My research concerns music, landscape, cultural geography, ecocriticism and the environmental humanities. Much of my work is focused on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century music, especially in Scandinavia (Grieg, Sibelius, Carl Nielsen) and England (Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Delius). Drawing widely on analytical, historical and critical theoretical models, I examine landscape both as a medium of representation or description and as a mode of embodiment or performance. I investigate the ways in which particular landscapes shape our responses to music and sound, and equally the extent to which our sense of landscape and environment responds to patterns or fields of acoustic perception.
My first monograph, Grieg: Music, Landscape and Norwegian Identity (Boydell, 2006), developed a critical reappraisal of cultural nationalism through analysis of the role which music and landscape played in the formation of Norwegian identity in the nineteenth century. My second, Carl Nielsen and the Idea of Modernism (Boydell, 2011), considered landscape as part of a complex engagement with musical modernism, in dialogue with received traditions of identity, structure and narrative. My third, Delius and the Sound of Place (Cambridge University Press, 2018), examines the role of place in selected works, including ‘On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring’, Appalachia and The Song of the High Hills, reading place as a creative and historically mediated category in his music. Drawing on archival sources, contemporary art and literature, and more recent writing in cultural geography and the philosophy of place, this is a new interpretation of Delius’ work, from which he emerges as one of the most original and compelling voices in early twentieth-century music. My fourth monograph, a biography of Sibelius for Reaktion Press, won the Presto Classical Music Book of the Year in 2021. In October 2022 I curated a BBC Total Immersion day on Sibelius at the Barbican Centre which drew on material from my book.
My Delius research also included the collation (with Dr Joanna Bullivant) of a comprehensive scholarly online catalogue of his works, and the rediscovery of the original draft of his String Quartet (1916), including the world premiere of the first version of ‘Late Swallows’ with the Villiers String Quartet for Naxos. In conjunction with Joanna Bullivant, Kevin Page and David Lewis, I explored new digital ways for promoting Delius’s music, funded by an AHRC Follow-On Award, part of which is available via the British Library’s Discovering Music site. Our work has won accolades from the British Library (Research Labs award, 2018) and Oxford (Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research award, 2019).
I was Principal Investigator of the interdisciplinary research network Hearing Landscape Critically, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, between 2012 and 2016, and in 2011 I was Scholar-in-Residence at the Bard Music Festival, for which I edited a volume with Princeton University Press. I was one of the editors of the leading peer-review journal Music & Letters (Oxford University Press) for over 8 years, and then an associate editor of The Musical Quarterly until 2019. I currently serve on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Musicological Society. In addition to my role as Deputy Head of Humanities at Oxford, I am a member of the AHRC Peer Review College and I sit on the board of Oxford University Innovation. In 2019, I was appointed a Visiting Professor at the University of Copenhagen.