“Who is British Music?” The Place of Immigrant Musicians in 20th-century Constructions of National Music History

6 June 2017, 9.00 AM - 6 June 2017, 6.30 PM

Victoria Rooms, Bristol

The 20th Century has been called the era of displacement, exile, and mass migration. Bringing their music with them, migrants arrived in Britain throughout the century from all over the world. They came from Ireland during the 1920s and 1930s, from central Europe during the 1930s and 1940s, from the Caribbean and the Indian Subcontinent during the 1950s and 1960s, and from Africa during the 1990s. To this day, however, there has been no holistic assessment of their impact on British musical life. While excellent scholarly investigations of migrations and mobility as crucial factors for music in Britain have been undertaken, the field is still fragmented, with little interaction between migration, diaspora and mobilities studies and insufficient collaboration across discussions of specific musical genres and diasporic communities. Indeed, as a discipline, musicology has long neglected migrations and migrants in its historicisation of a national cultural history more broadly.

Held on 6 June 2017, this event addresses this lacuna, embracing a multi-faceted approach to the history of Britain’s musical immigrants. It will consist of two parts:

A symposium entitled “Who is British Music? The Place of Immigrant Musicians in 20th-century Constructions of National Music History”, held in the Victoria Rooms, Bristol University, with contributions by leading scholars in the field. The symposium’s aim is to discuss:

1) the extent to which immigrants’ musics have been marginalised or otherwise in the history of British music;
2) the extent to which immigrants are, or are not, narrated as part of British music history;
3) what challenges this poses for an understanding of British music.

Public concert by renowned Ensemble Émigré. Simon Wallfisch (baritone / narrator), Eunsley Park (violin) and Lucy Colquhoun (piano) perform seldom heard works by immigrant composers, including vocal and instrumental music by Peter Gellhorn, Karl Rankl, Roberto Gerhard, Geza Frid, and Hans Gál. The concert is free of charge.

Putting music centre stage widens the debate on immigration as it encourages a discourse that is not restricted solely to economic, legal, and narrow political contexts. The focus on music allows for an exploration of the impact of highly skilled creative migrants on British cultural history. In turn, it sets it against questions of national belonging and the sonic-cultural narratisation of the nation. 



Contact information

Florian Scheding (florian.scheding@bristol.ac.uk)

Edit this page