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Katherine Mansfield Society Annual Birthday Lecture

9 June 2016

The Musical World of Katherine Mansfield

Claire Davison (Speaker) and Joseph Spooner (Cello)

Saturday 15 October 2016 

Court Room, Institute of English Studies,

University of London, Senate House, London WC1E 7HU 

This year’s Katherine Mansfield Society Annual Birthday Lecture will be in the form of a dialogue between words and music, as cellist Joseph Spooner and Professor Claire Davison explore the musical setting and musical imagination of Katherine Mansfield during the years of her literary apprenticeship.

£20 Non-members Standard 

£15 KM Society & IES Members / Concessions / Students

to include wine, birthday cake and a lecture booklet

Please book through the IES:


As so many of Mansfield’s biographers are keen to point out, KM was an impassioned student of the cello before she moved towards literary creation, notably studying with the New Zealand composer Thomas Trowell. His sons, Arnold – a cellist acknowledged as a prodigy from childhood – and Garnet, a violinist, were two of KM’s first passionately romantic attachments. Her family’s social circles brought her into close contact with a number of prestigious concert performers from New Zealand, Europe and the United States, making her musical environment during her formative years rich indeed. But what music did she enjoy, and what impact might this have had on her literary apprenticeship? Could the exciting new pulse and rhythms of the music around her have worked their way into her early prose poems as well as providing the themes and setting for many of her later stories? What are we to make of the decidedly fin-de-siècle musical tastes reflected in her early diaries and notebooks? Can we trace interactions of modern music and symbolist literature in her works in the way that we can identify influences of impressionism and post-impressionism, or early cinematography? These are the questions the 2016 Birthday Talk will be setting out to address. The focus will be mainly on the close connection between Mansfield’s early poetics and the experimental brevity of preludes, nocturnes and rhapsodies, many of which were being heard in London for the first time on or about the year 1910. Musical sketches and pictures by composers such as Chopin, Macdowell and Trowell provide a rich soundscape within which to explore Mansfield’s rhapsodic tone-poems, revealing her almost uncanny ability to sound the note of her times, as symbolism and decadence gave way to more resolutely modern resonances.


Claire Davison is Professor of Modernist Literature at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3 and Chair of the French Virginia Woolf Society since 2008. She is a founding member of the Centre for European Modernist Studies based at the University of Perrugia. Claire’s research interests are in the byways and mediations of Modernism – translators and translating networks; the reception and adaptation of European, and particularly Russian, literatures; the interweaving of sound technologies and novelistic experimentalism; broadcasting and the propagation of avant-garde aesthetics; and the interlinks between literary creation and musical expressivity. Her most recent monograph is Translation as Collaboration: Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and S. S. Koteliansky (2015), and recent co-edited volumes include: Katherine Mansfield and Translation (2015), and Outlanding Woolf – Etudes Britanniques Contemporaines (2015). With Gerri Kimber she has co-editedThe Diaries of Katherine Mansfield (2016), and The Collected Poetry of Katherine Mansfield (2016).


Joseph Spooner’s diverse career has taken him across the UK, from the Baltic to the Atlantic, and from the recording studio to Continental Europe, Russia, New York and Mexico, with numerous appearances at festivals, broadcasts and premieres. Joseph’s investigations into the cello repertoire have led to the rediscovery of unjustly neglected works; audiences have appreciated hearing this music, and critics have offered high praise for Joseph’s recordings of Bush, Krein, Balfe, Coleridge-Taylor, Bainton, Copland, Dyson and Sherwood: ‘Other cellists, please copy!’ (International Record Review); ‘all the expressive power needed’ (Gramophone); ‘superb … arresting in his commitment, his technical facility and in the rich tone he produces from his cello ... could not be better’ (International Record Review). 2016 will see Joseph touring in Grand Cayman and New Zealand, and making recordings of English and New Zealand repertoire for cello and piano, and of the Sherwood Double Concerto, with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Joseph was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and is proud to be the dedicatee of works by Alwynne Pritchard, Errollyn Wallen and Martin Read. His instrument was made by Nicholas Vuillaume in c.1865.