Ian Bostridge 2021

Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Family Lectures 2021

Ian Bostridge: Musical Identities

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These Berlin Family Lectures will be delivered on Zoom Webinar. Registration is free of charge and open to the public.

Acclaimed tenor Ian Bostridge looks at how classical music can express the inexpressible: the nature of existence; the fluidity of identity; the inevitability of death. Through three Berlin Family Lectures focused on “Musical Identities,” Bostridge sets out to explore and evaluate some of the works at the very center of the classical vocal repertoire, asking how they construct identities—historically, poetically, and musically.


Lecture 1
Sunday, April 11, 1 to 2:30 p.m. CDT

Identity in Performance

Classical music offers a fluid and complex perspective on identity. This lecture will focus on three vocal works from disparate eras, which explore and use identity in different ways:

  • Monteverdi's Renaissance work for narrator and instrumental ensemble, Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (the battle between Tancred and Clorinda);
  • Robert Schumann's 1840 song cycle for voice and piano, Frauenliebe und Leben (A woman's life and love); and
  • Benjamin Britten's 20th century "church opera" Curlew River, inspired by Japanese Noh theatre, in which a female protagonist is played by a male singer.

Lecture 2
Saturday, April 17, 1 to 2:30 p.m. CDT

Hidden Histories

The hidden history of colonialism in the classical music repertoire is rarely acknowledged in the concert hall. This lecture will explore it by taking as a case study Maurice Ravel's Chansons Madécasses (Songs of Madagascar), a staple of the vocal repertoire, originally composed in the 1920s.

Lecture 3
Saturday, April 24, 1 to 2:30 p.m. CDT

Meditations on Death

The final lecture will look at identity's ultimate dissolution—death—and explore some of the ways in which classical composers have confronted it, in private and public mode. The lecture focuses on three works by Benjamin Britten:

  • The song cycle, The Holy Sonnets of John Donne (1945), written shortly after Britten's return from Bergen-Belsen;
  • The War Requiem (1962); and
  • Britten’s last opera based on the novella by Thomas Mann, Death in Venice (1973).


The Humanities in Practice

The Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Family Lectures bring to campus individuals who are making fundamental contributions to the arts, humanities, and humanistic social sciences.

Each visitor offers an extended series of 3–5 lectures and develops a book for publication with the University of Chicago Press.

Watch the first Berlin Family Lecture of 2021 "Identity in Performance" by Ian Bostridge.

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Watch our previous lectures