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Laurence Dreyfus

Professor Emeritus, Department of Music, University of Oxford

Emeritus Fellow, Magdalen College, University of Oxford

Fellow, Society of Fellows, SOF/Heyman, Columbia University (1979–1981)

Laurence Dreyfus, Professor of Music and Fellow of Magdalen College, was born in Boston, Mass. (USA), and is a noted interpreter of Johann Sebastian Bach, both as a scholar and performer. His other interests include English consort music of the 16th and 17th centuries and the works of Richard Wagner. As an historian and analyst, Dreyfus has published Bach’s Continuo Group as well as Bach and the Patterns of Invention (Harvard University Press, 1987 and 1996), the latter of which won the Otto Kinkeldey Award from the American Musicological Society for the best book of the year. Most recently he published, Wagner and the Erotic Impulse. As a bass viol player, he has recorded CDs of Bach’s viola da gamba sonatas of Marais’ Pièces de violes and Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concert (all with Ketil Haugsand on the Simax label).

In 1994, Dreyfus founded Phantasm, a quartet of viols, whose debut recording of Purcell’s Viol Fantasies won a 1997 Gramophone Award. Seven further Phantasm CDs (on Simax, EMI, GMN, and Channel Classics) were devoted to works by Byrd, Mico, Locke, and Lawes, alongside a rendition of Bach’s Art of Fugue. Phantasm’s disc of Orlando Gibbons’s Consorts (AVIE) won the 2004 Gramophone Award and was a finalist for Record of the Year. Since then they issued numerous recordings of English consort music which have been nominated for awards by Gramophone and the BBC Music Magazine. Most recently, Phantasm issued William Lawes, Consorts to the Organ – a Gramophone Award Finalist for Baroque Instrumental Music (2013) – collaborating with Magdalen and Faculty colleague Daniel Hyde.

Dreyfus holds a PhD in musicology from Columbia University in New York, where he studied under noted Bach scholar Christoph Wolff. He studied cello at the Juilliard School in New York with Leonard Rose, and viol at the Royal Conservatoire with Wieland Kuijken at Brussels, which awarded him its Diplome supérieur with highest distinction. Dreyfus taught at Yale, Chicago and Stanford universities moving to London where he held a Chair at the Royal Academy of Music and King’s College London as the Thurston Dart Professor of Performance Studies. He was elected an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1995 and (for his musicological work) a Fellow of the British Academy in 2002. In 2004, he was Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, and delivered a series of public lectures on ‘Wagner and the Erotic Impulse’, which will be published in book form by Harvard University Press. In conjunction with Dreyfus’s move to Oxford, Phantasm was named Consort-in-Residence in the University, and then in 2010 Consort-in-Residence at Magdalen College.

His current research focusses on Richard Wagner and the musical leitmotif as part of an AHRC-funded Large Grant ‘Transforming Musicology’ (2013–2016). In this project he forms part of a pioneering collaboration between musicologists, computer scientists, audio engineers and psychologists working in several universities (Goldsmiths College London, Queen Mary College London, Utrecht University and Oxford), seeking to extend traditional musicological investigations by taking advantage of the opportunities offered by data-rich music information retrieval (MIR).

The idea is to augment traditionally humanistic methods used to study Richard Wagner’s influential system of leitmotifs (via historical documentation, close score analysis, and metaphor theory from philosophy and linguistics) with state-of-the-art MIR tools operating on encoded scores and recordings.

At Oxford he lectures on Bach, Wagner, and Chamber Music and offers performance classes for the M.St in Performance. He is interested in supervising students in a wide variety of subjects, from English consort music through to studies in late-19th-century German music.

In 2022, Laurence Dreyfus published a historical novel (in German translation) called Parsifals Verführung [Parsifals Verführung] about Hermann Levi, a conductor who directed the 1882 premiere of Richard Wagner's final opera.