This project brings together research into contemporary composition, and particularly into 20th and 21st-century western art music.  The emphasis here is on musical analysis as a basis for considering questions of perception and meaning. 

Core researchers: Tim Howell, Mark HutchinsonDaniel March and Richard Powell

Starting with explorations of the ways in which composers create and give form to their music, from those detailed examinations individual readings open out into new directions - to consider issues such as musical timescale, music and memory, or broader questions of identity and stylistic consistency.

Involving a number of staff and research students both within the music department and from outside, the project draws together several individual research strands. Outputs include monographs, edited volumes and individual journal articles, often with a strong collaborative emphasis.

Key research questions are:

  • What are the ways in which contemporary composers and musicians choose to generate and compose their music? How does that understanding reflect and change our listening behaviours?
  • What are the ways in which we can understand these processes as reflecting broader cultural preoccupations?
  • How does contemporary music negotiate with its own past? What are the ways in which composers re-use, subvert and extend previous music and wider cultural tropes?


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The Nature of Nordic Music is a cross-genre and cross-cultural project led by Professor Tim Howell, investigating the musical characteristics and achievements of a network of Nordic countries – Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland – within the contemporary music scene. It began as A NEw Music Of Northern Europe (ANEMONE) with funding from the Nordic Culture Point to establish a research group of North-European scholars with expertise in the musics of those five Nordic countries via a symposium in Copenhagen in 2015. These meetings laid the foundations for the edited volume The Nature of Nordic Music, published by Routledge in 2020.

This book explores two distinctive yet complementary understandings of the term ‘nature’: the inherent features, characters and qualities of contemporary Nordic music, and how the elemental forces of nature, the phenomena of the physical world (landscape, climate, environment), inspire and condition creativity here. Each of the three parts of the book – ‘Identities’, ‘Images’ and ‘Environments’ – accommodates an eclectic array of musical genres (classical, popular, jazz, folk, electronic). Within a broader debate about the meaning of ‘Nordicness’, the twelve case studies – presented by sixteen authors from across a range of nationalities and disciplines – challenge our assumptions about a ‘Nordic tone’ to reveal a creative energy that is diverse and cosmopolitan in outlook. As a result, the book is an important contribution to the developing study of this powerhouse of modern European culture.

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This special issue of Contemporary Music Review, edited by Professor Tim Howell, brings together six contributors connected to the University of York, and was published in anticipation of the Department’s 50th anniversary in 2015. The central theme of the volume concerns the variety of ways in which 20th-century composers engage with the concept of musical timescale. Such temporal processes lie at the heart of contemporary compositional practice. Whereas tonality was traditionally a powerful force in articulating musical time, post-tonal repertoire raises new creative challenges of how to construct, articulate and convey a sense of narrative within a modernist idiom. This collection examines these issues through a series of composer case-studies which in turn complement broader theoretical discussion.

An introductory article, exploring the physical theories of musical time (Michael Rofe), is followed by an overview of how this relates to new music in Finland, through a consideration of selected orchestral works by Magnus Lindberg (Tim Howell). Thereafter, a series of case studies focus on particular aspects of timescale within four individual composers. The issues addressed include: ‘speed and slowness’ in the music of Gerald Barry (Daniel March); ‘continuity’ in the music of John Adams (Richard Powell); ‘fragmentation’ in György Kurtág (Martin Scheuregger), and ‘balance’ in Toru Takemitsu (Mark Hutchinson). As a result, the volume as a whole provides insight into the different ways that new music may address matters such as containment and expansiveness, fragmentation and continuity, stasis and dynamism, and sets the context for a continued exploration of this most central of compositional questions.

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Coherence in New Music arose from research conducted over the course of Mark Hutchinson’s AHRC-funded PhD at York, and completed during a period as a postdoctoral research fellow within the university. The book focusses on questions of form, experience and meaning within late-twentieth-century western art music, and in particular on the challenges posed by this repertoire to established conceptions of both music history and analytical practice. In the process, a novel concept of coherence is outlined as a means of understanding the work of a number of contemporary composers, including Thomas Adès, Kaija Saariaho, Tōru Takemitsu and György Kurtág, whose music cannot be fitted easily into a particular compositional school or analytical framework.

Coherence is understood as a multi-layered phenomenon experienced, above all, in the act of listening, but reliant upon a variety of other aspects of musical experience, including compositional statements, analysis, and connections of aesthetic, as well as listeners' own, imaginative conceptualisations. Accordingly, the readings here are similarly multi-faceted: alternating between close analytical readings of a number of specific works and broader theoretical reflections on core analytical questions of form, time, language and meaning, this work draws on insights from analysis, philosophy and aesthetics, music perception, and critical theory, and develops new and sophisticated analyses of significant works of contemporary music.