Prize Scholar: Timothy Coombes

Timothy Coombes is in the second year of studying for a Music DPhil:

"My academic interest in the idea of childhood began in conversations with literature students during my Masters degree. So much of what we mean by childhood is evidently determined by the social and cultural conditions in which we grow up, and understanding this contingency suddenly transformed my appreciation of Blake’s strange, piping infants and Wordsworth’s aching reminiscences.

"I sensed that music had much to say about all the things that childhood has stood for, but that musicologists had given little thought to the subject. This turned out to be largely true, including for the period in which I had begun to specialize – turn-of-the-century French music.

"My DPhil has developed into three basic lines of inquiry: firstly, how the presentation of child characters on the operatic stage around 1900 constructed a particular understanding of the 'childlike'; secondly, how late 19th-century children's piano music helped to 'socialise' its intended audience into prevailing national, Republican, bourgeois ideals; and thirdly, how what we mean by the 'childlike' qualities of much French modernist music can be related to contemporaneous scientific and cultural theory about the nature of childhood.

"Often, I haven't needed to look further than the College travel grants to fund trips to the relevant archives in Paris, and the range of subjects represented in Merton's graduate community has undoubtedly helped to maintain the interdisciplinary nature of the project's beginnings."