Till Stehr

till stehr

Hélène La Rue Scholarship in Music

Joining us from: Germany

MPhil Musicology (2020)

Having been asked to write something about myself for the scholarship page, I immediately thought: ‘Well, but I am nothing special, what should I write about?’ Then again, what can you expect from a bio of a 22-year-old music student from Germany—growing up in the South-West of Germany, music, the violin, and orchestra practice were a big part of my growing up. Since I had always loved reading about history, my first choice of subject for study was history, and only when I found out you need a second subject to study the humanities at Heidelberg I first heard of musicology as a subject. Combining my interests for (especially Early) music, reading and research, and history, an undergrad in history and musicology with 50% each was the ideal way to go. Having finished my degree including a half-year Erasmus stay in Poitiers (France), the question was which of the two subjects to pursue further—I always loved the methodological openness of history, which does not have seem to have inspired German musicology entirely yet, but also enjoyed writing about music and the cultural side of things.

Oxford and the English-speaking world of music academia seemed the perfect way to experience new influences in music studies, including especially Queer Musicology and Gender Studies, immersing myself into a new academic culture completely. My undergraduate dissertation was on 16th-century music theory and its position in the history of science, and while this is an interesting and worthwhile field of study, I wanted to do something which feels closer to today’s lives and experiences. Looking around Queer history, I found a source by the Queer activist and doctor Magnus Hirschfeld describing Berlin’s Queer subculture in 1904 (a time which is not usually what springs to mind when thinking about Queer Berlin which is usually more connected to the Roaring Twenties). Musically interesting are his descriptions of gay men singing in high voices in bars and restaurants, because the general view is that falsetto did not really exist outside English cathedral choirs in this era. I am now researching this link between subculture, femininity/effeminacy and the voice in Hirschfeld’s descriptions and hope to expand my studies into a more general inquiry into music in Berlin’s Queer subculture before the First World War with—travel restrictions permitting—an archive visit to Berlin. This (among many other things) is why I am very grateful to St Cross for the Hélène la Rue scholarship, which in addition to covering a big part of the tuition fees and thus enabling me to study here in Oxford also offers a yearly travel grant which would prove very helpful for traveling to archives and conferences in the second year of my MPhil programme.