Alison DeSimone specializes in Baroque period music, with focuses on opera history and 17th- and early 18th-century music in London. She has particular interest in the history of opera singers and George Frideric Handel’s music. Thanks to an American Handel Society research fellowship and a travel grant from the American Musicological Society, this summer she travels to London to continue work on her monograph, The Power of Pastiche: Musical Miscellany and the Creation of Cultural Identity in Early Eighteenth-Century London. The book considers how different types of musical miscellany (including the earliest public concerts, pasticcio operas, published songbooks, compositional styles, and early music criticism) helped the British shape their cultural taste as London grew into a cosmopolitan capital, 1700–1720.
What does it mean to be the recipient of a J. Merrill Knapp Research Fellowship?
The fellowship is, as far as I know, the only research grant given out by the American Handel Society. It’s an honor to receive the award as someone who conducts research on and around Handel’s music. This award will help to fund my living expenses in London. I have been lucky enough to have received a handful of travel grants, which have allowed me to travel to the British Library, the National Archives of the UK, the Bodleian Library, and others.
What will be the highlights of your London trip this summer?
I’m mostly excited about getting back to the British Library. It’s a beautiful place to work, and has one of the world’s finest collections of historical resources. I’m also excited about going back to Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, and other London archives and repositories. There are sources that I haven’t consulted before at these institutions, and I think they will provide some answers to the questions I ask in my book. I’m also excited to speak at the Händel Festspiele for the first time — a festival celebrating Handel in Halle, Germany, his birthplace.
How will your interest in Handel be reflected in your new monograph?
My book does not focus on Handel exclusively, but investigates the period around the composer’s late 1710 arrival in London. London was becoming a cosmopolitan metropolis, with people from all over Europe flocking to the city, which created anxiety over the preservation of English musical culture. It was also a period in which performers, publishers, and critics began experimenting with music. In the book, I argue that one way in which the English contended with London’s growing cosmopolitanism was through musical miscellany, or musical artifacts — such as early public concerts, operas, and songbooks — that were assembled from a potpourri of separate and seemingly unrelated parts.
Has the Conservatory helped to shape your research? How do you communicate your passion for the Baroque Era to your students and colleagues?
Working at UMKC has pointed me in some interesting directions that I may not have explored otherwise. I’ve gotten great advice talking through my ideas with my colleagues in musicology and theory, and our musicology graduate students have really pushed me on certain arguments. It’s fantastic to work at an institution that values collaboration. For instance, I just completed a chapter on Handel’s tenors for an essay collection. I wrote on roles in Handel’s Rodelinda, with which I became very familiar when I worked with Conservatory Opera Director Fenlon Lamb.
As an advocate for Baroque music history my goal is to make it relevant for students. Many have not encountered much music composed before J.S. Bach, and for many, their instruments didn’t even exist before 1750!
I fell in love with teaching music history when I was a teaching assistant in undergrad. I enjoyed sharing strange stories about particular pieces of music. As a TA, I also learned a lot about archival work, which I love because it allows me to explore previously unknown or forgotten history.
Finally, what do you do for fun?
I really love to cook and experiment with new recipes. I’ve been baking a lot, thanks to the Great British Bake Off. I’ve also started running, although the hills in Kansas City are not pleasant to navigate. I adopted a dog, Hildy, about a year and a half ago, so she’s a lot of fun and gets me outside a lot. I love exploring Kansas City — I’ve really fallen in love with the city since I moved here three years ago. It has such an interesting history, and there are so many cool places to visit (the Steamboat Arabia Museum in River Market, for example!), and so many good restaurants. All of my out-of-town friends now want to move here. I’m so lucky I ended up in such a fantastic city!
Thank you, Alison!