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A new educational initiative – Roots – makes music a priority

Cambridgeshire secondary school pupils had the chance to put into practice their new singing talents – from music from the Middle Ages through to the present day – at a public concert in Trinity College Chapel on March 19.

For the past 5 months, the students from North Cambridge Academy and Sir Harry Smith Community College have been training alongside professional musicians thanks to an innovative music programme that seeks to close a gap in school education.

The three-year project focuses on helping students develop both vocal and instrumental skills through regular workshops with professional musicians from Cambridge University’s Associate Ensemble VOCES8 and The Brook Street Band. Using the ‘VOCES8 method’, teachers and students are encouraged to learn through participation, using vocal and rhythmic exercises that develop their music skills and confidence.

“Amidst the current environment of low funding for education, many local schools in Cambridgeshire struggle to make basic provision for music,” explains Dr Sam Barrett, one of the organisers of the programme, called Roots. “Music can help children develop skills and confidence that can underpin many other aspects of their educational journey. Roots aims to redress the balance by providing a new model for future music education within primary and secondary schools in the region.”

One teacher remarked: “One of the Year 8 [aged 12-13] boys struggles with dyslexia and his academic work. He is not confident – due no doubt to this learning difficulty - and finds it hard to make friends. This project is making a real difference for him. Not only has he stood up with his group to lead, he has introduced his group and as the day went on, began to comfortably lead some warm-ups.” A Year 8 boy added: “I feel more confident after the choir leadership project, I would now put myself out there for more and more things.”

Roots involves the regional music education hub, Cambridgeshire Music; two charities, Cambridge Early Music and the VCM Foundation; and is supported by both Anglia Ruskin University and Cambridge University. Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Music, for instance, have been working with teachers to help develop lesson plans informed by their latest insights. 

A parallel instrumental strand is being developed by Anglia Ruskin University to establish a tangible legacy by founding a period instrument ensemble specifically for under 18s. Specialist coaching will be provided through workshops, access to historic instruments and the Brook Street Band’s innovative online resource Handel Digital, culminating in performance opportunities.

The concert at Trinity College represents the completion of the first phase of the project. Responses from the schools involved have been overwhelmingly positive both from teachers and pupils alike. As one teacher said: “Another pupil in year 8 has behavioural difficulties – often out of lessons and unable to manage in a regular classroom. She loves music. This project has given her an incentive to better manage her behaviour so that she can participate. She has been able to attend the training sessions and now, having helped lead warm-ups for the children she has something to feel very proud of.”

Funding for the first year of the ROOTS project has been provided by the Helen Hamlyn Trust and the SoundMe project sponsored by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area). Individuals or societies interested in supporting years 2 and 3 of the project are invited to contact Dr Sam Barrett for further information.



Cambridge researchers and musicians are helping to support schools in Cambridgeshire to deliver high quality and sustainable music provision over the next three years.

Amidst the current environment of low funding for education, many local schools in Cambridgeshire struggle to make basic provision for musicDr Sam BarrettROOTS concert at Trinity College Cambridge

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How to tend an economic bonfire

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economic bonfire

Business, enterprise and employment are flourishing in Greater Cambridge. But housing and infrastructure are struggling to match the jobs boom, and gaps in social equality keep widening.

University academics are connecting their insights, data and algorithms to find solutions to the area’s “growing pains”.

By Louise Walsh

“Economic growth is like a bonfire,” says Matthew Bullock. “You can get a bonfire going and expand it as long as you keep feeding the centre. But you can’t pick a bonfire up and move it somewhere else.”

Bullock is talking about the economy of Greater Cambridge, where a staggering level of growth has outpaced the rest of the UK over the past decade. As one of the founders of the business and academic organisation Cambridge Ahead, Bullock has been helping to shape a vision for Cambridge and the people who live and work in the area.

“Growth here comes up through the floorboards,” says Bullock, who was one of the original financiers of the ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’ – the development and growth in high-tech businesses in and around the city since the late 1970s – and is now Master of St Edmund’s College.

“The city has the highest number of patent applications per hundred thousand people compared with any other city in the UK. Innovation, networks, start-ups, collaboration, entrepreneurs – all of these create an energy here that’s resulted in discoveries that transform lives around the world, and a wave of expansion in jobs and business clusters locally.” Matthew Bullock

Today, around 60,000 people work in 4,700 knowledge-intensive companies in Greater Cambridge, particularly in computers and software, life sciences, high-tech manufacturing and AI. These companies contribute around a third of global turnover of all companies based in the area. Global companies such as Amazon, Apple, ARM and AstraZeneca have chosen Cambridge to relocate or expand their offices.

But success often comes at a price. The agglomerative benefits that have brought new and innovative businesses towards the economic heat of this ‘bonfire’ have also brought soaring house prices, social inequality and congested roads.

Cambridge city’s average house price in 1997 was 4.5 times a median salary; today it is 16 times. And in 2018, the think tank Centre for Cities reported that Cambridge was the least equal city in the UK.

“House prices and rents are becoming unaffordable, pricing people away from the city and into car-dependency,” says Bullock. If employment continues to grow at the rate of the past five years, in-commuters would rise by 82%, which would mean 160,000 commuters coming into Cambridge by 2031. “Our roads couldn’t handle this.”

Bullock is also part of the leadership team behind the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER), which for the past year has been examining the region’s economy, infrastructure, society – and its future. The team recently reported its findings to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority – the body responsible for local strategic transport and infrastructure planning.

“If nothing is done, ” says the CPIER report, “the damage to society from the continuing drift away of less well-paid workers may become irreparable, the ageing of the city will affect its dynamism, and the cost to people’s mental health of commuting-induced stress and housing insecurity will soar.”

“Cambridge is at a decisive moment in its history where it must choose whether it wants to once again reshape itself for growth, or let itself stagnate and potentially wither.” Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority

The forecasters

University academics have been connecting their insights, data and algorithms to find solutions to the area’s “growing pains”.

In particular, Dr Ying Jin, from the Department of Architecture, has led the building of a computer model that helps foresee the effects of future planning options for Greater Cambridge.

The model uses data on buildings, green spaces, housing, jobs, businesses, shops, services, schools, means of transport, congestion on roads, crowding on trains, rents, wages, prices and perceptions of wellbeing.

So rich is the data that no one person could hold it in their brain all at once, which is why Jin has built a computer model to thread all of the information together. The model, ‘LUISA’, provides ‘a lens’ to look at future working, living and travelling in and around Greater Cambridge.

With funding from CPIER and Cambridge Ahead, Jin and colleagues have been using LUISA to model alternative trajectories for the region covered by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, which includes cities, market towns and Fenland villages with growing connections to Greater Cambridge. The outcomes of the scenarios have become a crucial component of CPIER’s recommendations to the Combined Authority.

“LUISA is like a virtual digital lab for people to explore the long-term consequences of decisions made now.” Ying Jin

“How many houses need building? How will their location in relation to jobs affect transport and congestion? What will this mean for rents, living costs, the economic health of the companies and the wellbeing of its inhabitants?”

This isn’t the first time that this type of modelling has been used in Cambridge – Jin’s colleagues Professors Peter Carolin and Marcial Echenique pioneered the format with a programme called Cambridge Futures in 1997.

“Peter and Marcial showed that the planning of jobs and housing should be linked to transport, and vice versa. Too often, land is allocated to housing without enough thought about where people work and how they will get there,” says Jin.  “Cambridge Futures was groundbreaking – it contributed to a new culture of joined-up, collaborative planning in the Greater Cambridge area.”

Bullock agrees: “Cambridge Futures led to key proposed developments – such as the West Cambridge site, Eddington and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. This sent a very big signal that Cambridge was open for growth.

“The planners made a courageous attempt to be thoroughly up with the game. Even so, the growth that the Cambridge Futures programme predicted was said by some at the time to be ‘obscene’ in its estimation of the numbers of houses that would be needed. In fact, time has shown that we needed more.”

The data makers

What makes LUISA unique is its ability to treat developments in jobs, housing and transport as parts of one integral system – and the fact that it’s been tested on over three decades of data and knowledge on business and consumer behaviour.

“Policymakers, business leaders, community activists and academic researchers all aspire to coordinated interventions on jobs, housing and transport,” says Jin. “But they are frustrated because data from national sources is often lagging behind reality and in many cases the statistical samples are too thin to tell a reliable story for a local area.

“ The more detailed modelling by LUISA shows a whole picture of how jobs, housing demand and travel connect together, and this helps local communities make sense of what interventions will work well.” Ying Jin

LUISA leverages data and knowledge from experts across the University, the local planning and transport data from district and county councils, and advice from local experts on housing, transport, commercial space, digital connectivity and green space.

For instance, Dr Andy Cosh, from the Centre for Business Research at Cambridge Judge Business School, is responsible for the Cambridge Cluster map. This resource is the most accurate reflection of the region’s businesses – those that are being born, arriving, merging, thriving, leaving, dying. The diligent process by which he and his team build and maintain the dataset gives some idea of why LUISA is so powerful.

First, Cosh’s team sets an algorithm to trawl annually through the audited records of almost 50k ‘live’ companies across 14 local authority districts (25k of which are in the Cambridge area) and a further 20k that have died. A business can have a single employee and would still be counted. Then begins the ‘clean-up’ – categorising companies into sectors, holding ‘eyeballing sessions’ with business groups to verify the data, checking the accuracy of their location, and then rechecking their files of ‘awkward cases’.

“We’re interested in the energy of the region. The dynamism. For me, failure is a sign of this – if you have birth and death it shows you have a dynamic economy,” says Cosh.

“The granularity of our process means we can pick up trends that other data sources haven’t been able to. We’ve found for instance that the employment growth rates are much stronger than indicated by official figures. The economy in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire continues to roar away.”

This isn’t just interesting from a local point of view, says Bullock: “After spending a year with CPIER ‘getting under the skin’ of the region, and considering its role in the future of the UK, our conclusion is that its success is a project of national importance.”

Alternative futures for harnessing growth

But how possible is it to forecast the future given the uncertainties the UK faces around politics, the economy, technology, migration, climate change, and so on? LUISA tackles the challenge of future volatilities by separating out what is hard to predict from what is highly predictable, and by examining a wide range of possible scenarios, says Jin.

“The hard to predict includes political votes, large individual investments and breakthroughs of critical technologies such as autonomous driving,” says Jin.

“On the other hand, business and consumer choices under a given scenario of jobs, house building and transport are highly predictable by a good computer model.”

“When jobs, house building and transport stay in balance, business productivity and residents’ wellbeing rise; when this balance is lost, businesses balk at the rising costs and residents lose out.” Ying Jin

To start with, the team used LUISA to examine a ‘business as usual’ approach, in which the region develops according to current housing and infrastructure plans. The model showed that even a modest rise in jobs – far lower than what Cosh’s team is witnessing – would result in considerable rent and wage pressures in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, with roads seriously unable to cope with the in-commuting.

“Growth will be choked off,” says Jin. “As high wages and prices are fed back to business location choice, businesses will modify their plans and move away, most likely overseas to other knowledge-intensive clusters.”

A recent survey of the largest businesses by the Centre for Business Research confirmed that companies would be more likely to move overseas rather than to other parts of the UK, resulting in a loss of jobs and output for the UK.

“It might not happen cataclysmically, it could just slide away, starting as early as 2021,” adds Jin. “By 2031, we could see the level of employment and economic growth start to go into reverse.”

Crucially, LUISA can also be used to understand what should be done to achieve the full potential of the Cambridge region. For CPIER, LUISA tested four distinct scenarios that might help the city region adapt to a higher level of job growth in its ‘bonfire economy’ to reap economic, social and environmental benefits.

A ‘densification’ scenario creates new employment sites and housing without expanding the city’s boundaries – in other words building taller, denser or both. ‘Fringe growth’ creates new urban areas around the edges. In a ‘dispersal’ scenario, growth happens elsewhere – in market towns or newly created towns away from Greater Cambridge. And in a ‘transport corridor’ scenario, jobs and housing are developed along ‘rapid-transit’ services that radiate outwards from Cambridge.

Of course, each of the scenarios has pluses and minuses. Densification posed a risk of increased congestion; expansion at the urban fringes generated high financial returns but at an environmental cost to Green Belt land and a rise in car use; dispersal helped the spread of jobs but only if a large number of companies were willing to move to areas distant from Cambridge, which was unlikely.

Transport corridors came closest to supporting a ‘win–win’ intervention of continued success in high-growth regions while unlocking the potential of low-growth regions through better transport connections, but it would require a very large new investment in infrastructure.

“The most likely outcome of planning for growth is that it will involve ‘mix-and-match’ scenarios,” says Jin. “The purpose of the four scenarios is to map out the strengths and weaknesses of each. This would help the local authorities and communities to design their own mix-and-match scenarios in a democratic process.”

 Following the CPIER report, the results from LUISA are now feeding into the district councilsʼ new land use plans and the Combined Authorityʼs local transport plans, says Jin.

“This is where a virtual lab can make an effective contribution. It’s worth the effort because rebalancing jobs, housing and transport is rarely a zero-sum game.”

Local industrial strategy

Bullock and members of CPIER see this as a crucial time for decision-makers.

Bullock is optimistic: “People understand what the issues are now. There’s an easing in the tension about growth in Cambridge and a better understanding of the different economies across the region that the Combined Authority can now shape. In many ways the region is a microcosm of the UK in terms of the challenges faced.”

Professor Pete Tyler, from the Department of Land Economy and who also contributed data to LUISA, agrees: “One of the biggest issues the UK faces is upgrading its infrastructure to improve connectivity. We are seeing the importance of that here, where infrastructure can be a constraining factor to economic growth.”

Tyler has been part of a multi-university project called City Evolutions led by Professor Ron Martin in the Department of Geography. The project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, produced an in-depth economic analysis of UK cities to see how they have adapted over time.

“If you look at growth in productivity, we observe quite significant differences between cities in how they adjust to economic change,” says Tyler. “Places like Cambridge are among the fastest-growing cities that are suffering the growing pains of a lack of good-quality infrastructure and enough affordable housing to tackle the issue of social inclusivity.

“It’s impossible to tell a story about city adjustment without thinking about what will happen to the resource base. Local areas have little fiscal capacity and rely on discretionary finance from central government to put in more infrastructure.”

The government has tasked local authorities to deliver local industrial strategies, and this is where Tyler and Bullock believe the ongoing work of CPIER and University researchers can help.

“It’s clear that no single blueprint for future development will work for all areas,” says Bullock. “Formulating a local industrial strategy requires regions to show they have a comprehensive vision for how they can use their resources.

LUISA has helped us to know our strengths, our weaknesses and how our distinct economies grow. Used well, the evidence can support developments to improve the quality of life right across this region. And the techniques we have developed here are readily applicable in other regions too.” Matthew Bullock

LUISA uses data and knowledge from several experts across the University:
·       business (Dr Andy Cosh, Centre for Business Research at the Cambridge Judge Business School)
·       housing (Dr Nicky Morrison and Dr Gemma Burgess, Land Economy)
·       commercial properties (Dr Nick Mansley and Professor Colin Lizieri, Land Economy)
·       economic development (Professor Pete Tyler, Land Economy)
·       infrastructure and transport (Professors Robert Mair and John Miles, Engineering),
·       road traffic speeds (Professor Ian Leslie and Dr Ian Lewis, Computer Science and Technology)
·       quality of life perceptions (Professor Peter Landshoff, Centre for Mathematical Sciences)

Words: Louise Walsh
Design: Fred Lewsey and Louise Walsh
Film: Lloyd Mann
Graphic: Lines represent number of commuters travelling from ‘Middle Layer Super output Areas’ in the Greater South East to Cambridge Local Authority District (source: 2011 Census ©Crown copyright and database rights 2019); mapping: Steven Denman, Dept of Architecture
Photo of cranes in Cambridge: Amy Taylor

Read more about Cambridge University research in the East of England in a special issue of Research Horizons magazine

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Business, enterprise and employment are flourishing in Greater Cambridge. But housing and infrastructure are struggling to match the jobs boom, and gaps in social equality keep widening. University academics are connecting their insights, data and algorithms to find solutions to the area’s “growing pains”.

Image: Affiliation (schools and institutions): Department of ArchitectureCentre for Business ResearchCambridge Judge Business SchoolDepartment of Land EconomyDepartment of GeographySt Edmund's CollegeSchool of Arts and HumanitiesSchool of the Humanities and Social SciencesSchool of TechnologySchool of the Biological SciencesExternal Affiliations: Cambridge and Peterborough Independent Economic ReviewCambridge AheadPeople (our academics and staff): Ying JinMatthew BullockAndy CoshPete TylerRon MartinSubject (including Spotlight on ... where applicable): Spotlight on East of EnglandInfrastructurehousingjobstrafficproductivityeconomicsCambridgeCambridgeshirepeterboroughSection: ResearchNews type: Features

AI: Life in the age of intelligent machines

We are said to be standing on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution – one that will see new forms of artificial intelligence (AI) underpinning almost every aspect of our lives. The new technologies will help us to tackle some of the greatest challenges that face our world.

In fact AI is already very much part of our daily lives, says Dr Mateja Jamnik, one of the experts who appear in the film. “Clever algorithms are being executed in clever ways all around us... and we are only a decade away from a future where we are able to converse across multiple languages, where doctors will be able to diagnose better, where drivers will be able to drive more safely.”

Ideas around AI “are being dreamt up by thousands of people all over the world – imaginative young people who see a problem and think about how they can solve it using AI… whether it’s recommending a song you’ll like or curing us of cancer,” says Professor Stephen Cave.

Much of the excitement relates to being able to leverage the power of Big Data, says Professor Zoubin Ghahramani. Without AI, how else could we make sense of the vastly complex interconnected systems we now have at our fingertips?

But what do we think about AI and the future it promises? Our perceptions are shaped by our cultural prehistory, stretching right back to Homer, says Dr Sarah Dillon. How we feel about the dawning of a new technology is linked to centuries-old thinking about robotics, automatons and intelligence beyond our own.

And what happens when we come to rely on the tools we are empowering to do these amazing things? Professor Lord Martin Rees reflects on the transition to a future of AI-aided jobs: what will this look like? How will we ensure that the wealth created by AI will benefit wider society and avoid worsening inequality?

Our researchers are asking fundamental questions about the ethics, trust and humanity of AI system design. “It can’t simply be enough for the leading scientists as brilliant as they are to be pushing ahead as quickly as possible,” says Dr Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh. “We also need there to be ongoing conversations and collaborations with the people who are thinking about the ethical impacts of the technology.

“The idea that AI can help us understand ourselves and the universe at a much deeper level is about as far reaching a goal for AI as could be.”

Inset image: read more about our AI research in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

In a new film, leading Cambridge University researchers discuss the far-reaching advances offered by artificial intelligence – and consider the consequences of developing systems that think far beyond human abilities.

The idea that AI can help us understand ourselves and the universe at a much deeper level is about as far reaching a goal for AI as could beSeán Ó hÉigeartaigh

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesRelated Links: Leverhulme Centre for the Future of IntelligenceCentre for the Study of Existential Risk

Music to the ears

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The story of Liszt’s lost opera: now heard for the first time in 170 years

Liszt began work on an Italian opera in 1845. He started composing in 1850 but abandoned the project after completing the first act. The score — written largely in shorthand — was known to only a small number of Liszt scholars who concluded that it could never be performed because the material was incomplete and largely indecipherable. David Trippett, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Music at Cambridge University, saw it differently, and spent three years deciphering the forgotten 115-page manuscript, decoding Liszt’s notes and supplying a 20-bar finale. The result is the complete first act of Sardanapalo, Liszt’s only mature opera, based on Lord Byron’s Assyrian tragedy of 1821, Sardanapalus. 1. Transcribing Liszt's manuscript

"When I first encountered the musical manuscript, it was clear that only tiny portions of it could be read fluently, it was full of various types of musical shorthand; spatial gaps, revisions, deletions, and some seemingly ‘missing’ passages," said Dr Trippett.

"The task of deciphering and piecing this together, was painstakingly slow. After an initial transcription of the manuscript, I went through the score another 15 times or so, bar by bar, cross-referencing themes and ideas where necessary, transcribing the rhythmic patterns and harmonic side-steps. If you know Liszt’s musical style and notational practices, it’s quite possible to peel back the layers and get to the point where you can see just what is written down, and how much music is there."

Dr Trippett says his first question was: could this be performed?

"Unlike unfinished art, unfinished music needs performance to be experienced as music. It works through time. Quite early on, I began to work with singers from Covent Garden to try out the emerging lines, to see how the music fits in the voice, to see what kind of tempo and articulation work. Making that leap into sound for the first time was exhilarating!"

Several stages of revision were clear in Liszt’s manuscript, and by examining the different ink and pencil colours, and reading across the spatial gaps of the empty staves, it was possible for Dr Trippett to work out his various stages of revision quite precisely.

Many accidentals, rests, and key signatures were missing, so these needed to be established – often by process of elimination and by reference to Liszt’s contemporary musical language.

The Altenberg, where Liszt composed the music.

The Altenberg, where Liszt composed the music.

One of the most serious editorial challenges was that several accompanimental patterns begin but then peter out, leaving the fully notated vocal lines above a set of vacant staves.

"A lot of the manuscript is very hard to read, but the scruffiness is deceptive. In the past, people probably saw the 'gaps' and thought, well, he hadn’t decided what to do. But in fact Liszt had set up a formulaic pattern, he didn’t need to write out all the busy notation in full because the pattern continues, adapted to the harmony of the vocal lines. In other words, he knew perfectly well what he meant."

On the face of it, this posed a real problem. But it became apparent that such ‘gaps’ only occur when Liszt sets up a standard accompanimental pattern, one that was evidently too obvious to belabour by writing out in full; on that basis, the editorial task was to realise the various forms of shorthand Liszt left and write out the pattern in full that he had assumed, but felt unnecessary to notate.

"One might say it is a manufacturing operation," Liszt said of Italian opera in 1839, "where everything is known in advance and nothing is required but the actual time needed to put the notes on paper."

Franz Liszt 1858 – Wikimedia commons

Franz Liszt 1858 – Wikimedia commons

Dr Trippett explained, "The gaps and various forms of shorthand were not really that surprising when you consider Liszt was writing this manuscript for his eyes only; he knew what he meant, and his musical memory was phenomenal; he only needed to notate what he felt wasn’t obvious.

"Unpicking this compositional process, and reverse-engineering the moments of creative decision making, if you like, has been utterly fascinating. The only area where we had to actively add anything is at the very end.

"There’s a grand march, theatre music, in which the king marshals his troops and sends them off to war. Liszt doesn’t give us the final cadence. So I looked for material earlier in the act that had the right kind of ‘closing’ character and transposed it, adding a final stretto, some 20 bars in total."

2. Reconstructing the libretto:
a detective story

Liszt originally paid for a scenario from the French novelist and playwright Félicien Mallefille, but after several missed deadlines, Liszt grew impatient: "Our Shakespeare will not or cannot complete the task. To hell, then, with Mallefille's Sardanapalo!" (Mallefille eventually submitted a prose draft, but Liszt had moved on, and rejected it.)

F. Mallefille (c) Bibliothèque nationale de France

F. Mallefille (c) Bibliothèque nationale de France

Subsequently, his creative partner and friend, princess Cristina Belgiojoso suggested an unnamed Italian poet and refugee could write the libretto. Liszt agreed, on condition that Belgiojoso revise and edit all text, that it would emerge under her authority. It seems the libretto was written while the poet was imprisoned for political activity. Belgiojoso refers to him as her "nightingale" but never names him in her letters (which were opened by Hapsburg spies), and Liszt probably never knew his identity.

Francesco Hayez, Cristina Beliojoso (1832) – Wikimedia commons

Francesco Hayez, Cristina Beliojoso (1832) – Wikimedia commons

Liszt requested changes to the libretto for Acts 2-3, and—it seems—never received these. Belgiojoso herself was preoccupied with efforts towards Italian independence, and her collaboration with Liszt fell by the wayside, much to his frustration. One reason why Liszt abandoned the opera may have been that he simply never received a revised libretto text for acts 2-3 and so could not set them to music.

Lord Byron (1835) -- © National Portrait Gallery

Lord Byron (1835) -- © National Portrait Gallery

The libretto, based on Lord Byron’s tragedy Sardanapalus (1821), tells the story of a peace-loving king of Assyria, more interested in revelry and women than politics and war. He deplores violence and brutality and, perhaps naively, he believes in the innate goodness of humankind but is overthrown by rebels and burns himself alive with his lover, Mirra, amid scents and spices in a great inferno. For his part, Liszt told a friend that his finale will aim to "set the entire audience alight!" The topic was famously immortalised in oil by Eugene Delacroix in 1827.

Although Dr Trippett worked independently on rescuing the music Liszt notated, three other key figures in the project reconstructed the Italian libretto.

Delacroix, la mort de sardanapale (1827) – Wikimedia commons

Delacroix, la mort de sardanapale (1827) – Wikimedia commons

Dr Francesca Vella, Research Fellow in Music at St John’s College, initially transcribed the Italian text, while Marco Beghelli, Associate Professor of Music at the University of Bologna, reconstructed the metrical and rhyming scheme of the poetic text. David Rosen, Emeritus Professor of Musicology at Cornell University, then translated it into English.

The libretto text only survives as underlay in the music manuscript, so the researchers aimed to retrieve the original libretto by deciphering and critically examining the text Liszt set to music.

Liszt’s Italian was imperfect, leading to spelling mistakes and incorrect grammar. There are occasional missing words, very little punctuation, and in one place, a full subclause is missing.

3. Bringing Liszt's lost masterpiece to life

In March 2017 Cambridge University and the BBC first announced that Dr Trippett had resurrected Liszt’s forgotten opera with widespread press coverage.

A 10-minute preview from the opera was performed for the first time in public as part of the renowned final of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in June 2017, performed by Armenian soprano and rising talent Anush Hovhannisyan. The performance was broadcast on BBC Four and BBC Radio 3.

"Who else gets to premiere a new opera by a superstar composer from two centuries ago?” said Hovhannisyan. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the entire process of making it work – from thinking about the character and what Liszt would want – has been a privilege. We have had a wonderful, deeply creative and imaginative time piecing this together and I feel very blessed to have been a part of it."

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Between April 2017 – July 2018 Dr Trippett orchestrated the opera according to Liszt’s cues, and based on the scores on Liszt’s desk during the 1850s.

"Orchestrating such a skeletal score was an involved but thoroughly fascinating task. You are always asking what sound colour did he imagine here, what level of shading there. What timbres work best for this texture, what level of rhythmic articulation is appropriate?

"Verdi’s moments of climax are very different to middle-period Wagner; Liszt’s moments of symphonic apotheosis are not the same as Berlioz’s – since Liszt admired all of these composers’ works, his choices would have been wide. Working so intimately with the score, and comparing it to the operatic repertory of the age in such forensic detail taught me about 19th-century opera from the inside out," said Dr Trippett.

In 2017, the Staatskapelle Weimar offered to give the world premiere - Hungarian-born Liszt conducted the Staatskapelle Weimar for 13 years from 1848, and composed the music in Weimar - the first reading rehearsal took place on 5 June.

The first rehearsal in Weimar for the world premier

It was a chance to judge the orchestration and assess the scale of the piece.

The world première took place with the same orchestra in Weimar, conducted by Kirill Karabits on 19-20 August 2018 with singers Joyce El-Khoury, Airam Hernández, and Oleksandr Pushniak.

This first performance was not without its tribulations. Tenor, Airam Hernández was brought in to sing the part just a week prior to the performance owing to illness in the original line up.

"This was one of those things that happens once in a lifetime," says Hernández , "the world premiere of a piece created by one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time, I feel lucky to show it to the world for the first time."

El-Khoury, a Lebanese-Canadian who specialises in bel canto – a rich and lyrical type of operatic singing – says she did not hesitate to take on the main female role of Myrrha.

"It is spine-tingling to be giving voice to a work which has never been heard before, with singers, chorus and orchestra, and to feel it literally lift off the page. The various ossias – or alternative versions – Liszt has offered signal to me that he was a singer’s composer, giving the singers a choice and trusting them to make the right decision for themselves."

Kirill Karabits, the conductor, added, "This opera proves once again what a versatile composer Liszt was. … I hope that the discovery of this highly interesting piece will reveal his great talent as an opera composer."

'Torridly exciting... it is not too big a statement to say that the work's emergence changes music history... you wonder what heights were left to breach in the unwritten acts.' The Times

The critical edition of the score for Sardanapalo will be published as part of the Neue Liszt Ausgabe in August 2019. David Trippett’s orchestration, a performing edition, is published by Schott.

Following a broadcast on Deutschlandfunk Kultur, the first recording of the work was released on 8 February 2019.

"The music that survives is remarkable – a unique blend of Italianate lyricism and harmonic innovation. There is nothing else quite like it in the operatic world. I hope that musicians will now take this up so it can be enjoyed by listeners everywhere." David Trippett Further reading

An Uncrossable Rubicon: Liszt’s Sardanapalo Revisited by David Trippett

Sardanapalo website

Top Summary: 

Liszt's lost opera heard for the first time in 170 years

Image: Affiliation (schools and institutions): School of Arts and HumanitiesFaculty of MusicPeople (our academics and staff): David TrippettSubject (including Spotlight on ... where applicable): Lisztclassical musicoperamusic

Music and the battle for Granada's past

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Concerns over immigration and the rise of the far-right in Spain are fuelling tensions at one of its most important festivals, the Día de la Toma in Granada. And as a new study reveals, music has become a key battleground.

Street performer in Granada. Courtesy of Shadowgate under a Creative Commons license.

Street performer in Granada. Courtesy of Shadowgate under a Creative Commons license.

Every year, on 2 January, thousands of people in the Andalusian city of Granada celebrate the Día de la Toma [Day of the Taking]. The controversial festival marks the final surrender of the Alhambra fortress in 1492 by Granada’s last Muslim ruler, Abū ‘Abdi-llāh Muḥammad XII (also known as Boabdil), following a truce with the Catholic monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon.

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, La Rendición de Granada (oil on canvas, 1882).

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, La Rendición de Granada (oil on canvas, 1882).

Held in various forms for at least 500 years, the Día de la Toma has a chequered past but is now a pressure cooker of religious and political tension. This year, as a University of Cambridge researcher discovered, developments entered a new phase.

Fearing the potential for civil unrest, the authorities in Granada banned the use of megaphones at this year’s festival as well as the display of far-right flags and racist slogans. While largely effective, these measures could not prevent groups from across the political spectrum using the event to advance their causes.

Vox, which in 2018 gained twelve seats in the Andalusian regional parliament – the first far-right wing party to receive political representation in Spain since the Franco regime – used the event to denounce the Muslim history of Spain on social media. The party tweeted: We do not want to, nor should we forget, that today 527 years ago [was] the liberation of Granada by the Spanish troops of the Catholic Kings, putting an end to eight long centuries of reconquest against the Muslim invader.

Even more provocatively, the party’s Granada office retweeted the words: On 2 January 1492 the Taking of Granada took place in which the last Islamist stronghold was expelled from the Peninsula. We should feel proud of our history and prevent the same invader from trying to dominate us again.

Meanwhile, the conservative Partido Popular [Popular Party] distributed 4,000 Spanish flags in the city and Granada Abierta [Open Granada] once again staged No a la Toma [no to the taking] to denounce the festival as a falsification of history, a symbol of intolerance and a mouthpiece for neo-fascism.

Matthew Machin-Autenrieth, an ethnomusicologist from the University of Cambridge, visited Granada on 2 January to study these developments with a particular interest in the role played by music and sound.

In his own words, this is what he found...

Many Spaniards celebrate Día de la Toma because it marks the unification of the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon which, some believe, paved the way for the modern Spanish nation state. But it also led to the expulsion of the city’s Jewish community and Muslims being forced to convert to Christianity.

The Día de la Toma begins with a military procession and the carrying of regalia associated with the Catholic monarchs from the town hall at the Plaza de Carmen to the cathedral. Following a religious service and the raising of the royal banner in the cathedral, the procession moves back to the Plaza de Carmen where huge crowds gather flying Spanish flags. The culmination of the event is the famous ‘¡Granada que!’ proclamation which echoes out across the town square from the balcony of the town hall.

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The ‘¡Granada que!’ proclamation, 2019.

The ‘¡Granada que!’ proclamation.

This year’s event, as in the past couple of years, was followed by a parade of ‘Moros y Cristianos’ [Moors and Christians] through the city, a folkloric procession meant to depict the two sides who battled prior to the fall of Granada.

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Parade of ‘Moros y Cristianos’ in Granada, 2019.

Parade of ‘Moros y Cristianos’ in Granada, 2019.

To cap off the festivities, the alcazaba [fortress] of the Alhambra palace is opened to the public so people can ring the bell in the Torre de la Vela, which sounds out across the city. According to legend, if a virgin wants to marry within the year, they will be blessed by ringing the bell.

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Ringing of the bell in Granada's Torre de la Vela, 2019.

Ringing of the bell in Granada's Torre de la Vela, 2019.

At first sight, the event might appear harmless enough. For many granadinos [locals] it is simply a traditional festival that marks an important point in local and national history and, if nothing else, it constitutes a ‘fun day out’. But increasingly the festival has become a platform for political protest, reflecting the deep divisions within Spanish society.

Since the Franco dictatorship, the festival has become a platform for the promotion of far-right and fascist ideologies. In recent years, some groups attending the festival have exhibited strong nationalist sentiments, a desire to reclaim Spanish history and to push an anti-immigration agenda in a city that has a large Moroccan and Muslim population.

No to the Taking!

There is significant opposition to the festival. Some groups argue that the Día de la Toma is a falsification of history not least because it skirts over the fact that the Catholic monarchs failed to uphold the so-called ‘Treaty of Granada’, a pact with Boabdil that Muslims would be granted religious freedom in exchange for the surrender of the Alhambra.

Now that Spain has entered a new era of political sensitivity and debate about national identity, opposition groups oppose the energy which the event appears to give to the far-right and neo-fascism. But the festival also involves a clash of territorial interpretations of history, setting those that promote the unification of Spain against those who promote the regional autonomy of Andalusia, Spain’s southernmost ‘autonomous community’.

Spanish and Andalusian flags. Courtesy of Elliott Brown under a Creative Commons license.

Spanish and Andalusian flags. Courtesy of Elliott Brown under a Creative Commons license.

So-called andalucistas – who advocate for regional autonomy, and in some cases, even independence – usually oppose the Día de la Toma on the grounds that it celebrates the imposition of one religious culture, Catholicism, over the religious pluralism which they associate with Andalusia’s past.

It is this idea of historical multicultural diversity that, in many respects, defines Andalusian regionalism. Every year, protests throw these divisions into sharp relief, with many of the festival’s detractors waving green and white Andalusian flags as a symbol of opposition. This year, they sang “¡yo soy andaluz, andaluz, andaluz!” [I am Andalusian!] and shouted “¡dos de enero, nada que celebrar!” [2 January, nothing to celebrate!].

Music and political protest

The Día de la Toma has a prominent soundtrack. At various times and locations across the city, you can hear sonic markers of history and political protest. These range from Spanish and Andalusian anthems (see clip below) to fascist songs from the Franco regime, chants of protest, the sounds of military parades, flamenco and the bell of the Torre de la Vela ringing out across the city. All are loaded with symbolism and, at times, they carry serious political clout.

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Juan Pinilla, a Granada abierta supporter, peforms the Andalusian anthem in 2019.

Juan Pinilla, a Granada abierta supporter, peforms the Andalusian anthem in 2019.

As an ethnomusicologist, I’m fascinated by how music, and sound more broadly, relates to wider political issues in society. My research focuses on how music-making in Spain might act as a vehicle for intercultural dialogue between Spaniards and Moroccans, drawing on the idea of a shared musical history. I am also interested in how flamenco, Andalusia’s foremost cultural icon, is used by institutions and musicians to promote cultural diversity and interculturalism.

I became interested in the Día de la Toma because of the movement Granada Abierta [Open Granada], which opposes it. Underpinned by a strong left-wing and andalucista agenda, Granada Abierta aims to transform the festival into a celebration of tolerance and social integration, and to move towards its demilitarisation and secularisation. I attended their No a la Toma event to explore how music has become such an important part of Granada Abierta’s ideological foundations and opposition to the main festival.

The movement’s foundation in the 1990s is associated with the Granadan singer-songwriter Carlos Cano, who was a key political figure towards the end of the Franco regime and during the Spanish transition to democracy following Francisco Franco’s death in 1975. Cano’s music became a vehicle for the promotion of social change, equality and Andalusian autonomy. A staunch critique of the Día de la Toma, he sought to promote intercultural dialogue through music and famously parodied the 2 January celebrations with the song ‘Moros y Cristianos’, which has become the unofficial ‘anthem’ of Granada Abierta. Even more central to its vision is flamenco...

Flamenco in Granada. Courtesy of Veyis Polat under a Creative Commons license.

Flamenco in Granada. Courtesy of Veyis Polat under a Creative Commons license.

Beyond the exotic symbolism of dark-haired Gypsy dancers and polka-dot dresses that fulfil the touristic imagination, flamenco has a deeply-entrenched political dimension that is closely associated with left-wing ideology and Andalusian regionalism. During the Spanish Second Republic (1931–39) and the intervening Civil War (1936–39), flamenco became a symbol of Republicanism and political protest to the extent that it was strictly censored and ‘depoliticised’ during the Franco regime. And, since the late nineteenth century, flamenco has been strongly associated with the movement for Andalusian autonomy, often being viewed as the ultimate symbol of regional identity.

Flamenco graffiti in Granada. Courtesy of Diodoro under a Creative Commons license.

Flamenco graffiti in Granada. Courtesy of Diodoro under a Creative Commons license.

Many people view flamenco as a complex mixture of Arab, Jewish, Gypsy, African and Latin American influences. And because flamenco primarily originated in Andalusia, it is often considered the musical by-product of the region’s multicultural past, and the intercultural legacies of al-Andalus. This is what makes flamenco such a powerful symbol for the No a la Toma event and what inspires Juan Pinilla, a local singer and Granada Abierta supporter, to perform every year.

During my visit, I interviewed Juan and he passionately explained why he felt flamenco was so relevant for promoting a more inclusive vision for Granada. In sonic opposition to Franco-era anthems that are sometimes sung at Día de la Toma, Juan believes that flamenco provides the perfect soundtrack to denounce the festival, a festival that he feels opposes the multicultural past and present of Granada. Juan and his fellow No a la Toma supporters seek to bring the past into dialogue with the present through music.

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Juan Pinilla, a local singer and Granada Abierta supporter, 2019.

Juan Pinilla, a local singer and Granada Abierta supporter, 2019.

Considering the central importance of Muslims to this story, you might be wondering where this community now stands on 2 January. I should first point out that the tourism industry in Granada is built on its Muslim past and the notion of peaceful religious coexistence in al-Andalus.

Granada’s large Moroccan community, which is often visible in the ‘oriental’-themed streets in the old Muslim quarter known as the Albaicín, underpins this. But more than this, many of these people claim ancestry to medieval Spain and the Moriscos [Moorish] – Muslim ancestors forced to convert to Christianity – that resided in the Peninsula following the fall of Granada in 1492.

Decoration in the Alhambra, Granada. Courtesy of Tony Hisgett under a Creative Commons license.

Decoration in the Alhambra, Granada. Courtesy of Tony Hisgett under a Creative Commons license.

Given that the Día de la Toma celebrates the Catholic reconquest and due to the presence of far-right groups that sometimes chant anti-immigration and anti-Muslim slogans, it is hardly surprising that many Moroccans steer clear of the festival. By contrast, some do take part in the No a la Toma event, particularly through musical performance and fusions between flamenco and Moroccan ‘Andalusian’ music.

These two genres are said to share common historical origins and structural similarities. Whether this is accurate is, in a sense, irrelevant. What is relevant is that Granada Abierta encourages musical and cultural connection between Spaniards and Moroccans, even if the latter are not yet equally represented or empowered.

One of the ways that this burgeoning culture of collaboration has been fostered is by making reference to key Andalusian figures such as the famous poet Federico García Lorca (1898–1936), who lauded the influence of Andalusia’s cultural history on the development of flamenco. Himself a critique of the Día de la Toma and executed by the Franco regime for his liberal views and homosexuality, Lorca famously stated: 

To be a Granadan leads one towards a sympathetic understanding of the persecuted: the Gypsy, black people, the Jew and the Morisco that we all carry within us.

For Lorca, flamenco was a key marker of this mixed cultural identity and history, an identity and history that continue to split national and regional loyalties in Spain.

No a la Toma panel discussion in Granada, 2019. Courtesy of Matthew Machin-Autenrieth.

No a la Toma panel discussion in Granada, 2019. Courtesy of Matthew Machin-Autenrieth.

The political tensions surrounding the Día de la Toma appear to be intensifying. The contentious political climate, the rise of the far-right and tense debates regarding immigration across Spain and Europe will continue to influence this superficially innocent annual celebration. And music will remain on the front line because it so effectively distils opposing viewpoints, historical interpretations and identities.

Full films of the interview and concert are available here.

Spanish flag. Courtesy of Elentir under a Creative Commons license.

Spanish flag. Courtesy of Elentir under a Creative Commons license.

Matthew Machin-Autenrieth is a Senior Research Associate at the Faculty of Music and the Principal Investigator for the European Research Council-funded project ‘Past and Present Musical Encounters across the Strait of Gibraltar’ (2018–23). This project will explore how the notion of a collective European-North African cultural memory has been articulated through music for different sociopolitical ends in colonial and postcolonial contexts.


Research participants: Juan Pinilla, Francisco Vigueras Roldán, Suhail Serghini and Kamal al-Nawabi

Words: Matthew Machin-Autenrieth and Tom Almeroth-Williams

Film: Matthew Machin-Autenrieth and Jonathan Settle

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, La Rendición de Granada (oil on canvas, 1882).

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, La Rendición de Granada (oil on canvas, 1882).

Top Summary: 

Concerns over immigration and the rise of the far-right in Spain are fuelling tensions at one of its most important festivals, the Día de la Toma in Granada. And as a new Cambridge study reveals, music has become a key battleground.

Image: Affiliation (schools and institutions): Faculty of MusicSchool of Arts and HumanitiesPeople (our academics and staff): Matthew Machin-AutenriethSubject (including Spotlight on ... where applicable): SpainflamenconationalismAndalusiaSection: ResearchNews type: News

Music and the battle for Granada's past

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Concerns over immigration and the rise of the far-right in Spain are fuelling tensions at one of its most important festivals, the Día de la Toma in Granada. And as a new Cambridge study reveals, music has become a key battleground.

Courtesy of Shadowgate under a Creative Commons license.Street performer in Granada.

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