Research Colloquium: Networking the Symphony: Space, Connectivity, and Movement in the Nineteenth Century

In the nineteenth century, people began to think of themselves as acquiring and transmitting knowledge through a network.

This realisation is having considerable historiographical and methodological implications for the study of nineteenth-century international history, including music history. This talk discusses how networking methodologies and digital visualization strategies could contribute to a new history of the nineteenth-century symphony. It places the symphony at the centre of a dense web of relationships: between people, institutions, technologies, and places.

The paper uses biographical information to trace the symphonic networks that existed within Europe from 1830 to 1870, broadening the network to include a wider range of symphonic ‘centres’ beyond the obvious candidates of Leipzig, Vienna, Berlin, and Weimar. It examines how an aspiring composer gained access to them, the reasons why particular composers were excluded, and the alternatives available if the holy grail of a premiere at the Gewandhaus was not an option. Some of the actors within these networks are familiar names:  Mendelssohn, Schumann, Berlioz, Liszt, and Brahms. But others, including critics, minor composers, musicians, teachers, publishers, administrators, and friends of the composers are less well known, but played a crucial role in transmitting symphonies across an ever-growing geographical space, and in shaping the way the symphonic landscape was defined and understood.

Bio: Joanne Cormac is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Nottingham and a Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University. She is the author of Liszt and the Symphonic Poem (Cambridge University Press, 2017) and editor of Liszt in Context (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). Her research has appeared or is forthcoming in 19th-Century Music, 19th-Century Music Review, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, and The Musical Quarterly. A member of the Oxford Centre for Life-writing, she was a Visiting Scholar at Wolfson College, University of Oxford from 2017 to 2018. She is currently writing a monograph about networks of symphonic composers in the nineteenth century, tracing how symphonies changed through travel and connectivity.