Ian Bostridge: “Musical Identities”

Ian Bostridge

Acclaimed tenor Ian Bostridge looked 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 explored and evaluated 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).


About Ian Bostridge

Ian Bostridge

Ian Bostridge is an acclaimed tenor, well known for his performance as an opera singer and as a song recitalist. During the past three decades, his international recital career has taken him to the foremost concert halls of Europe, Japan, and North America. His many recordings have won multiple international record prizes and three Grammy awards.

He was awarded a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2004 New Year’s Honours. In 2016, he received the Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize for nonfiction writing for his latest book, Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession (2015).

Bostridge has always combined his masterful singing with his scholarship. Before he became a full-time professional singer at age 30, Bostridge had earned a DPhil from the University of Oxford and served as post-doctoral fellow at Corpus Christi College in Oxford. His monograph, Witchcraft and its Transformations 1650-1750, was published in 1997.