Research Colloquium

Research Colloquium: John Gunn, Scottish Musician and Historian

The ‘Ingenious Professor’ John Gunn (1766-1824), Scottish Musician and Historian

Lecture Theatre 1, School of Music

The speaker is George Kennaway (University of Leeds)

John Gunn wrote instrumental treatises on the cello and the flute that were at the time the most comprehensive in English – his cello treatise was the widest-ranging in any language. He also wrote a collection of Scots airs for cello, a piano method, a treatise on thorough-bass, a translation of a French theory treatise written by an Italian, and a history of the harp in the Highlands. He was pedantic, verbose, and very occasionally witty. He is frequently quoted on a narrow range of topics in histories of performance practice, but no overall view of his work, and of his intellectual position, has been undertaken so far.

Gunn – a widely read, polyglot, autodidact – was writing at a time when enlightenment thought was being replaced by a culture of sensibility, but clung to a music pedagogy based on reasoning from first principles and the instilling of a theoretical foundation before dealing with practical issues. His antiquarian history of the harp in the Highlands was pressed into service to bolster claims for the authenticity of Ossian’s poetry. This talk clarifies some basic biographical and bibliographical data (hitherto confused in the literature, including my own work) and surveys his more striking ideas, with a view to suggesting a different perspective on the historiography of performance.

George Kennaway is a cellist, conductor, teacher, and musicologist. Born in Edinburgh, he studied at the universities of Newcastle and Oxford, the Guildhall School of Music, the Salzburg Mozarteum, and the University of Leeds. He was a member of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and then the Orchestra of Opera North for 30 years, and now regularly appears as a soloist and chamber music player, on modern, 19th-century, and baroque cello. He was a member of a research project in 19th-century music editions at the University of Leeds (, Director of Music at the University of Hull, and is currently Visiting Research Fellow at the universities of Huddersfield and Leeds, visiting tutor in early music at Newcastle University, and tutor in conducting at the University of Hull. He is a member of the Meiningen Ensemble, a chamber group exploring practical applications of historical research to 19th-century repertoire.

His publications include ‘Playing the Cello 1780-1930’ (Ashgate, 2014) and journal articles on Haydn cello concerto editions, theoretical issues in HIP, and on the Lithuanian composer M.K. ─îiurlionis. He has coached students at the Royal Northern College of Music and the Lithuanian National Academy of Music, and has taught various musicological topics at the universities of Leeds, Newcastle, Huddersfield, and Kaunas.