Research Seminar

Wednesday 4 November 2015, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Professor Stephanus Muller (University of Stellenbosch)

Grief and the (im)possibility of Night Music

The South African composer Arnold van Wyk (1916-1983) spent some of his most productive years in England. Between 1938 and 1946 he collaborated with Sir Henry Wood, Howard Ferguson, Dame Myra Hess and Sir John Barbirolli, amongst others.

Muller will read selected excerpts (translated into English) from his three volume exploration of van Wyk, entitled Nagmusiek [Night Music], using these as prompts to reflect on the limits of autobiography, biography, catalogue and fiction, and as moments of destabilisation forcing academic writing beyond its entrenched orthodoxies.

Nagmusiek is an extended meditation on loss and impossibility, existential conditions that, for Muller, are as integral to van Wyk as a composer exiled permanently from the established narrative of twentieth-century musical modernism, than they are to finding ways of speaking about this music and its composer.


Stephanus Muller received his undergraduate musical training at the University of Pretoria, South Africa and holds masters degrees in musicology from the University of South Africa and Oxford University, and a DPhil from Oxford University.

After his appointment at Stellenbosch University in 2005, Muller created the Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS) as a research and music heritage conservation initiative. Since then, DOMUS has acquired some of the most important and valuable archives of individuals and institutions pertaining to South African music, making it a unique repository of recorded music, scores and archival documents (www.domus.ac.za).

Muller has published research and essays on many South African composers and is the co-editor of A Composer in Africa: Essays on the Life and Work of Stefans GrovĂ© (2006) and Gender and Sexuality in South African Music (2005). In 2013 Muller produced the film An Inconsolable Memory (dir. Aryan Kaganof) and the book Eoan – Our Story (ed. Hilde Roos and Wayne Muller) both of which explore the legacy of the Eoan Opera Company.

Muller’s most recent project, Nagmusiek is a startling addition to contemporary South African fiction and biography. The book is both a scholarly study of the Afrikaans composer Arnold van Wyk and a work of fiction in which the author / biographer highjacks his own literary undertaking. It is a meditation on the art of biography, on South African classical music under the apartheid regime, and on the complicated relationship between life and fiction. Nagmusiek is published by Fourthwall Books and has been shortlisted for the 2015 KykNet-Rapport Boekpryse in both fiction and non-fiction categories. 

Location: I/D003