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Imagining Musical Pasts

The Queer Literary Musicology of Vernon Lee, Rosa Newmarch, and Edward Prime-Stevenson

Kristin M. Franseen

Imagining Musical Pasts explores the complicated archive of sources, interpretations, and people present in queer writings on opera and symphonic music from ca. 1880–1935. It focuses primarily on the work of three turn-of-the-twentieth-century music scholars—philosopher and horror writer Vernon Lee (pseud. Violet Paget), biographer and program note annotator Rosa Newmarch, and critic and amateur sexologist Edward Prime-Stevenson.

Each of the three major sections of the book is organized according to the authorial personae each author adopted in their creative and scholarly work. These categories reflect the particular intellectual commitments of each figure: Lee’s fascination with the failure of written documentation to fully capture the “ghosts” of past musical experience, Newmarch’s reliance on documentary evidence to reveal some of her subject’s secrets and her stated discomfort with the role of the biographer, and Prime-Stevenson’s nostalgic use of repetition, revision, and dedication to “return” to the 1890s decades after the fact. By reframing these ways of knowing as central to each scholar’s individual approach to constructing and interpreting musical and sexual knowledge, the book draws attention to aspects of their work previously neglected or considered only in isolation.

Identifying the coded references, careful nuances, and intentional and accidental gaps that make ambiguity an inherent feature of these sources requires an awareness of multiple approaches to music history beyond biography and historiography, intersecting as it does with literary scholarship, art history, the histories of science and medicine, and sound studies. This project proposes some ways in which the histories of sexuality and musicology might be more intertwined than commonly assumed.

Imagining Musical Pasts was featured on the New Books in Music podcast (April 27, 2024), part of the New Books Network. You can listen to Franseen’s interview with Kristen Turner here: https://newbooksnetwork.com/imagining-musical-pasts

About the Author

Kristin M. Franseen is a FRQSC postdoctoral fellow at Concordia University, where she is also a research associate with the Simone de Beauvoir Institute. She received her PhD in musicology from McGill University in 2019. Articles stemming from her dissertation appear in Music & Letters, 19th-Century Music, and the Cahiers de la Société québécoise de recherche en musique. Her research focuses on the role of gossip, anecdote, and fiction in the history of musicology and composer biography. She is currently at work on two projects: (1) a critical look at music critic and amateur sexologist Edward Prime-Stevenson’s record collecting and self-publishing activities and (2) an examination of Antonio Salieri’s literary reception history.

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Pages: 280 pages

Published: November 2023


ISBN: 978-1-63804-058-3

ISBN: 978-1-63804-059-0