Dr Christopher Kimbell

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Personal profile

Christopher completed his PhD at Royal Holloway between 2015 and 2020. His work was funded by a Crossland Research Scholarship and he was supervised jointly by Mark Berry and J. P. E. Harper-Scott. He has taught as a visiting tutor (PGTA) on first- and second-year undergraduate courses in music history and has spoken at public seminars on themes of national identity and contemporary social relevance in Wagner’s Ring.

Research interests

Wagner, critical theory, music analysis, philosophy, nationalism, German identity


Thesis Abstract

‘Honour Your German Masters?’: Tradition, Community, and Nationhood in Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg 


Since its premiere on 21 June 1868, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg has served as an enduring icon of Germanness. From its early reception history during the wars of German unification to its continued popularity throughout the twentieth century, the opera has defied the acute instability of German statehood to maintain a prolonged relevance to both popular and official constructions of national identity. This thesis investigates the apparent flexibility or even amorphousness of Die Meistersinger’s nationalism through an analysis of the political and ideological connotations of its musical and narrative structure. In four interconnected studies of individual characters, I identify a self-reflexive critical potential within the opera’s construction of provincial and national identity and problematize the existing discourse surrounding its depiction of race and gender.

Chapter one introduces in further detail the interpretive challenge posed by the opera’s diverse reception history and prepares the methodological ground for the quasi-Adornian critiques of musical and cultural meaning that follow. Chapter two considers Walther’s relationship with the guild of mastersingers and challenges the pervasive belief within Meistersinger scholarship that the young knight’s Prize Song constitutes a regressive collapse into the existing order. Chapter three examines Sachs’s response to Walther’s musical novelty and argues for an emancipatory Hegelian interpretation of the character’s defence of tradition. Chapter four reconsiders the question of anti-Semitism in Wagner’s depiction of Beckmesser through an interrogation of the relationship between the character’s surface identity and his ideological function as a figure of cultural alienation. Chapter five investigates Eva’s passivity and re-examines the opera’s portrayal of bourgeois gender norms. Rather than serving as an apolitical vehicle for vague nationalist sentiments, there is shown to exist a complex dialectical relationship between the operatic text and the various contrasting social-historical contexts in which it has been deployed.


Educational background

BMus (Hons), First Class - Royal Holloway, University of London

MMus Musicology, Distinction - Royal Holloway, University of London

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