London—a milieu of artists and intellectuals that included some of the leading figures of the Arts and Crafts movement, including William Morris, Selwyn Image, and Herbert Horne. In addition, I will discuss the instrument’s origins, exploring both its unusual features and analyzing its decorative details in light of the oft-claimed connection between the Green Harpsichord and William Morris.

In this paper I survey a range of recordings made by harpsichordists during the 1920s, arguing that the instrument’s identity in the first half of the twentieth century was significantly influenced by contemporaneous advances in phonographic reproduction. By examining the harpsichord’s revival through the lens of technological history, I hope to show that the phonograph not only facilitated the instrument’s dissemination, but also endowed it with sonic characteristics which made it more aesthetically suited to modern tastes.

 

“Recording the Musical Past: The Harpsichord and the Phonograph in the 1920s”

(Presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Musical Instrument Society, hosted by the Library of Congress.)

Abstract: On September 15, 1920, the Gramophone Company hosted a lavish ceremony to mark the release of four discs newly recorded by the British harpsichordist Violet Gordon Woodhouse. As the first commercial recordings to be made on the newly-revived instrument, the occasion garnered significant notice from the press and was widely heralded as a cultural milestone. The recordings themselves, however, were not so universally acclaimed: the harpsichord’s modest tone had proved to be a significant challenge for the acoustic recording process used at the time, and many contemporary reviewers criticized the reproductions for being excessively weak and “colorless.” While the following years saw the release of a small number of additional harpsichord discs, it was only with the introduction of the electrical process in 1925 that recordings of the instrument began to be widely accepted. The dramatic improvement in frequency range and dynamic response which were provided by this technological innovation—along with the greater control and spatial flexibility enabled by the associated introduction of the microphone—resulted in a fundamental change to the harpsichord’s phonographic profile. Whereas on acoustic discs the instrument had seemed frail and distant, the new electrical recordings presented a harpsichord which was suddenly harmonically rich, timbrally varied, and sonically present.

In this paper I survey a range of recordings made by harpsichordists during the 1920s, arguing that the instrument’s identity in the first half of the twentieth century was significantly influenced by contemporaneous advances in phonographic reproduction. By examining the harpsichord’s revival through the lens of technological history, I hope to show that the phonograph not only facilitated the instrument’s dissemination, but also endowed it with sonic characteristics which made it more aesthetically suited to modern tastes.

 

“Who’s Playing the Player Piano—and Can the Talking Machine Sing?:
Shifting Perceptions of Musical Agency in Mechanical Instrument, 1890-1910 “

(Presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Musical Instrument Society, hosted by Yale University.)

Abstract: From a modern perspective, devices that mechanically play music—whether from perforated roll, grooved disc, or other recorded media—are commonly perceived as being automatic machines that merely reproduce a musical performance which was previously created. In the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century, however, the question of exactly where musical agency should be attributed with these devices was far more complex. Early mechanical instruments frequently provided substantial control of the artistic aspects of musical performance, allowing their operators to identify themselves as the true “players” of the music in spite of significant mechanical assistance. Likewise, a parallel situation can be found in the perception of the fledgling phonograph, at this time a direct competitor to mechanical instruments in the realm of domestic music making. Indeed, despite being only able to play previously recorded material, the phonograph was frequently discussed and advertised in terms that transcended the boundaries of acoustic reproduction and identified it as a musical instrument in its own right, an identification only reinforced by the morphological likeness of the phonograph horn to those found on conventional wind instruments. Through an exploration of contemporary views as found in personal accounts, essays, periodicals, and advertisement, this paper will investigate how these musical devices evolved not only technologically but also conceptually in the first decades of their existence.