Research

 

My general research interests include historical, theoretical and creative investigations of the relationship between music and other arts, opera and music theatre, site-specific art, sound art, art and technology, cultural history and critical theory, artistic practice as research.

Current and recent research projects include:

  • Theories and practices of "post-operatic" music theatre. I coined the term "post-operatic music theatre" in the early 2000s, and it is now used widely. I have written extensively on a range of contemporary composers and theatre artists in this field, including Salvatore Sciarrino, Heiner Goebbels, Olga Neuwirth, Christopher Marthaler, Robert Ashley, Manos Tsangaris, Rebecca Saunders, Benedict Mason...
  • Opera, myth and modernity: early opera and early modernity. In this major historiographical project I am investigating the origins of opera in Florence c.1600, asking the questions "why opera?", "why there?", "why then?". Methodologically historical materialist, the project investigates the relation of opera to aspects of early modernity such as the scientific revolution, colonial exploration, the dialectic of orality and literacy, neo-feudalism and pastoral, rhetoric and politics, historical phenomenologies of seeing and hearing, etc.
  • Musical skill and labour theories of value from early capitalism to post-fordism. This project looks at changing valuations of musical skill and virtuosity, from celebrations of virtuosity as hard work in the 18th century, via romantic concerns about virtuosity as mechanisation, to the modern endorsement of deskilling and flexible affective labour that is evident in a popular challenge TV programme such as Pop Star to Opera Star.  
  • Sonic art, space and place. This project is for a chapter for The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image on music and architecture, showing how modernist ideals of the autonomy of the arts (Langer, Greenberg, Adorno, Corbusier) have been questioned by postmodern thinking about the intrinsic relation of space and sound (the spatial turn; the sonic turn). The research also relates to my interest in site-specific art. 
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  • The aesthetics of boredom. Why do some artists set out deliberately to create works of art that are "boring" (Satie, Musil, Beckett, Cage, Philip Glass, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Carl Andre, Michael Snow, Bela Tarr, Douglas Gordon...)? Are boring works of art really boring, or just slow and uneventful, demanding different modes of attention? How might philosophies of boredom (e.g. Heidegger), or theories of speed, temporality, consciousness or commodification, help us to understand the aesthetics of boredom? Can we still describe something as "boring" when its boringness become interesting?    
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  • Yakut Opera. Chris Marker's 1957 documentary film Letter from Siberia Marker includes a short clip of a musical-dramatic performance which he calls "Yakut Opera". But is there any such thing as "Yakut Opera", and if so, what is it? How does it relate to the Siberian sung epic form known as Olonkho that is now designated as a Unesco Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity? In this project I hope to investigate the elusive form of Yakut Opera, but also the role it plays in modern Siberian culture, and in the cultural politics of Unesco.
  • Practice as research.  I have been extensively engaged in this debate for some time. See, in particular: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/opus-versus-output/2002261.article

 

I welcome applications for PhD study in any of my main research fields, whether in historiography, theory or practice. For a full of list of the PhDs I have supervised see my Teaching page. 

 

REVIEWS OF BOOKS   

Mozart and the Enlightenment (1992)Extracts from reviews.

'To his remarkable study of Mozart and Mozart's operas he brings not only musical sensitivity and knowledge, but also wide reading and research into the history and culture of the 18th century. His study of the Enlightenment exemplifies the Enlightenment's own project of trying to unify the fragmented world of knowledge, and see the world as a whole... Brilliant and searching, the depth of Till's research into the cultural context of the operas, and the originality of his interpretations, ought to banish for ever some of the sillier and shallower descriptions of these works. An exceptional book that illuminates both the composer and his epoch.' Anthony Arblaster, The Guardian.

'An erudite mix of music, history, philosophy, biography, sociology, and even depth psychology  adding up to a triumphant study of Mozart's supreme masterworks...Few books provide such a satisfying exploration of the thoughts and feelings from which great art is born. The subtlety and richness of Till's argument cannot be conveyed by precis: A feast for the intellectually adventurous.' Kirkus Review, USA

'A dazzling tapestry of history and interpretation...The attraction of this book is that it situates Mozart the man within the cross-currents and contradictions of 18th-century thought without ever losing sight of Mozart the artist, who held it all together in immaculate, seductive synthesis.' James H. Johnson, Times Literary Supplement.                    

'One of the most substantial reconsiderations of the man and his music to have been published for some time... The panoply of scholarship Mr Till unfolds in his analysis of the relationship of words to music, bringing in most of the Enlightenment philosophers and writers, is awe-inspiring, as is his knowledge of the reforms of the Emperor Joseph II and the whole contemporary Viennese scene.' Michael Kennedy, Sunday Telegraph.

'This is a masterly and wonderful book. It is born out of a deep love for Mozart the phenomenon, the human being, the creator. His spiritual and social context is brought to life in a wonderfully painstaking but never dull way; one full of imaginative insight. His creative fire, which often seems in biographies like a sort of cometary flash from nowhere is made to seem comprehensible as part of his age and time but not explainable in terms of it. It is a book that demands work and effort but so much the better for that. Truly excellent.' S.Moore, Amazon Customer Review.   

'On third reading, this book reveals yet more riches; seemingly inexhaustible. There is hardly any aspect of culture that is not drawn in perceptively to form a context for Mozart's genius and character and in order to illumine his work and career... One cannot really review so wonderful a book as this, only offer a thank you to Nicholas Till and stand in awe before the enormous work and thoroughness and the inspiration which his labours mediate.' 'Starlight'. Amazon Customer Review. 

'This is one of the best books I've ever read. It is endlessly fascinating, and eminently readable'. 'Magid', Googlebooks review.  

 

Cambridge Companion to Opera Studies (2012)

"In both the clarity of its organization and the uniformly high standard of the individual essays, this is an outstanding collection." The Times Literary Supplement

 

 Beckett and Musicality (2014)

 "Beckett and Musicality represents a scholarly, versatile and imaginative engagement with Beckett's own work and the musical afterlife which it has engendered. It is a decisive contribution to Beckett studies which deserves a wide and attentive readership." Harry White, University College Dublin, Ireland

 "The diverse views and innovative analyses of specific works in this new collection span Beckett’s wide and multi-genre output, while also offering valuable insights into the perspectives of artists and composers who have been inspired by the author... Perhaps the first rather pressing question that readers will ask upon approaching this collection, especially those coming from outside the field of Word and Music Studies, will be: just what does ‘musical’ or ‘musicality’ mean in relation to literature? Till and Bailes do just this in their commanding introduction." John McGrath, Music and Letters

 "Beckett and Musicality is not merely a revisiting of a fashionable area of scholarship, as so often happens in the academic industry, but a collection of illuminating essays." Erika Mihálycsa, Hyperion