Academic Profile


J. P. E. Harper-Scott, Emeritus Professor of Music History and Theory, worked at Royal Holloway Music Department from 2005 to 2021, after enjoyable but brief spells of employment in Liverpool and Nottingham. He was General Editor of the Cambridge University Press series Music in Context, a member of the Editorial Board of Music Analysis, a trustee of the Society for Music Analysis, a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College, and a member of the Council for the Defence of British Universities. This page gives details of his professional life; a biographical note is offered here. His reasons for leaving academia are elaborated here.

His work focuses on an examination of music’s cultural, personal, and interpersonal significance in the last two centuries. It draws extensively on philosophical, cultural, and social theory and the explanatory resources of music theory. From the start his work engaged particularly with the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and Theodor W. Adorno. Later, this was supplemented by psychoanalysis (especially Lacan and Freud), critiques of the sexual, political, and economic subject (particularly the work of Alain Badiou, Karl Marx, and Slavoj Žižek), and an explicitly Leftist perspective. There was always a musical focus on art music of the modern period, including twentieth-century symphonic music and opera in Britain (particularly Elgar, Walton, Britten, and Vaughan Williams), and the operas of Wagner, Strauss, and Berlioz.

Professor Harper-Scott’s PhD students pursued scholarship in a range of methodological and theoretical directions, and there are particularly strong interactions in continental philosophy, critical theory, psychoanalysis, feminism, music analysis, opera and symphonic music, theories of modernism, and music and musical thought in twentieth-century Britain.

Administrative work included spells as Director of Research and Department Education Lead, at RHUL, and being a member of the AHRC’s Peer Review College. Harper-Scott was also responsible for the maintenance of the Golden Pages of conference listings in musicology (which he converted into a wiki editable by anyone in 2021) and a moderator of the musicological mailing lists ‘Central and Eastern European Music’, ‘Euromusicology’, ‘Iberian and Latin American Music’, ‘Medieval and Renaissance Music’, ‘Musical Aesthetics’, ‘Nineteenth-Century Music’, ‘Suppressed Music’, and the umbrella ‘Musicology-All list’.

Research interests

  • Art music from 1789 to the present
  • Music history and theory/analysis
  • Critical theory: Heidegger, Badiou, Žižek, Adorno, Lacan, Freud, Marxism, postmodern critiques of human subjectivity

Harper-Scott wrote eight books, the last of which were The Event of Music History (2021) and Return to Riemann: Tonal Function in Chromatic Music (forthcoming). His other books include Ideology in Britten’s Operas (2018, paperback edition 2020). It was his fifth book to be published by Cambridge University Press, the others being two monographs, The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism (2012) and Edward Elgar, Modernist (2006), and two co-edited essay collections. The first, co-edited with Julian Rushton, is Elgar Studies (2007); the second, co-edited with Jim Samson, is An Introduction to Music Studies (2009), a textbook for new undergraduates written by RHUL staff (a Korean translation appeared in 2019). His second single-authored book was a life-and-works study of Elgar for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, Elgar: an Extraordinary Life (2007). He also contributed articles and reviews to journals including 19th-Century Music, Music Analysis, Music & Letters, the Cambridge Opera Journal, and the Musical Times, and periodically wrote opera and book reviews for the Times Literary Supplement. See his list of publications for further details.


Professor Harper-Scott became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in 2008. His teaching at Royal Holloway included courses in theory and analysis at undergraduate and postgraduate levels (‘Analysing Western Art Music’ – a course of Schenkerian analysis – for second years, ‘Special Study: Theory and Analysis’ for third years, and the MMus course ‘Techniques of Theory and Analysis’), a module in early nineteenth-century music for the first-year ‘History of Music I’, another on late nineteenth-century music for the second-year ‘History of Music II’, optional second- and third-year undergraduate courses on Adorno’s Philosophy of Music, Elgar, Wagner’s Ring, and Britten’s operas, and the compulsory MMus course, ‘Skills in Advanced Musical Studies’. He also convened the courses in theory and analysis dissertations for third-year undergraduates and MMus students.