Research Seminar

Wednesday 25 June 2014, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Victoria Bernath (University of York) / Simone Spagnolo (Trinity Laban)

‘Middle Fiddle’ No More: The Edwardian Viola Concerto and the Rise of Viola Virtuosity in Britain

Victoria Bernath

The turn of the twentieth century saw a new surge of interest in the viola with an awareness of how the ‘middle fiddle’s’ unique timbral properties might be married with a virtuosic technique. This is in contrast with the Victorian era, when both British composers and musical society at large were late to adopt the viola as a virtuosic voice.  Three viola concerti were composed in Britain during 1901-1910: Sir John Blackwood McEwen’s Viola Concerto (1901), Cecil Forsyth’s Viola Concerto in G minor (1903) and York Bowen’s Viola Concerto in C minor Op. 25 (1908). A score of lighter chamber works featuring the viola were also written during this period, bolstering the fledging profession of violists in Britain.

Current scholarship typically attributes this increased recognition solely to violist Lionel Tertis.  However, by examining the social contexts of the aforementioned concerti alongside a brief analysis of each work, this paper argues that the causes for a growth in the viola's popularity in Edwardian Britain are more complex.  Discussion will reveal the existence of a fraught relationship between British and lesser-known foreign talents alongside an increased sense of nationalism in British conservatoires and the press.

'It makes no difference' and contemporary Italian Opera

Simone Spagnolo (Trinity Laban PhD)

This seminar will examine two main concepts: the non-linearity of the dramaturgy and openness to a plurality of interpretations. I will discuss how Italian experimental post-WWII operas such as Luciano Berio’s Opera and Sylvano Bussotti’s La Passion selon Sade are based on the above concepts and the philosophical idea that art works are open to multiple interpretations. Also, I will explore such topics in relation to my work 'It Makes No Difference', a self-composed multi-narrative work that aims to encapsulate the concept of openness to a plurality of interpretations within the various levels of the composition. It was was performed in December 2013 as part of Trinity Laban Postgraduates Opera Scenes and in August 2012 at Tete-a-Tete: the Opera Festival. This presentation of 'It Makes No Difference' will provide an overview of both its narrative structure and notational system whilst highlighting how its musico-theatrical parameters aim to epitomise Umberto Eco’s concept of opera aperta (open work).

Additionally, this seminar will present the process of cross-disciplinary practice-as-research that lays at the basis of my composition, whilst suggesting a consideration of post-WWII Italian opera in conceptual terms. In so doing, my discussion will extend to a number of fields and disciplines, that include not only the interdisciplinary topics proper to the genre of opera but also literature, prose- theatre and philosophy. 

Simone Spagnolo's music has been performed and broadcast in UK, Italy, USA, Norway, Czech Republic and China by ensembles and artists such as Philharmonia Orchestra, Asia America Symphony Orchestra, Allegri String Quartet, Darragh Morgan, Alda Dizadari and M.J.Urkestra. His music has been performed in venues and festivals including London's Royal Festival Hall, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, English National Opera, Blackheath Halls, Tête-à-Tête, Brno's Janacek Academy, California's Stanford University, Aratani Theatre in Los Angeles and New York's Sputnik Gallery. Simone has worked for musicians including Rufus Wainwright, Errollyn Wallen, Francois Evans and Ezio Bosso, and has been recently invited to lecture on his music at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, The Purcell School and Middlesex University. Graduated with a First Class Honour at Middlesex University, he gained a Master Degree in composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where he is currently finalising Doctorate studies. (

Location: I/D008