Please note this event has been postponed.
The Same Old Tune? Protest Song, Contrafacta, and the Search for an Interdisciplinary Vocabulary, 1600–2021
Like so many types of mainstream song over the ages, songs of protest have often been written contrafactually, with new words set to existing tunes. Some of these tunes, from God Save the King/Queen, to The Vicar of Bray, to Derry Down, have been sung in anger by new generations across at least three centuries. The practice continues to this day. In this paper, I try to establish the role of the tunes in this palimpsestic process. I contend with the vagaries of both the historical context, and interdisciplinary scholarship. Contrafactum has been embraced by scholars of history, politics, and literature in recent years, as a means of engaging with the musical dimension of song – though all too often this ends up as a way of taking the music back out again. Perhaps quixotically, I wish to establish, both what a given songwriter’s choice of tune might and might not bring to the performance of a new lyric, and the potential for a genuinely informed interdisciplinary conversation on the perilous subject of musical meaning.
Oskar Cox Jensen is a Senior Research Associate on Our Subversive Voice at the University of East Anglia. He is the author of Vagabonds: Life on the Streets of Nineteenth-Century London (Duckworth, 2022); The Ballad-Singer in Georgian and Victorian London (Cambridge, 2021); and Napoleon and British Song, 1797–1822 (Palgrave, 2015); and co-editor of Charles Dibdin and Late Georgian Culture (Oxford, 2018) and a special forum of Journal of British Studies: “Music and Politics in Britain” (2021). He is a founding member of the Romantic National Song Network and the Nineteenth-Century Song Club.