Image of Ethel Smyth writing. © National Portrait Gallery

PhD Research

Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) was a British composer, writer, and social activist. Although well-known during her lifetime, Smyth has, like many women, suffered from a lack of recognition in historical accounts of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Smyth made significant contributions to many musical genres, from vocal, chamber, and piano works, through to operas and larger choral compositions. Vocal works — ranging from solo songs, choral works, and operas — account for the majority of her output. Of these, Smyth’s six operas have received the most scholarly attention, followed by the Songs of Sunrise, which date from Smyth’s involvement with the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

Smyth was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union between 1910 and 1913. Despite the brevity of her service, the image of Smyth as a militant Suffragette has prevailed and is a facet of her life that has provoked interest. This thesis takes Smyth’s suffrage involvement as a starting point and moves beyond the protest songs, bringing some of her lesser-known works to the fore.

In November 2021, my article ‘1910’: Ethel Smyth’s Unsung Suffrage Song was published in The Musicology Review, issue 10. You can access the full journal here.

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In 2019 I completed my MA at Oxford Brookes University. My dissertation, Ewige Freude: Seeking Solace in Johannes Brahms’s Opp. 13, 17 and 45/II, explored the themes of death and comfort in a number of Johannes Brahms’s choral works. In December 2019 I was awarded the Postgraduate Music Dissertation Prize from Oxford Brookes University.

My Master’s degree was primarily focused on nineteenth-century music, with an emphasis on opera during the second semester. I analysed a number of Lieder by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel and Clara Schumann and explored operas by Benjamin Britten and Maurice Ravel. These assignments each provided the opportunity to shed light on under-explored works.

I gained valuable experience as a Research Assistant to Professor Alexandra Wilson during my MA, which involved delving into the archives for sources engaging with the idea of opera and elitism — a central focus of Alexandra’s Leverhulme Project. I also investigated the politics of the impact agenda and addressed how impact affects academics and the public.

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In 2016 I completed my undergraduate degree at Keele University with first class honours. My third year modules were instrumental in both inspiring and preparing me for further study, and the instruction that I received during this period ignited an insatiable thirst for knowledge. My dissertation was entitled The Historical Development of the Nocturne: Chopin and Field in Context. My other final year projects addressed music as an emancipatory tool in E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View; Mahler’s use of sonata form in the first movement of his Symphony No. 1; and Julian Johnson’s Who Needs Classical Music?