Apart from my career as a lutenist, I am also a musicologist. I have held post-doctoral fellowships at the Institute of Musical Research (University of London) and at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris).  I successfully completed my doctoral thesis, The French Lute during the Reign of Louis le Grand (under the joint supervision of Suzannah Clark and Tim Crawford) at the University of Oxford in 2009.

My critical-musicological thesis represents the first cultural history of the French lute, an instrument considered to be the ‘King of Instruments’ by period sources.  While the French lute had already been the subject of much archival research and formal analysis, very little work had gone into placing the instrument within the interpretive context of its period sources; even less with regard to its broader cultural context during the reign of Louis XIV.  The main aim of my study was to begin this process by taking the information-gathering phase of research to the next level of musical and cultural interpretation, investigating ideological, representational, and historical explanations for the French lute’s cultural relevancy and ultimate decline.  The first section of the thesis repositions the French lute with reference to contemporary aesthetic theory and cultural ideology, exploring the ways in which the lute was linked to the aristocratic society of which it was a signifier.  By doing so, I illustrate how the style, techniques, forms, and performances of the repertoire can be understood to be manifestations of the Grand Siècle’s social conventions.  The second section investigates the lute’s decline from the points of view of gender and representation through a close reading of the lute’s surviving tutors, which both discuss the lute’s role in contemporary gender politics.  The final section of my thesis investigates the canonical ‘death’ of the French lute through a thick description of the tombeau.  Since the peak of tombeau production coincides with the French lute’s decline, it is suggested that the form can be understood to be a valedictory history written within the medium of the subject.  My study represents the first attempt to contextualize the French lute within the wider matrix of French baroque music, aesthetics, history, court studies, art criticism, literary criticism, and critical theory.

My post-doctoral work on Robert de Visée, on the other hand, is an archival-musicological project that aims to make the lute repertoire of this important baroque master accessible to modern musicologists and historical performers who are not familiar with the lute’s specialized notation.  De Visée was a distinguished musician both at Versailles and in Parisian salons during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV.  Considered a great musician in his day, he exemplified the final flowering of the great Parisian lute school that had so strongly influenced French musical life - and that of a great part of Europe - from the early seventeenth century on.  As an innovator of style de Visée draws a fine parallel with the figure of François Couperin, for de Visée too melded diverse Italianate elements into what had largely been a pure French style, creating a very personalised music that seems at once the result of great talent and learning on the one hand, and yet also the inevitable synthesis of the artistic innovations and aesthetic dialogue that had been hard at work in France for the greater part of the seventeenth century, transforming the musical landscape.  Despite his importance to French music of this period, his surviving works have not been paid adequate attention by modern musicology, since they are encoded in tablature notation that has rendered them difficult for non-specialist scholars to approach.  My critical edition of de Visée’s lute music, replete with supporting chapters on biography, extant sources, reception, performance practice issues, and analysis of key stylistic traits, aims to edit the original tablature notation contained in the manuscript sources, compare all extant concordances, and perhaps most importantly, transcribe the lute works into modern notation.

Finally, as the winner of the Goldberg Foundation's 1st Musical Essay Competition, and my subsequent position as a contributor to the publication, combined with my position on the committee of the Society for Interdisciplinary French Seventeenth-Century Studies (to which I was elected in October 2008), I have been initiated into my first administrative roles in international organizations.  With regards to performance administration, I helped organise a joint performance-research project between the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles (CMBV), the Royal College of Music (London) and the Institute of Musical Research (with financial support from the French Foreign Ministry, Cultures France, and the French Embassy to the United Kingdom) that shared the CMBV’s recent reconstruction of the famous 24 violons du roi with international players and audiences in June 2010.  This project - representing the first performance in modern times of Lully’s string orchestra - was coached and directed by major international artists Sir Roger Norrington and Patrick Cohen-Akénine, and involved the ensemble Florilegium as resident orchestra.




Benjamin Narvey, lute