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The Same Old Tune? Protest Song, Contrafacta, and the Search for an Interdisciplinary Vocabulary, 1600–2021

Wednesday 11 May 2022, 4.00PM to 5:30 PM

Speaker(s): Oskar Cox Jensen (University of East Anglia)

Event details:

Like so many types of mainstream song over the ages, songs of protest have often been written contrafactually, with new words set to existing tunes. Some of these tunes, from 'God Save the King/Queen', to 'The Vicar of Bray', to 'Derry Down', have been sung in anger by new generations across at least three centuries. The practice continues to this day.

In this paper, I try to establish the role of the tunes in this palimpsestic process. I contend with the vagaries of both the historical context, and interdisciplinary scholarship. Contrafactum has been embraced by scholars of history, politics, and literature in recent years, as a means of engaging with the musical dimension of song – though all too often this ends up as a way of taking the music back out again. Perhaps quixotically, I wish to establish, both what a given songwriter’s choice of tune might and might not bring to the performance of a new lyric, and the potential for a genuinely informed interdisciplinary conversation on the perilous subject of musical meaning.

About the speaker: 

Oskar Jensen is a historian, author, and songwriter. He is currently a Senior Research Associate in Politics at the University of East Anglia, working on the project, about protest song in England from 1600 to the present day. From October he will be a NUAcT Fellow at Newcastle University. His last book was The Ballad-Singer in Georgian and Victorian London; his next, out this June, is Vagabonds: Life on the Streets of Nineteenth-Century London.

Oskar is also working with Vivien Ellis on ballad-related workshops (free to attend) at the StreetLife project this week.

Attend the seminar in-person, or online via zoom (Meeting ID: 998 9220 5308; Passcode: 390939).

Location: Music Department, Room D003, Sally Baldwin Buildings, Wentworth Way