Karen Desmond

I am an Associate Professor of Music at Brandeis University, and I work on the manuscripts and notation of French and English polyphony in the later Middle Ages. The materials I study include music and theory manuscripts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, archival documents, and a wide variety of primary and secondary sources that attest to the larger intellectual and institutional contexts in which music making happened during the later Middle Ages. My books and other publications center on the aesthetic and theoretical systems that underpinned medieval music composition. On a more general level, my work explores the use of theoretical models and tools from other disciplines or other times to investigate change and creativity in the arts.

I welcome applications from prospective PhD students interested in working on any aspect of medieval music, music notation, or digital musicology.

My first monograph, Music and the Moderni, 1300-1350: The Ars nova in Theory and Practice, won the 2019 Lewis Lockwood Award from the American Musicological Society, and was a finalist for the 2019 Wallace Berry Award from the Society for Music Theory. This book’s research and writing was supported by an NEH Research Fellowship (2014), an SSHRC Banting Fellowship (2014-16). Other book projects include my translation of Lambert’s Ars musica, edited by Christian Meyer (Ashgate, 2015) and The Montpellier Codex: The Final Fascicle, a collection of essays co-edited with Catherine Bradley (The Boydell Press, 2018). I was co-editor for two recent special issue journals: one on the fourteenth-century composer, Philippe de Vitry (in Early Music), and one on the fourteenth-century astronomer and music theorist, Jean des Murs (in Erudition and the Republic of Letters).

My planned second monograph, titled Breaking and Remaking: Polyphonic Liturgical Music in Medieval Worcester and Beyond, centers on the Worcester Fragments and the cycles of creativity, efflorescence, obsolescence, destruction, reuse, rediscovery and reconstruction that defined the performance and composition of English music during the Middle Ages, and its transmission and study since.

I’m also a digital musicologist: my music encoding project “Measuring Polyphony” was awarded an NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant for the development of an online mensural music editor (2019-20).

I have a wide range of teaching and research experience at several different international institutions including the University of Cambridge (Visiting Fellow, Clare Hall and Visiting Scholar, Faculty of Music, Spring 2019), Harvard University (Visiting Assistant Professor, Spring 2018), McGill University (Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, 2014-2016), the University of Cologne (a postdoctoral researcher (2012-2013) on a DFG-funded project led by Prof. Dr. Frank Hentschel at the Institut für Musikwissenschaft), and University College Cork (Lecturer in Musicology, 2011-13). My Ph.D. in musicology is from New York University (2009), and was supervised by Edward H. Roesner. At present, I’m chair of the American Musicological Society’s Board Committee on Technology (2019-2022), and I sit on the Council of the American Musicological Society. I also sit on the editorial boards of the Journal of Musicology and Plainsong and Medieval Music.