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Literature and Music Research Group Symposium on Words, Music and Silence

Friday, June 28, 2024 - 10:00 to 19:00
Bournemouth University

Wassily Kandinsky - Impression III (Concert) - Google Art ProjectA Symposium organised by the Literature and Music Research Group, The Open University, in partnership with University Music Bournemouth, on Friday 28th June, 2024 at Bournemouth University (BH12 5BB). The day will conclude with a lecture recital exploring words, music, silence and disability given by the concert pianist Duncan Honeybourne, whose career has been shaped by his autism.

Symposium Convenors

Delia da Sousa Correa (The Open University)

Robert Samuels (The Open University)

Natalie Burton (OU & Bournemouth University)

Draft Symposium Programme


Panel I ‘The silence between words and notes’; Chair: Robert Samuels

Speaker: Robert Fraser (The Open University)

It is the contention of this paper that phenomena of silence not merely enclose but actively shape all musical and poetic texts. Early examples of this effect can be observed in medieval psalmody, and in classical, and neo-classical French, lyrical and dramatic verse. The effects are ubiquitous, but for concision’s sake I will confine my brief examples to nineteenth- century French art song (specifically Fauré), and to English language poetic texts by Gerard Manley Hopkins, W.B.Yeats and Geoffrey Hill. Fundamentally, both music and poetry need to breathe: the resulting activity is a definitive feature of both arts, and arguably the point at which, whether singly or in combination, they resemble one another most closely.

Robert Fraser is Emeritus Professor of English at the Open University, and the author or editor of twenty-seven books. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the English Association and the Royal Asiatic Society, he has sung in choirs ranging from Winchester Cathedral Choir to the London Symphony Chorus and was a founding member of the Open University’s Listening Experience Database.

Speaker: Peter Relph (University of Bristol)

This paper will discuss how silence has been incorporated into a practical model of compositional practice I have developed to explore the interface between text and dramatic musical structure (understood as an abstract form derived from the text’s themes and secondary research into those themes, from which harmony, motive and timbral progression have been derived).

Two compositions will be used as case studies to demonstrate the use of silence in this context: 'Via Crucis' (winner of the Handful composition competition, premiered in Bath in 2021) and 'Seven Last Words' (premiered in Clifton Cathedral in 2023).

Peter Relph is a composer from the North West of England. His music, strongly influenced by medieval chant and the folk music of his home in the Lake District (UK), has been performed across Europe and North America by a number of ensembles. These include Scottish Opera, The Westminster Williamson Voices, The Same Stream Choir, and Magdalene College Chapel Choir. He is founder and musical director of the vocal group Anchorae. His music is published and recorded by GIA Publications (Chicago).

Lunch break

Panel II ‘Words, music and silence beyond the page’; Chair: Ben Winters

Speaker: Ben Winters (The Open University)

Reading large text on screen has long been a feature of the cinematic experience, particularly in a film’s title sequence: the sideways scrolling of Gone With the Wind’s title, for instance, promises an epic scale that transcends the limitations of the 1.37:1 academy aspect ratio. In this paper, I highlight the ways in which reading the famous opening crawl to Star Wars (1977) in its ‘original’ theatrical version is aided by the formal qualities of John Williams’s carefully synchronised title music, and how reading the on-screen text may teach us something about the music’s tonal and textural procedures.

I then explore the deleterious effect on this audiovisual experience of contemporary 16mm reduction prints of the film, which changed the aspect ratio of the image, and—more significantly—the 1981 35mm cinematic re-release that has become the basis of all subsequent home-entertainment versions. This introduced additional text and changed the crawl’s speed. Both disturbed the audiovisual relationship between music and text in ways that highlight the changes to which Star Wars was subject even before its infamous 1997 Special Edition revision.

Ben Winters is Senior Lecturer in Music at The Open University (UK) and has published widely on all aspects of music in screen media, and on the music of Erich Korngold. He is the author of several books on film music, a former co-editor of the journal Music, Sound, and the Moving Image, and co-edits the Ashgate Screen Music Series of books for Taylor and Francis. His newest monograph Korngold in America: Music, Myth, and Hollywood is in press at OUP.

Speaker: Ros King (University of Southampton)

When they’re not simply onomatopoeic (e.g. the word ‘screech’), words that are used to describe sounds are frequently metaphors taken from our other senses: pitch is high or low; sound quality is rough or smooth. And those of us who play or sing regularly, know that whether sight reading notated music, or picking something up by ear, we do it through an ability to recognise different patterns – whether groupings on the stave or finger patterns for particular categories of chord. AI is further teaching us that the way to handle sound as data is through pattern comparisons of its frequencies and rhythms.

Partly, I suspect because of the turn that the academic study of English literature took in the 1980s, many English teachers don’t have the confidence to teach literature as patterns that go beyond the simple semantic meanings of words. Too many students reach GCSE, simply baffled.

When Bottom states his intention to ask Peter Quince to write a ballad about his dream, he spoke a truth about the multi-valent capacity of literature that we’re still a long way from comprehending: ‘The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen…what my dream was’.

Ros King is Professor Emeritus at the University of Southampton. I have published regularly on different aspects of the relationship between music and renaissance drama and poetry, including a critical edition The Works of Richard Edwards (MUP 2001), and most recently ‘Language, Noise and the Sounds of Silence’ (2022). This musical understanding of the use of words has been intrinsic to my wider work on staging and dramaturgy.

Speaker: Paul Gough (Arts University Bournemouth)

Reflecting on a tour of the Western Front trenches in 1916 the writer Reginald Farrer suggested that it was in fact wrong to regard the ‘huge, haunted solitude’ of the modern battlefield as empty. ‘It is more’ he argued, ‘full of emptiness… an emptiness that is not really empty at all.’ Contemporary artists, poets, and composers seized upon the concept of a crowded emptiness, of gaps, pauses and silences that were in fact crammed with resonance, populated with overwhelming memory.

This short paper reflects on the phenomenology of aural emptiness and its manifestation during remembrance and repatriation ceremonies. It focusses on a short film by Kate Davies ‘The Separation Line’ which is a montage of 14 repatriation events held at Royal Wootton Bassett between 2007 and 2011. The film lasts precisely 9 minutes and 50 seconds, which is the temporal length of the town’s High Street, lined on either side by mourners maintaining an unsteady silence.

Gough and Davies have worked together in the past, presenting the work at symposia and jointly authoring research presentations and papers. The presentation will include a screening of the film.

Professor Paul Gough is Vice-Chancellor at Arts University Bournemouth, UK. A painter, broadcaster and author he has exhibited internationally and is represented in collections in UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. He has published ten books, including monographs on the British painter Stanley Spencer, Paul and John Nash and studies of art from both world wars. His most recent monograph, Gilbert Spencer: the Life and Work of a Very English painter was published by Yale University press in April 2024. He worked in television for ten years and is currently writing his second book about the street artist, Banksy.

Dr Katie Davies (film maker) is a visual media artist, filmmaker and Senior Lecturer in Media, Culture and Practice and Media and Journalism at UWE Bristol. Her film works and installations expose the fine line between the telling of stories and the writing of history and her current research project Peripheral Histories, applies the use of VR technology to documentary film making.

Tea break

Panel III ‘Voicing words, music and silence’; Chair: Delia da Sousa Correa

Speaker: Nat Bartels (University of St Andrews)

This paper examines a short story by the Decadent writer John Gray, “The Advantages of Civilization” (1894). My analysis explores the way Gray characterizes the main character (a Fijian convert to Methodism) as a queer, Decadent, potentially transgressive other through musical references and racialized caricatures. This paper will extend the bourgeoning body of research on representations of racial identity in Decadent literature that specifically gives attention to problematic depictions of racial others in literature of the fin de siècle. Without belittling the story’s problematic aspects, I ultimately argue that Gray uses the idea of cannibalism as a metaphor for homoerotic desire. My presentation will highlight a crucial moment of action in the story when the main character (Bishop) responds with this inarticulate string of punctuations: “! . . ! . . ! . .” Gray obfuscates meaning with this explosive silence and ends the story in a chaotic exit for Bishop, leaving the other characters and the readers to wonder what really happened in the silence. In this paper, I will argue that this punctuated silence represents the silencing of Bishop’s queerness and the unspeakableness of his musically-encoded queer and identity.

Nat Bartels is a PGR student in English at the University of St Andrews where they study queering musical references in Catholic Decadent literature of the late Victorian period. They are currently a GTA working with Prof Emma Sutton on the Virginia Woolf and Music website. Nat received a Masters of Music in Organ Performance from the University of Washington in 2019. In St Andrews, Nat is a choral scholar, a member of the Folk and Traditional Music Society and the City of St Andrews Community Pipe Band. Nat is from Puyallup, WA, USA.

Speaker: Emilie Capulet (Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance)

In 1958, the Corsican-French composer Henri Tomasi (1901-1971) composed a one-act opera based on the Résistance novel, ‘The Silence of the Sea’, published clandestinely in 1942 by Jean Bruller (1902-1991), under the pseudonym Vercors. The novel tells the story of a French man, his niece and the German officer billetted to their house during the war. The officer, a composer, attempts conversations about music and literature but is met with silence. The novel dramatizes silence as a means to articulate often antithetical and paradoxical themes. Silence becomes an act of resistance, a symbol of oppression but also of passive acquiescence, indicative of moral conscience and of human weakness. It is a means to preserve human dignity but also express shame and submission, leading towards the final silencing of words, of music and ultimately, of love in death. In this paper, I argue that Tomasi’s opera frames this silence, not as an absence of sound, but as a (re-)sounding of the subtexts of the novel in the liminality of the transmedial space in between words and music by disrupting and reversing the functions of the orchestral, vocal and spoken voice, through a deconstruction and re-layering of structures of sound, time and style.

Emilie Capulet, MA, MMus, PhD is an award-winning concert pianist, lecturer and musicologist. She has just released the first recording of the complete piano music of the French-Corsican composer Henri Tomasi (1901-1971), in a critically acclaimed double album on the Calliope label. She is currently the recipient of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship to write the first critical study and biography of Henri Tomasi. Emilie studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and is the BMus (Hons) Programme Leader at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Speaker: Joanne Reardon (The Open University)

How does the listening experience become the reading experience? Music and ekphrasis in the traditional sense (where ekphrasis is seen as the verbal representation of a work of art) might not seem obvious partners but as a way of conveying the emotions created by a piece of music to a reader, an ekphrastic approach can be helpful to the writer of fiction as a way of bringing characters, and their music, to life.

Understanding and creating believable characters is at the heart of fiction and this paper will consider if musical ekphrasis can help me to represent the composer Handel through his work, Messiah, which is central to my novel in progress. Drawing from other contemporary examples of music in fiction, this paper will consider whether an understanding of what exists in the silence between words and music can help to shape a narrative through using the rhythmic patterns and structures of music within the writing to ultimately turn readers into listeners.

Dr Joanne Reardon is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at The Open University. She is interested in ekphrastic approaches to writing fiction and has many collaborations with visual artists in museums and art galleries including Warrington Art Gallery; Corinium Museum, Cirencester and Burgh House Museum, Hampstead where she collaborated with Natalie Sirett on the poetry collection Medusa and her Sisters in 2019. Her first novel, The Weight of Bones, was shortlisted for the 2017 Cinnamon Debut Novel Award and published by Cinnamon Press in 2020. Her second novel is set in the 1750’s against the backdrop of early productions of Handel’s Messiah at the Foundling Hospital, London.

Lecture recital by Duncan Honeybourne (piano)
Drinks reception
Symposium end

The topic ‘Words, Music and Silence’ is conceived to allow investigation of how these elements are co-dependent, particularly in musical and verbal performance, but also in the silent practices of reading, writing and imagined listening. Paper proposals are invited that investigate how these elements, in combination, engage and matter to audiences (including public audiences, readers and academic researchers).

We invite proposals for papers of 15-20 minutes in length for the following panels:

PANEL 1: ‘The silence between words and notes’

Areas of possible interest: musical and literary lexis, reading and listening

  • Silence as a structural component of musical and literary texts; is music ‘the silence between the notes’ (Debussy) and does this also apply to poetry?
  • Readers and listeners; how do words, music, and silence operate across listening and reading experiences, including the reading of musical scores or the imagined spoken or sung performance of poetry?
  • Words, music and silence in musicians’ reading and writers’ listening.

PANEL 2: ‘Words, music and silence beyond the page’

Areas of possible interest: Health and wellbeing, disability, digital humanities, screen media, performance

  • Interactions of words, music, and silence in performance; how is silence central to musical, literary and visual communication?
  • Words, music, silence and disability; disability as silence and voice.
  • Reading and listening in the digital age

PANEL 3: ‘Voicing words, music and silence’

Areas of possible interest: creative writing, song, narrative, adaptation, opera and music for the stage

  • Silent music, absent words; what is the impact of literary references to music that readers are expected to imagine, of wordless quotations from song melody in musical works or film, or of silent musical iconography in visual works?
  • Beyond words: can music – in performance and as a literary or visual trope – narrate the silence between words and give voice to the unutterable?
  • In what ways can music give voice to silent or absent characters? How does this play out in adaptations across different media? How might this transform reading and listening?

Digital Lightning Talks

In addition to paper proposals, we welcome proposals for lightning talks under the three panel topics described above, which may be incorporated into the symposium as digital artefacts. Selected contributors will be invited to submit a video recording of their proposed lightning presentation which may be shared with conference delegates and viewable beyond the symposium.

The following guidelines are offered:

  • Talks should be around 800 words
  • Talks should last no more than 7 minutes
  • Talks should use a maximum of two PowerPoint (or similar) slides
  • Presentations should be formatted and submitted as an MP4 file.

Submission of Proposals

Abstracts of 200 words are requested for panel papers. Please also provide a short biography (100 words) including any institutional affiliation and email address.

For lightning talks, please send us a very brief abstract (50 words) and include a note of your affiliation, if any, and email and web-page addresses.

Abstracts should be sent by Monday 29 April 2024 to

Image: Wassily Kandinsky, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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