Musical masters: A study in artistry

Our music writers discuss the artists they'd like to learn about in a masters programme.

multiple writers
9th March 2021
Image credit: PixaBay, liverpool.ac.uk, universityframes.co.uk
Liverpool University has recently announced that they are launching an MA postgraduate programme in which students can learn specifically about The Beatles - their heritage, impact on the industry and modern-day impact. With this in mind, we asked our writers: which musician would you be willing to pay £9,250 to learn about?

Queen

Image credit: biography.com

Masters of countless musical styles, Queen are a band of timeless appeal. Empowering, anthemic and full of a vivacity that only Freddie Mercury could pull off, Queen have long held an unmatched influence on the music industry.

With an unforgettable frontman who could easily be the subject of extensive study on his own, Mercury destroyed heteronormative expectations of stage performance. Combined with the immaculate guitar playing of Brian May which defined the band's innumerable hit singles, Queen were on a path to world domination.

Having met during their university years in London, it seems only appropriate that higher level study should exist in their name. Mercury's study of Art and Design, May's pursuit of a PhD in Astrophysics and Taylor's deep-dive into Dentistry made Queen experts of both substance and style.

Continuing to influence emerging artists to this day, Queen's staggering impact spans decades and genres. Setting Lady Gaga, Radiohead, David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, Katy Perry and The Killers en route to stardom to name just a few, there are countless musicians who attribute their success to the musical visionary that was Freddie Mercury.

Inspiring fundamental changes to the music scene that followed them, what better tribute to London's greatest rock band than a degree-level qualification in the city that inspired their regal name?

Lily Holbrook

Kate Bush

Image credit: newyorker.com
Kate Bush. Her name alone is synonymous with feminism, breaking boundaries, female agency and the list goes on.

Throughout the decades, Kate Bush has constantly shown that females within music do it best. With her unique takes on fashion, production and music how can her career not be studied with great detail? Her musical career is inspiring and oozes authenticity, something that should be celebrated and delved into. Kate Bush gave layers to everything she created, therefore it would be a shame for this to not be appreciated by critical thinkers.

If it wasn’t for Kate Bush, we wouldn’t have some of the artists we know and love today, such as Charli XCX, Lily Allen and Bjork. With Bush influencing so many different artists in vast genres of music I think it’d be a great shame to not see her in the future be an option for an MA as The Beatles have in Liverpool.

It would be a refreshing approach to teach students about a woman who has impacted music rather than pushing more male musicians further into the limelight and keeping critical thinking surrounding music a male dominated subject area. With no sign of women in music like Kate Bush being an MA option, clearly there is still need for ‘This Woman’s Work’ to be done.

Ellie Boswell

Dmitri Shostakovich

Image credit: Michael Ozersky/Slava Katamidze Collection/Getty Images

My argument does not rest on whether he is the best Russian composer. Although I love him, names like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and the like will always challenge him in that debate and will typically win. He was not as experimental as Stravinsky and not as popular as Tchaikovsky. So, why Shostakovich?

Well, Shostakovich’s music, in my opinion, is the most rewarding to study. You can look at different aspects of Shostakovich’s work and build little theses, which spill into the musical, historical and cultural sides of the study. Take whether his music was pro- or anti-USSR. The Seventh Symphony, written about Leningrad, was patriotic enough to make Stalin promote it. The Ninth Symphony, however, was banned by Stalin. It was meant to celebrate the USSR victory in WWII yet seemed to mock the country through comical trills and anti-climaxes. Does this reflect a musical failure or an act of rebellion? That’s the job of a thesis.

A study would also have musical value, for l’art pour l’art purists. I find the most interesting aspect to be his motifs. Wagner typically used motifs referring to earlier in the same work, yet Shostakovich often refers to completely different works. My favourite example is the ‘Jewish dance theme’, used both in Piano Trio No. 2 4th Movement (4:57 for Greenwich Trio version) and String Quartet No. 8 3rd Movement (7:32 for Borodin String Quartet version). I have always heard this motif as a message against European anti-Semitism, but is this the case? That’s the job of a thesis.

Josh Smith

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