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Dr. Martin Adams
Fellow Emeritus, Music


Martin Adams studied at Southampton University, and for a number of years was active as a composer and arranger of theatre music, and as a conductor of amateur and semi-professional choirs and orchestras. For three years he lectured at Leeds University, and in 1979 moved to Trinity College Dublin. His research interests lie in English music of the 17th century (mainly Purcell) and the late-19th/early-20th centuries (mainly Elgar, on whose music he has written several analytical papers). His Henry Purcell: the Origins and Development of His Musical Style (Cambridge, 1995), a detailed analytical study of that composer's compositional practice, has just become available in paperback. He is currently working on a book exploring the cultural roots of English dramatic opera.

Publications and Further Research Outputs

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Martin Adams, Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas", 2nd edn, Review of Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas", 2nd edn, by Ellen T. Harris , Music and Letters, 100, (1), 2019, p138-141 Review, 2019

Opera as Literature and the Triumph of Music in, editor(s)Bruce Wood and Colin Timms , Music in the London Theatre from Purcell to Handel, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017, pp25 - 37, [Martin Adams] Book Chapter, 2017 TARA - Full Text

History in the Writing in, editor(s)Michael Dervan , The Invisible Art: A Century of Music in Ireland 1916-2016, Dublin, New Island, 2016, pp198 - 211, [Martin Adams] Book Chapter, 2016 URL

Martin Adams, It's Nice to Find a Piece of Paper with a Date on It. But what if you can't find it?, 17th Biennial International Conference on Baroque Music, Canterbury (UK), 13-17 July 2016, 2016 Conference Paper, 2016 URL

Martin Adams, Poetry for Reading or Singing? Purcell, Dryden, Dramatic Opera and the musicality of the Iambic Pentameter, 16th Biennial International Conference on Baroque Music, Salzburg, July 9-13, 2014, 2014 Conference Paper, 2014 TARA - Full Text

Martin Adams, Creative Perspectives on Creativity, Review of Concepts of Creativity in Seventeenth-Century England, by Rebecca Herissone and Alan Howard (Editors) , Early Music, 42, (4), 2014, p643-646 Review, 2014

Martin Adams, Review of The Ashgate Research Companion to Henry Purcell. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2012. 420 + xviii pp., by (ed.) Rebecca Herissone , Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700, 38, (1), 2014, p83-86 Review, 2014

Methodist Church Music, Presbyterian Church Music, Nahum Tate, Henry Purcell, Trinity College Dublin, Harry White and Barra Boydell, general editors, Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland, Dublin, UCD Press, 2013, [Martin Adams] Item in dictionary or encyclopaedia, etc, 2013

Martin Adams, The Land without Oratorio: or Music Must not Tell Stories, 15th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music, Southampton University, 11-15 July, 2012, 2012 Conference Paper, 2012

Martin Adams, Review of Henry Purcell, Three Occasional Odes. Ed. by Bruce Wood. Purcell Society Edition, vol. 1. (New edn., Stainer & Bell, London, 2008), Music and Letters, 92, (2), 2011, p280-82 Review, 2011

Martin Adams, Elgar and the Untheorisable Skill, Eighth Biennial Conference for Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Queen's University Belfast, 21-24 July 2011, 2011 Conference Paper, 2011

'Purcell's "Laudate Cecilam": an essay in stylistic experimentation' in, editor(s)Peter Holman (Series editor, David Ledbetter) , Purcell (In 5-volume series 'The Baroque Composers'), Farnham, Ashgate, 2010, pp307 - 327, [Martin Adams] Book Chapter, 2010

Alon Schab [research student], On the Ground and Off: a Comparative Study of Two Purcell Chaconnes., The Musical Times, 151, (3), 2010, p47 - 57 Journal Article, 2010

Martin Adams, Opera Without Music: 
Music and Poetry on the Late Seventeenth-Century
 English stage, 14th Biennial International Conference on Baroque Music, Queen's University Belfast, 30 June-4 July 2010, 2010 Conference Paper, 2010

Alon Schab [research student], Revisiting the Known and Unkown Misprints in Purcell's 'Dioclesian', Music and Letters, 91, (3), 2010, p343 - 356 Journal Article, 2010

Martin Adams, "That what took least, was really best": tensions between the private and public aspects of Purcell's compositional thought., Purcell, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn: Anniversary Reflections, New College Oxford, 27-29 March, 2009, 2009 Conference Paper, 2009

Martin Adams, Unblest Siren's?: the tussle between music and verse in late 17th-century Dramatic Opera , Purcell, Handel and Literature Conference Institute of Musical Research, University of London , Institute of Musical Research, University of London , 19-21 November, 2009, 2009 Conference Paper, 2009

Alon Schab [research student], 'Distress'd Sources? A critical consideration of the authority of Purcell's "Ayres for the Theatre"', Early Music, xxxvii, (4), 2009, p633 - 645 Journal Article, 2009

Purcell's 'curiously poor and perfunctory piece of work': critical reflections on Purcell via his music for the centenary of Trinity College Dublin in, editor(s)Barra Boydell & Kerry Houston , Irish Musical Studies 10: Music, Ireland and the Seventeenth Century, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2009, pp181 - 202, [Martin Adams] Book Chapter, 2009

Martin Adams, Visions of Music in Early 17th-century England: a contribution to understanding the roots of English "dramatic opera"., SMI/RMA Joint Annual Conference 2009, Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin, 9-12 July 2009, 2009 Conference Paper, 2009

Martin Adams, Review of Music in the Galant Style (Oxford University Press, 2007), by Robert O. Gjerdingen , Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, 4, 2008, p101-105 Review, 2008

Martin Adams, Review of The Life and Music of Brian Boydell, by Gareth Cox, Axel Klein, Michael Taylor (eds) , Music and Letters, 86, (3), 2005, p516-520 Review, 2005

Martin Adams, Review of Bunting's Messiah, by Roy Johnston , Music and Letters, 86, (4), 2005, p634-6 Review, 2005

Martin Adams, 'Music Transcending Time: Techniques of Musical Reminiscence in Elgar's "The Dream of Gerontius."' , Dublin International Conference on Music Analysis, University College Dublin, July, 2005 Conference Paper, 2005

Martin Adams, Review of a) Charles Villiers Stanford: Man and Musician; b) Charles Villiers Stanford, by a) Jeremy Dibble; b) Paul Rodmell , Music and Letters, 85, (2), 2004, p321-5 Review, 2004

'La "dramatic opera" inglesa: "un imposibile género teatral?' in, editor(s)Juan José Carreras & Miguel Ángel Marín , Concierto Barroco Estudios sobre música, dramaturgia e historia cultural, Logrnoño, Universidad de La Rioja, 2004, pp24 - 49, [Martin Adams] Book Chapter, 2004 URL

Martin Adams (with Anne Leahy, Kerry Houston & Yo Tomita), Ninth Biennial Conference on Baroque Music, July 2000, 2000, Trinity College Dublin Meetings /Conferences Organised, 2000 URL

Martin Adams, Review of The Purcell Companion, by Michael Burden (ed.) , Music and Letters, 77, (3), 1996 Review, 1996

'Purcell, Blow and the English Court Ode' in, editor(s)Curtis Price , Purcell Studies, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp172 - 191, [Martin Adams] Book Chapter, 1995

Martin Adams, Henry Purcell: the Origins and Development of his Musical Style, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995, 1 - 388pp Book, 1995

'Purcell's "Laudate Cecilam": an essay in stylistic experimentation' in, editor(s)Gerard Gillen & Harry White , Irish Musical Studies Vol. 1, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1990, pp229 - 247, [Martin Adams] Book Chapter, 1990

Non-Peer-Reviewed Publications

Martin Adams, Purcell, Handel and Literature (Conference News), RMA Newsletter, Royal Musical Association, April, 2010, 9-9 Report, 2010

Martin Adams, 'History or Entertainment?' (Guest editorial), BackTrack, 20, (4), 2006, p195 Journal Article, 2006

Martin Adams, 'Music as Past, Present and Future in Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius.', Society for Musicology in Ireland Annual Conference, University College Cork, May, 2005 Conference Paper, 2005

Martin Adams, 'The Analysis of Baroque Music: a Plea for Flexibility', RMA Study Day, King's College London, 12 November, 2005 Conference Paper, 2005

Martin Adams, 'Purcell and the "Awful Matron."' , Music in Seventeeth-Century Ireland, NUI Maynooth, 5 February, 2005 Conference Paper, 2005

Martin Adams, 'English Musical Theatre in the 17th Century: A Lost Opportunity?' (Guest speaker), Seminario teatro musical, Inglaterra-España, Barcelona, 6-7 February, 2003 Conference Paper, 2003

Martin Adams, 'Opera is where the guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of bleeding he sings.', Society for Musicology in Ireland Annual Conference, NUI Maynooth, May, 2003 Conference Paper, 2003

Martin Adams, 'Un altra idea di opera', Amadeus, 13, (2), 2003, p14 - 17 Journal Article, 2003

Martin Adams, 'English Dramtic Opera: The Impossible Form of Art?', Tenth Biennial Conference on Baroque Music, Universidad de La Rioja, Logroño, Spain, July, 2002 Conference Paper, 2002

Martin Adams, 'Words first, music second.' (Keynote address, by invitation.), Annual Meeting of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Dublin, 25 July, 2000 Conference Paper, 2000

Research Expertise


1) English music in the 17th century, especially that of Henry Purcell and theatre music. 2) The music of Edward Elgar. 3) Concepts of influence in music. 4) Copyright law in music.


  • Title
    • 'Impressions that . . . could not be hummed':
  • Summary
    • Full title: '"Impressions that . . . could not be hummed": Elgar's "The Dream of Gerontius" as Mnemonic, Mystical Drama and Uncommon Genre'. An historical and analytical study of Elgar's setting (1900) of John Henry Newman's poem "The Dream of Gerontius." It will result in an article of round 12,000 words, plus analytical diagrams. Although it is deeply dependent on the work of earlier writers, especially in historical musicology, its methods and conclusions deal with areas that tend to be either neglected or over-simplified within published work on Elgar. That especially applies to aspects of this composer's compositional techniques and how he deploys them for specific expressive and semantic purposes. It seeks to identify, within the music, some of the reasons why astute critics, such as Robert J. Buckley (whose words are quoted in the title above), found this work so original within the context of English music of that time. It explores how and why Elgar's supporters wrote of this work in a way that makes plain to cognoscenti that there was a debt to Wagner, while fending off the reductive comparisons made by those inclined to see Elgar's achievement primarily in the context of Wagnerian musico-dramatic techniques. It also identifies those aspects of Elgar's compositional practice that give this work its unusual combination (commented on by the same critics) of precision and elusiveness. Those techniques are indebted to Wagner, but also to other 19th-century composers; and Elgar deploys them in a distinctive way that tends to suggest meaning rather than explicitly to state it. In that way, and in the precisely targeted setting of words by the poem's various characters, he taps into the poem's mystical aspects -- a characteristic noted by a number of critics in England and Germany. The article also suggests that the composer's reluctance to call this work an oratorio was well-founded. (He acceded only because his publisher had nowhere else to put it in their catalogue of works.) Rather, "Gerontius" is best understood as a specimen of what Hermann Danuser has called Weltanschauungsmusik. Distinctive styles and techniques, and the relationships between them and meaning, identified by Danuser in works such as Wagner's "Parsifal", Schoenberg's "Gurrelieder" and Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" (all written between 1882 and 1911) are far closer to Elgar's practice in "The Dream of Gerontius" than they are to any English oratorio or dramatic cantata, which have often been cited as its ostensible precedents.
  • Date From
    • 2005
  • Date To
    • Present
  • Title
    • The Origins of English Dramatic Opera
  • Summary
    • Study leave has been granted for 2011-12 for this project. It seeks to establish why England was the last major culture in Western Europe to accept the concept of all-sung opera, and why English stage music of the 17th century was the way it was. Over the last three years, several conference papers have been given on contributory components. The research explores literature, religion, politics, and the general intellectual and cultural life of England from the middle of the 16th century to around 1700. The resulting book will explain why the stage works for which this period is best known - those with music by Henry Purcell (e.g. "King Arthur" and "The Fairy Queen"), are so different from continental stage works, and why the genre on which Purcell and Dryden worked, and which the latter called "Dramatick Opera", declined rapidly in the 18th century. The resulting book will situate these works in a much broader context than any publicly presented research thus far. It will demonstrate that the characteristics of dramatic opera are calculated - far more than merely a response to Restoration theatrical taste, or an abberrant dead-end on the road towards all-sung opera. Rather, dramatic opera is a natural and logical consequence of a highly distinctive view of music, of a somewhat fearful view of music's power, and of deeply thought views on how music could and should be used in a public context.
  • Funding Agency
    • Study leave funded by the School of Drama, Film and Music.


Copyright law and practice in music; Elgar - compositional techniques and cultural contexts; Henry Purcell - compositional techniques and development; Music and theatre in 17th-century England; Seventeenth-century opera


Awards and Honours

Elected to Fellowship of Trinity College Dublin 1996


Member of Society for Musicology in Ireland 2003 – present