At the Margins of Enlightenment: Reflections on Antiracist Musicology

Tuesday 29th March

Part of the Parkes Institute research seminars series.



The business of music historians is to excavate stories from the musical past. All humanities fields, including musicology, are now engaging in a much-needed revision of methodologies–heeding the calls of scholars working on the margins for years–to complexify and diversify the stories we tell. The study of figures such as Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780), apparently the first Black person to publish his original musical compositions, confirms that music has long carried antiracist messages, and engagement with Sancho’s work allows us to revise our understandings of agency, authorship, and community in music studies. And yet, Sancho’s published letters also raise uncomfortable questions about the marginalization of Jews among even the most enlightened writers from the past. As historians, we must not ignore the passages in Sancho’s letters that reinscribe caricatures of Jews. This conversation between Thomas Irvine (University of Southampton) and Rebecca Cypess (Rutgers University, USA) will explore Cypess’s current research on antiracism in Sancho’s music while also reflecting on the experience of engaging with his published correspondence as a Jewish scholar.


Rebecca Cypess is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Music at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. She has published widely on topics including the history of musical technologies, historical performance practice, women in musical history, and Jewish studies in music. Her forthcoming work includes Women and Musical Salons in the Enlightenment (University of Chicago Press) and, as co-editor, Music and Jewish Culture in Early Modern Italy: New Perspectives (Indiana University Press). Cypess is currently leading a research group titled ‘The Arts as Black Resistance in Eighteenth-Century London: The Life and World of Ignatius Sancho’, which is developing public-facing and pedagogical materials addressing antiracism in Sancho’s artistic practice. A historical keyboardist, Cypess is the founder and director of the Raritan Players, whose recordings have been called ‘enchanting’ (Classics Today) and ‘simply mesmerizing’ (Early Music America). She was the 2018 recipient of the Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society for contributions to historical performance.

Dr Thomas Irvine is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Programmes in Music, and an Alan Turing Fellow. He will chair this event.

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