Russia and the Musical World: Nineteenth-Century Networks of Exchange

16th December 2016

Centre for Russian Music, Goldsmiths, University of London



This study day seeks to generate discussion on how and why music, musicians and musical materials moved in, through and out of Russia during the long nineteenth century. Russia’s connections to the nineteenth-century musical world remain understudied. While various isolated moments of transfer are well known – the premiere of Verdi’s La forza del destino in St Petersburg, for instance, or Diaghilev’s Ballets russes in Paris – the breadth, depth and mechanisms of musical exchange require further investigation. After all, it was during this time that Russia became increasingly entangled in international cultural networks, enabled by a combination of remnants of the past (aristocratic patronage, royal relationships, cosmopolitan circles) and its modernisation (improving transport links, new political ties).


To pursue this line of inquiry is to participate in the recent turn towards cosmopolitan, international or transnational histories of music. Such frameworks push against entrenched methodological nationalism: a trend under which Russian music history has particularly suffered. In his epic Oxford History of Western Music, Richard Taruskin sought to ‘“mainstream” Russian music and musicians into the general narrative’, rather than lumping them into chapters on national schools (Taruskin, 2011). In order to continue this project of understanding Russia in its wider global context, the means by which connections were made need to be established.


In addition to tracing the movements of people – singers, impresarios, touring troupes, conductors, translators, writers, composers – we encourage contributions that consider the participation of nonhuman actors, such as institutions, scores, libretti, transport links and media, which should emphatically be included in the social analysis of musical life. Through debate at this meeting, we seek to establish how existing networks were used for music, how new ones were built, and also what factors limited musical mobility. By raising these issues in a study day format, we aim to bring together those examining movement in different directions, and, in so doing, to draw Russianists and non-Russianists into conversation about international mobility.


We invite proposals for papers under the following and related themes:

  • Musical networks connecting Russia and the rest of the world (people, institutions, communities);
  • Musicians and other figures from musical life travelling to or from Russia;
  • Mediators of exchange (hosts, organisers, translators);
  • Collaboration across borders;
  • The mechanisms, materials, and particular conditions of cultural transfer in the long nineteenth century;
  • Music and diplomacy;
  • Shifting borders;
  • Barriers to musical mobility (politics, gender, technology, language).


This conference will take the form of a study day in which papers will be circulated in advance. We aim to collect a selection of contributions to be developed for publication in a themed journal issue.


The language of the conference is English.


Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to Tamsin Alexander at by 30th September 2016. Notices of acceptance will be sent by 7th October 2016.



Tamsin Alexander (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Rutger Helmers (University of Amsterdam)


This study day is supported by the Centre for Russian Music at Goldsmiths.