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Professor Kenneth Gloag (1960-2017)

2 May 2017

Kenneth Gloag

It is with deep sadness that the School of Music announces the death, on 28 April 2017, of Professor Kenneth Gloag, after a protracted illness borne with fortitude, resilience, and – to the very end – laconic humour.

He joined the School of Music as Lecturer in 1995, becoming Senior Lecturer (2004) and Reader (2010) before being awarded a personal chair in 2015. He was a leading authority on twentieth-century British art music, and an astute chronicler and critic of the postmodern both in music and musicology.

While in his work as a scholar Ken resisted myth of all kinds, his biography calls to mind one famously conjured in song a decade after his birth. He left school at sixteen with few qualifications and, after several periods of only short-term employment, began working towards Scottish Highers in evening classes, eventually undertaking a two-year diploma course at Napier Polytechnic (now University), where he gained the ALCM and LLCM in piano. He went from there to the University of Surrey, where he received a BMus with first-class honours in 1990. The following year he graduated with the MMus in Music Theory and Analysis from King’s College London, before embarking on his PhD thesis, ‘Structure, Syntax and Style in the Music of Stravinsky’, at the University of Exeter. There, at Dartington, and briefly back at Napier, he gained his first teaching experience.

Soon after arriving at Cardiff, Ken introduced to the curriculum rock, pop and jazz – music on which he displayed an undeniable authority, albeit one he chose rarely to assert in print. With colleagues from the departments of history and philosophy he created the landmark interdisciplinary MA in Music, Culture and Politics, running it successfully for over a decade. As Director of Postgraduate Research he acted as an informal mentor to many. Those he supervised personally established themselves quickly in professional and academic roles, his first two PhD graduates – Nicholas Jones and Sarah Hill – in time becoming Senior Lecturers at Cardiff, and the former co-editing with him three outstandingly successful volumes on British composers for Cambridge University Press: Peter Maxwell Davies Studies (2009), The Cambridge Companion to Michael Tippett (2013) and (with David Beard) Harrison Birtwistle Studies (2015). But arguably his most enduring pedagogical contribution is the widely cited Key Concepts in Musicology (Routledge, 2005, second edition 2016), conceived and co-written with David Beard, which has proved a trustworthy map for graduate students worldwide navigating the choppy waters of the ‘new musicology’.

As for his monographs, the first confirmed the canonical status of a major work of British music, Tippett’s A Child of Our Time (Cambridge University Press, 1999), while the second claimed that status freshly and convincingly for another, Nicholas Maw’s ninety-minute orchestral movement Odyssey (Ashgate, 2008) – with it, wrote Anthony Payne, ‘a grand and mysterious work has found its ideal expositor’. That book was the first entirely devoted to its composer, an assured neo-romantic who swam against the tide of his generation; at his death Ken was contracted to write the second, a project that would sadly not reach completion, although a fine article on another key work (‘Nicholas Maw’s Breakthrough: “Scenes and Arias” Reconsidered’, Musical Times, 2011) gives a tantalizing sense of its promise. Similarly enticing was ‘On Music and Photography’, a book project in collaboration with Peter Sedgwick that arose from Ken’s astonishing knowledge of photography, which he harboured the ambition to return to if his health allowed. The monograph that would prove to be his last, Postmodernism in Music (Cambridge University Press, 2012), unwittingly brought his career full circle, drawing together (as its acknowledgements page reveals) preoccupations dating from his undergraduate years.

Just as Ken’s solo publications, wide-ranging as they are, scarcely encompass the breadth of his interests (among them an encyclopedic knowledge of twentieth-century art and contemporary literature, not to mention football and cricket), so his published collaborations were just one manifestation of his continuous and indispensable service to the scholarly community. He was a regular contributor to conferences and symposia, with international appearances as a keynote speaker following naturally in the wake of the postmodernism book. He served on programme committees for the Royal Musical Association and Society for Music Analysis and, for a decade, as founding reviews editor of the Cambridge journal Twentieth-Century Music. A formidable yet always sympathetic colleague, he was reliably on hand with wise and measured advice, recognizing both the things worth fighting for and the things that, on balance, were not. His absence, immediately and acutely felt by those who worked most closely with him, will have echoes that extend far longer and wider.

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