Alexander Fisher


Research Classification

Research Interests

Sound Studies
religious history

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

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I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.
I am interested in working with undergraduate students on research projects.


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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier's David et Jonathas: French Jesuit theater and the tragedie en musique (2017)

Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed David et Jonathas (1688) for a performance at the Jesuit Collège de Clermont in Paris. The work is described in contemporary sources as a tragédie en musique, though the latter term was usually reserved for works that had been composed for the stage of the Académie Royale de Musique. Some scholars have questioned the validity of the label tragédie en musique for this work on the grounds that it lacks certain features common to the genre: the amount of recitative, dance, and references to the supernatural are proportionately low compared to other works titled tragédie en musique. What is more, the work was originally intended to be performed interwoven with a separate spoken play, titled Saül. Saül and David et Jonathas are dramatically self-contained, but they were meant to be performed together, thus conflating the genres of tragédie en musique and intermède. In fact, the work’s biblical story also raises issues of genre, given that, up to 1688, all works labeled tragédie en musique featured a secular story. This thesis aims to show how this work mixes the traits of several genres both as a result of its Jesuit performance context and its composer’s priorities and past experiences writing music for the stage. Through an analysis of the political, aesthetic, musical, and dramatic features of the work, I reveal how the opera shows some indebtedness to the tragédies en musique that preceded it. Elements that point to this work’s status as a generic hybrid are also brought to the fore, following modern theories of genre that allow for works to participate in several genres without the stipulation to place it into any single category.

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"Music as a delight of God and Men": Absolutism, Genre, and Instrumental Music in Seventeenth-Century Salzburg (2015)

The seventeenth century was an age of absolutist ideology during which many European princes took upon themselves trappings of both religious and secular authority. Composers in the service of absolutist patrons were compelled to provide music that could move easily between sacred and secular venues and represent both facets of the prince’s power. Contemporary conceptions of musical classification exhibit this porous threshold between religious and profane genres and performance spaces. In this dissertation, I show how a flexible conception of musical genre—one in which traditionally sacred and secular idioms were blended in diverse ways—illustrated the dual nature of the authority of Salzburg’s absolutist Prince Archbishop. The diverse oeuvre of Salzburg’s composers calls into question the very definition of musical genre in the period. While a modern conception of fixed musical genres is manifest in theoretical treatises of the time, musical evidence suggests that well-defined genre classifications did not practically exist in the seventeenth century. Rather, composers took a malleable approach to genre, often blending different texts, musical forms, and styles to craft musical compositions latent with meanings that encompass several genres. In the first chapter, I consider genre as described in contemporary treatises and argue that modern literary genre theory provides a useful lens for the study of genre in the period. Chapter 2 turns to the sacred repertoire of Salzburg, which in its variety of centonized texts, timbres, and instrumentations deviates from the stylistic norms of liturgical genres. In Chapter 3 I explore the representational capabilities of the large-scale works performed during spectacles that were symbolic of the power and piety of Salzburg’s Prince Archbishop. Salzburg’s instrumental ensemble sonatas, explored in Chapter 4, reveal two particular uses for the term “sonata” and point to the genre as a site of both representation and innovation. The final chapter considers the solo sonata as a devotional aid in the context of cyclic spiritual exercises in Salzburg, where music transcended the limitations of genre to move between notionally sacred and secular performance spaces to represent the piety and power of the Prince Archbishop.

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German and Austrian Emigre musical culture in the British internment camps of World War II : composer Hans Gal, Huyton Suite and the camp revue What a Life! (2011)

During the bombardment of Britain in World War II, the British government adopted a policy of mass internment of foreign nationals originating from ''enemy'' states (namely Germany, Austria and Italy). Using the experiences of interned composer Hans Gál and the genesis of his Huyton Suite trio and the camp revue What a Life! as a case study, this paper explores the musical culture that developed in the civilian internment camps of Huyton and Central Promenade. Though diverse, the internee population of these camps was disproportionately composed of leading German and Austrian intellectuals, such as sociologist Norbert Elias, musicologist Otto Erich Deutsch and composer Hans Gál. Classical music had typically been a prominent feature of this generation’s pre-war lives, and internment culture similarly reflected this importance. At least three original musical compositions were written, as well as premiered, during this internment period: Gál’s aforementioned Huyton Suite and What a Life!, and Franz Reizenstein’s finale movement to his Ballet Suite for Small Chamber Orchestra. Despite growing interest in this internment period there still remain many areas that are under-researched. This document discusses the hitherto unexamined experiences of Gál and some of the musicians who were interned along with Gál, including flutist Walter Bergmann, cellist Fritz Ball, composer Franz Reizenstein and flutist Nicolo Draber. The genesis of both the Huyton Suite and the revue What a Life! are also discussed. Through examination of historical documents and related diaries and memoirs, this thesis offers a vivid portrayal of musical life in these camps as it existed during the summer of 1940.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Credo in unum deum : situating Bach's B-minor Mass within a Dresden context (2023)

The purpose of Bach’s completion of his B-minor Mass has, to date, not been fully understood. Although the work was first presented to the Saxon elector as a Kyrie-Gloria missa in 1733, the fact that Bach, a staunch Lutheran, included the remaining movements of the mass Ordinary to comprise a full “Catholic” mass in 1748/49 is most intriguing. Many plausible and valid viewpoints have been hypothesized, mainly from the perspective of Bach’s own musical tendencies, interests, and circumstances. My research, however, addresses this problem from a wider, contextual point of view, seeking to find answers through contemporary mass writing at the Dresden court. Dresden’s importance is clear given its early connections to the mass, and the fact that Bach cultivated significant ties to the city for the remaining years of his life.Since the Credo movement was Bach’s last addition to complete the full mass, and is laden with structural complexity, prominent compositional choices, and interesting theological implications, it will be the focus of this study. To do so, I will explore a selection of extant Dresden Credo movements written within the few decades prior to Bach’s own Credo. The late addition of Bach’s Credo movement would have allowed him ample time to familiarize himself with these earlier, parallel versions, making the Credo movement an excellent choice for determining a possible Dresden influence. By uncovering the degree to which the Dresden Credo compositions share these musical traits with Bach’s, his purpose for writing the full mass can be better understood. To further validate these musical findings, I will also address the cultural and musical context of the city of Dresden, the mass genre more generally, and Bach’s own connections to the city. I will show how, despite Bach’s personal preoccupation with theological meaning and the stile antico, his awareness of the Dresden masses and a possible practical intention for his mass is revealed in his own Credo movement.

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Onstage voices, offstage bodies : Restoration singer-actresses and the actress/whore complex (2023)

In this thesis, I address the actress/whore complex and its repercussions for the social and cultural reception of female singer-actresses in English Restoration theatre of the 1660s–1680s. The music performed by Restoration singer-actresses has largely gone unnoticed by musicologists, with few exceptions for notable performers such as Anne Bracegirdle or Elizabeth Barry. I argue that the lesser-known singer-actresses and their time on the late seventeenth-century English stage is a valuable area for interdisciplinary research, one that sheds new light on the dynamics of gendered discourse in the Restoration theatre. Chapter One provides an overview of the Restoration theatre, including playwrights, players, and the playhouse itself. Chapter Two explores the profession of the singer-actress and the birth of a celebrity culture that held both opportunity and danger for the women who performed publicly. I place the offstage lives and onstage actions of these women within the history of women’s music-making in early modern England and the changing socio-political culture of a country recovering from Civil War. This study applies theory on bodily performance and the sexualization of the female voice to singer-actresses’ musical moments. I argue that theatre songs functioned as “paratexts,” moments where women could address the spectators and voice their inner thoughts or frustrations with to the patriarchal society within which they operated.

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Musical Borrowing in Renaissance Florence: Carnival Songs and Contrafacture (2014)

Carnival songs form a genre of music that flowered during the Renaissance era in Florence. Stimulated by elite patronage, these popular tunes served to enhance festivities and street celebrations during the Carnival season. Due to the popular contexts within which these songs were performed, they were accessible by all class levels, and thereby served to communicate changing social and political values through the vernacular Italian poetic texts. Perhaps the most prominent feature of this secular genre is that the melodies of the carnival songs were borrowed by poets in the employ of the religious institutions in Florence, both churches and confraternities, as a method of memorizing hymns. Throughout the sixteenth century, the application of this method, defined as contrafacture, grew to become a tool to communicate spiritual and political beliefs, where connections can be drawn between the moral teachings of both the carnival and lauda poems. It is the purpose of this thesis to detail the process by which contrafacture is applied to Carnival songs from the late fifteenth century to the end of the sixteenth century. Different approaches to musical borrowing are discussed to demonstrate how Carnival songs were recycled through the process of contrafacture to reflect a variety of popular mindsets and values held by the citizens of Renaissance Florence.

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