AHRC Research Network: Representing ‘Classical Music’ in the Twenty-First Century

Principal Investigator: Dr. Adrian Curtin (University of Exeter)

Co-Investigator: Dr. Adam Whittaker (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire)

This network connects scholars in the humanities and social sciences with professionals working in the arts and media to foster interdisciplinary and cross-sector dialogue, develop research projects, promote the creation of new artistic work, disseminate knowledge, and inform industry practices concerning the representation of classical music in the twenty-first century, especially in the UK.

The network adopts an innovative, dual focus on representation: it will consider contemporary artistic and media representation of classical music (e.g., plays and films depicting ‘classical’ musicians) as well as demographic representation in the classical music industry. The latter includes representation of ‘classical’ musicians by agents and record companies; musicians’ self-representations (e.g., on social media); and the demographics of the classical music profession and repertoire vis-à-vis gender, class, (dis)ability, and ethnicity. The issue of representation will thus be addressed comprehensively.

Questions about what classical music represents, whom it represents, and who is missing or under-represented in its practices are currently to the fore of public and scholarly debate about the art form and the profession, rendering this a highly topical, urgent set of concerns. The classical music sector has been criticised for being elitist, patriarchal, chauvinistic, and predominantly white. These criticisms may not be uniformly fair or accurate, especially in a global context, yet it is clear there is still work to be done to achieve equal opportunities and inclusion. The classical music industry has endeavoured to reinvent itself by shaking off its perceived ‘stuffiness’, cultivating new audiences, diversifying programming and ensembles, and experimenting with new performance formats and technologies.

Concurrently, representations of classical music in the arts help to shape ideas about classical music among its devotees and, more broadly, in the popular imaginary, although the relationship between representations and the ‘reality’ of the profession is, of course, not one-to-one. Artistic representation and ‘reality’ do not necessarily align, though they can influence one another – but how, exactly? To what extent are artistic/media representations of classical music helping or hindering efforts to change industry practices?

The discussions and activities of the network will be guided by a set of core research questions:

  1. How is classical music represented in the arts and media in the twenty-first century?
  2. What insight do representations offer into the place and status of classical music in contemporary society and in the ‘popular imaginary’?
  3. How do representations of classical music/musicians intersect with issues of demographic representation and diversity – in terms of the people involved in composing, performing, hearing, and learning about music?

This blog will feature information about network events as well as posts written by network contributors.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.

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Banner image: Lucian Msamati as Salieri and members of the Southbank Sinfonia in the National Theatre’s 2016 production of Amadeus (photo by Marc Brenner).