Announcement of New Professor of Music

Saloon, Provost's House

01 December 2014

Colleagues, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Saloon in the Provost’s House for this wonderful occasion: the announcement of our new Professor of Music.

A new professor is always an occasion for rejoicing but particularly this one – because it’s been twenty years since the Chair of Music was last filled! In 1995 the distinguished professor and composer, Hormoz Farhat, retired after fifteen years’ service to the department.

The history of music in college is an interesting one – a story of ups and downs - indeed twenty years is not the longest period we went without a professor… Let me fill you in briefly on this history since it’s a good one and provides the context to the very strong position that the Department finds itself in today.

It’s recorded that Trinity awarded its first music degree in 1612, just twenty years after the college was founded. But there’s no point getting too excited about this first music degree – it wouldn’t meet any modern criteria: there were no lectures, no exams, no Fellows or professors in music, and not even a College choir or an organist! So what this music degree entailed is anyone’s guess.

After the Restoration in 1660, the post of organist was created, and fifty years later, in 1709, we learn that a Trinity student, Thomas Roseingrave, was granted a year’s leave of absence “in order to improve himself in music”. Thomas was a son of Daniel Roseingrave, the organist of St Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals, who was famous in Dublin for his playing but also for his brawling. During a service in Christ Church, he apparently cut off a man’s ear. He was fined …… but not dismissed.

The 1760s was a key decade for music in Trinity. In 1762 the College choir was founded, and in 1764 the first Professor of Music was appointed, making it one of the longest-established Chairs in Trinity.

The Chair came about on the initiative of Provost Andrews, under whose portrait I am now standing. He has been described “as more a man of the world than a scholar” - he put a lot into making the college more beautiful and cosmopolitan.

With money supposedly destined for student rooms, Andrews instead built this House for himself and future Provosts. We’re grateful to him now, because it gives the College a wonderful place to host receptions like this one.

As we’ve just heard, this room, the Saloon, has great acoustics and is suitable for recitals. This was all part of Provost Andrews’ drive to make Trinity and Dublin more glamorous, because of course music was, and is, intrinsic to civilised society. It was for this reason that he wanted a Professor of Music and he appointed to the Chair, the Earl of Mornington, who was a Trinity graduate – and incidentally, the uncle of the Duke of Wellington.

As Professor of Music, Mornington was not expected to teach or examine students but only to enhance the cultural standing of the university and to provide music for ceremonial occasions, which he did very well. But he resigned in 1774, five days before Provost Andrews died, and the next Provost, John Hely-Hutchinson, didn’t appoint a successor. In fact there was no Professor of Music in Trinity for over seventy years.

According to R.B. McDowell, all of Dublin fell into a ‘musical torpor’ after the Act of Union, which maybe explains this long hiatus.

The Chair was finally filled in 1847, and Trinity’s third Professor of Music, Sir Robert Prescott Stewart, appointed in 1862, advanced the study of music in the College by formalising requirements for the music baccalaureate. Students now had to take exams in English Literature, Arithmetic, Latin, a modern language, and Music History. But there was still no teaching of the theory or practise of music – we would call it a baccalaureate in musicology, rather than in music.   

The 20th Century is when music education really took off in Trinity, and for that we have to thank Brian Boydell and Hormoz Farhat.

Brian Boydell established the department of music in 1974 – until then there had been a professor but no department – and he set up a programme of historical, technical and analytical teaching. When Hormoz Farhat took over as professor in 1982, he oversaw a comprehensive revision of the undergraduate syllabus – students could now specialise in either composition or musicology. And he led by example, as had Boydell, both men being wonderful composers as well as teachers.

When Professor Farhat retired in 1995, we had a situation exactly the reverse of the one prevailing until 1974: we had a department but no professor! Fortunately the department was by this stage very firmly established with excellent staff, and it has gone from strength to strength these past twenty years.

Three initiatives deserve particular mention: the MPhil in Music and Media Technologies was established just over a decade ago as a collaboration between the School of Music and the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering.
This course allows students to orient themselves within the areas of music and audio engineering, composition, and performance, and it’s a flagship example of interdisciplinarity in Trinity, which is something we promote very strongly.

The second initiative is the Centre for Music Composition, which was opened two years ago. Together with the Lir Academy for Dramatic Art and the Oscar Wilde Centre for Creative Writing, it’s part of a significant college-wide strategy to promote creativity and innovation in research and education.

And, finally, about twenty months ago, Trinity entered into a new partnership with the Royal Irish Academy of Music. The Academy’s history of music performance goes back 160 years – so when Trinity students were starting to study musicology the Academy was already training performers. Under the new partnership, the Royal Irish Academy of Music became an associated college of Trinity. Through this collaboration, students can draw on the strengths of both institutions – in research, performance, composition, and creative practice. We look forward to fostering and nurturing outstanding 21st Century musicians and composers.

And so we come to this point, exactly 250 years since the Chair was first founded, when we can announce - to further enhance this excellent Department - the appointment of the new Professor of Music.

Dr Jane Alden comes to Trinity from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. A specialist in medieval music, she has a strong interest in graphic notation and is director of the group, the Vocal Constructivists. As the name suggests, the group specialize in sounding or vocalizing graphics.

*  *  *

Dr Alden’s appointment is historic – not only is she the first Professor of Music in twenty years but she is the College’s first female Professor of Music since the Chair was founded 250 years ago.

We look forward to her contributing not only to the Department of Music but to our interdisciplinary college research theme, Creative Arts Practice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to our new professor of music, Jane Alden.

*  *  *

See addresses mainpage