skip to content

Faculty of Music


How did Hindustani art music respond to the political transition from the Mughal empire to British colonialism? In this lecture, I will introduce my recent book which examines musical society and culture in nineteenth-century India. The book charts the movements of musicians and dancers, and the transregional circulation of intellectual traditions and musical genres, and demonstrates how Calcutta became a celebrated center of Hindustani music. Drawing on archives in a range of languages and genres, the book considers how listeners, musicians, and theorists inscribed their responses to, and ideas about, sound and music; how music travelled through circuits of people and objects in motion; the significance of women in court music; and the political life of musical patronage and connoisseurship. The book contrasts colonizing and Orientalist discourses with Indo-Persianate ideas about the self and the senses. As court musicians and dancers dispersed across Calcutta they became entangled with the modernizing and reformist programs of urban Bengali elites. The book considers how these new patrons became emotionally engaged with the shattered world of the Mughals by listening to the scattered court singers from Lucknow. Thinking across regions and multilingual sources, the book sheds light on long-neglected developments in musical thought and practice, cultivated in the vernacular intellectual universe of the colonial era.

Dr Richard David Williams is Senior Lecturer in Music and South Asian Studies at SOAS University of London. A cultural historian of early modern and colonial India, his work brings music and sound studies into conversation with literature and the study of religion.

Wednesday, 22 November, 2023 - 17:00