Politics, protest and power

The interaction between music and politics is at the heart of research carried out by Music department colleagues working across all our sub-disciplines.

Our research in this area focuses on two main strands. The impact of politics on musical creativity is explored in extensive musicological investigation of:

  • music and politics in 19th-century Germany by James Garratt;
  • the impact of the Soviet regime on 20th-century Eastern Bloc composers by David Fanning.

Through the latter piece of research, Prof. Fanning has become the leading light in the revival of the music of the repressed Jewish-Polish composer Mieczslaw Weinberg, in particular working closely with the Quatuor Danel to bring Weinberg's string quartets into the public domain.

The second strand comprises the use of music in political activism and events, and is investigated in projects including:

  • Kevin Malone's applied research in composition on the use of music to give voice to communities in political demonstrations and following terrorist acts such as 9/11;
  • Richard Whalley’s applied research in composition engages with themes of environmentalism, human geography and shifting geopolitics;
  • Caroline Bithell's research on the interface between traditional song revivals and political movements, and on the use of collective singing as a conduit for political protest and activism.
  • Alexander Gagatsis’s research on civil rights and respectability politics as they were championed across different African-American communities involved in the North American jazz scene in the mid-20th century.

Most recently, James Garratt's 2018 Cambridge University Press book Music and Politics: A Critical Introduction, is a wide-ranging and extensive thematic re-examination of both historical and contemporary relationships between music and politics.

Staff in this core research area

Caroline Bithell

Protest song and political activism through music-making; politics of world music.

David Fanning

Music and politics in Soviet Russia; Mieczyslaw Weinberg and repression of Jewish musicians in the Soviet era; music under Nazi-German occupation.

Alexander Gagatsis

Jazz, civil rights, and respectability politics in North America and Britain.

James Garratt

Music, politics and political theory; music, politics and religion in imperial Germany.

Kevin Malone

Applied research in composition which gives voice to communities subjected to tragedy.

Richard Whalley

Applied research in composition which focuses on environmentalism, the plight of refugees and the shifting geopolitics of the UK’s changing relationship to the EU.