In October 2006, the Executive Committee of the British Comparative Literature Association (BCLA) held a small conference at the University of East Anglia to honour Professor Malcolm Bowie, who had been our President from 1998 until 2004, when he was succeeded by Professor Dame Gillian Beer, who is the BCLA’s current President.
We had initially hoped to hold such a celebratory event soon after Malcolm stepped down as President, but the medical treatment he had to undergo at that time prevented our doing so. We were especially touched, then, when Malcolm was able to attend the first afternoon of the conference. Though he looked tired and frail, there was still a hint of that engaging boyishness that friends, colleagues and students had always found so endearing.
Malcolm died just over three months later. He is greatly missed. His life and work have been remembered in numerous eulogies and memorial events as they will be remembered by all those upon whom he has had an influence. So it is not my intention to add my own thoughts to those of my many better-qualified colleagues, especially as I did not get to know Malcolm until I joined the Executive Committee of the BCLA in 1998. But he had been a lecturer at UEA from 1967–1969 and so it seemed especially fitting that, forty years on, our conference should take place here. The title of the conference, ‘Listening to Sing: Writing and Music’, was chosen by his friend and former colleague Clive Scott, and was, I imagine, meant to suggest a variety of contributions centring around some of Malcolm’s particular interests: music and its relationship with literature, literature as music, literary influence, translation, performance (of, against or beyond the text), voice and re-recreation. The papers presented at the conference touched upon all these topics and included a number of roundtable contributions on poetry, imitation, translation and voice, as well as longer papers. Four of these (by Clive Scott, Maurice Slawinski, Florian Mussgnug and Christopher Smith) are collected in this issue of Comparative Critical Studies, as well as a further article on [End Page 1] music and literature by Neil Cornwell. The winning translations in the 2007 John Dryden Translation Competition, two of which appear in the latter part of the issue, were read at the prize-giving event held as part of the conference.
The relationship between music and literature has always been an important theme in work within Comparative Literature. There has been much debate about the shape and remit of the discipline, including a discussion in a recent issue of this journal.1 But however one defines it, even a conservative view would probably allow that the ‘study of literature involving at least two different media of expression’, as a 1970 pronouncement in the context of a discussion on music and literature has it,2 is as central to the concerns of Comparative Literature today as it was then. And, definitions aside, the sheer number of writers who have been influenced by music, of musicians who have composed music to go with written words, and of artistic forms that combine both, make this an extremely important and exciting area of scholarship. Beyond these influences and interactions there are many parallels between music and literature, commonly drawn in studies of metre, of the acoustic properties of literary language, of the musical dimension of poetic syntax, of translation which captures the voice, the spirit, or, to use Ted Hughes’s words, the ‘delicate, searching, inner music’3 of the mind of a text.
Mussgnug, Smith and Cornwell all focus in their articles for this issue on the mutual influences of writing and music, ‘on a shared artistic imagination and creative practice’ (Mussgnug p. 81). Where Cornwell examines especially the ‘musical story’ (p. 35ff.) as exemplified in works by E. T. A. Hoffmann and others, and the various relationships of their authors with music, Smith considers the way in which music and words work together in the monodrama, of which he presents a detailed study, from Rousseau’s Pygmalion and Mozart’s largely unrealized desire to explore its possibilities, to Benda’s experiments and...