Monday, May 26, 2014

Fate Knocks at the Door of London’s
Institute of Musical Research

by James Parsons

Music scholars around the world owe a considerable debt to the Institute of Musical Research (IMR). Established in 2005 with operations commencing in 2006, the institute is one of ten, as of this writing, comprising the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. Although its mission is ambitious, at heart and true to its name, the IMR exists to advance understanding of the field “and to establish relationships with other disciplines across the humanities and social sciences, both in the UK and beyond.”

From the start the institute has done this exceedingly well with the appointment of its first director Professor Katharine Ellis, then Professor John Irving, and, at present, Professor Paul Archbold. (The latter’s secondment from Kingston University ends 31 July 2014; applications for the new full-time post as director are invited, though see below.) Since 2005 Valerie James has served as manager, since 2010 responsible for a combined administrative office serving the IMR, the Institute of Philosophy, and the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies.

Senate House, University of London
Home of the Institute of Musical Research
Even if you have never heard of the IMR, chances are good you have participated in a conference supported by it or know a colleague who has. One of these might be the 4th Annual Conference of the Royal Musical Association Music and Philosophy Study Group (in collaboration with the Music and Philosophy Study Group of the American Musicological Society) forthcoming in late June 2014. During its history, the IMR has financially supported the collection and submission of details of UK publications to RILM, Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale. The institute also maintains ten research networks, a great many of which overlap with performance, as is the case with the SongArt Performance Research Group and DeNOTE. (The latter bringing together scholars and practitioners in the field of eighteenth-century music.) Both have produced videos; see HERE and HERE.) A recent publication of an IMR supported conference includes the 354-page The Impact of Nazism on Twentieth-Century Music, edited by Erik Levi (Vienna: Böhlau, 2014).

The IMR has been in the news lately, and that news is worrying. An article by Matthew Reisz in the 17 May 2014 Times Higher Education carried the headline “University of London ‘plans closure’ of Institute of English Studies” (IES). One also learns that the “financially fragile” IMR likely will find itself merging with one or more SAS institutes. Given the IMR’s sponsorship or hosting of numerous conferences each year, and its ties to the American Musicological Society’s United Kingdom sister organization, the Royal Musical Association, the institute’s future ought to concern all readers of Musicology Now and AMS members.

Not only is the IMR in trouble—most obviously the IES; so, too, is the SAS. As Reisz spells out in his article, the problem is money. In a 15 May letter Professor Roger Kain, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) University of London and Dean and Chief Executive, SAS, explains that the vice‐chancellor’s executive group is “recommending a concentration of funding into a smaller number of institutes.” This follows from the decision by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), effective 2014–15, to cut SAS funding by 3%. According to Kain, “in real terms this amounts to around 5% which will have a significant impact on our ability to continue to operate at current levels. With inflation running at 2–3%, and library inflation at 7–8%, we are in a very difficult economic climate.”

A week later, on 22 May 2014, The Guardian ran a story by James Meikle, “University of London plan to close Institute of English Studies condemned.”  As Meikle observes in his opening paragraph, “Academics from across the UK have condemned University of London’s proposals to close its Institute of English Studies . . . as a ‘direct assault’ on national and international collaboration which threatens to ‘rip the heart out’ of the biggest arts and humanities subject.” Moreover, some of the IES’s “work, and that of the university's Institute of Musical Research, is to be split between other bodies under a plan by university administrators not to ‘salami slice’ 3% cuts to state funding in the new academic year this autumn. The university says this amounts to a 5% cut in real terms.”

The on-line version of The Guardian article includes a number of links. Arguably the most interesting is a electronic petition to Professor Sir Adrian Smith, FRS, Vice-Chancellor, University of London that, as of 25 May 2014, has garnered 3,617 supporters. The day after the appearance of The Guardian article, on 23 May, Professor Kain issued another letter. In this document he writes that he is “delighted” to report, “following discussions at Wednesday's [22 May] meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees,” that more time is needed “to explore a wider range of options regarding the structure of SAS. We still, of course, need to work towards achieving long term financial sustainability but we are now able to approach this on a more extended timescale.” Doing so “will enable us to engage more fully with all relevant stakeholders, identify options and work them through, beginning the discussion process with the meetings of the SAS Board and the Strategic Advisory Group next month [June] and continuing into next academic year.” Most pertinently, “in the meantime, we will continue to run the Institute of English Studies and Institute of Musical Research in their current form.”

It is good that the IES and IMR have been spared—but for how long? As historians know, when an organization disappears it seldom returns. Most telling in Professor Kain’s 23 May letter is his admission that “the response to our published proposals has revealed a hugely gratifying level of support for what SAS English Studies and Musical Research contribute to the academic humanities community. I hope the community will be fully supportive of our efforts to reverse the HEFCE cuts.”  Few would disagree with the sentiment of this last sentence. The quick action of two journalistic articles and of scholars using social media and a electronic petition would appear to have been enormously effective. In the meantime, both the IES and IMR have director vacancies the searches for which have, as The Guardian remarks, “been postponed.”

Thanks are certainly due Professors Kain and Sir Adrian Smith. They need to be encouraged, too, to fill both positions and to maintain the IMR. Their e-mail addresses are and

James Parsons is Professor of Music History at Missouri State University.  His work focuses on German song from the eighteenth to the twentieth century and Beethoven.  He edited and contributed two essays to The Cambridge Companion to the Lied (Cambridge UP, 2004).

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