The Music Tripos is designed for those interested in music as an academic discipline. Nonetheless, nearly all undergraduates reading music are keen and capable performers, and there are optional courses on instrumental or vocal performance in all three years.
Trinity has a long and distinguished musical tradition dating back to the early 14th- century association between King’s Hall (one of the smaller colleges from which Trinity was formed) and the Chapel Royal choristers of Edward II. Composers who have been members of the College include Richard Whyte, John Hilton, Walmisley, Stanford, and Vaughan Williams.
Music remains an important part of College life today and there are many opportunities for students to perform or conduct. The Trinity orchestra and chorus give termly concerts and there are frequent informal recitals by smaller groups or soloists. The College’s music building, located next to the Chapel, includes several practice rooms (two with harpsichords) and a spacious recital room. There is also a Steinway Model D piano in the Chapel for use by authorised advanced pianists.
The Chapel Choir, a mixed choir comprising about thirty choral scholars, normally has one or two vacancies each year for volunteer members. The Choir, which regularly broadcasts, records, and tours abroad, sings at four services in chapel each week in term time and also performs at other College events.
The University Music Faculty provides lectures on all Tripos courses, backed up by College teaching. Trinity has two teaching Fellows in Music, Paul Wingfield, whose principal interest is analysis of nineteenth and twentieth-century music, and Sean Curran. Dr Curran will be the Director of Studies for 2021. He is a historian of music and literature, and of their theories, material supports, and social practices. His publications and current research interests address an array of topics from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, with an emphasis on songs, texts, books, and liturgies from Britain and France. His scope of practice as a teacher extends further still. Students working with him in the Music Tripos have written on subjects ranging from musical inscriptions on Ancient Greek tombstones to Middle English lyrics in their manuscript contexts, to the musical analysis and source-criticism of Bach’s Mass in B-minor, to the archival history of émigré scholars in the Second World War, to comparative approaches to the notion of verisimilitude in nineteenth-century opera and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Students working with him on the medieval paper at Part I of the English Tripos will encounter Green Knights, visionary women, lovelorn heroes, and — his favourite bit! — real medieval manuscripts housed in Trinity’s Wren Library. Elsewhere in the English Tripos, students working with him for the Practical Criticism and Critical Practice papers might undertake comparative work that pairs medieval authors with theories and texts more modern — reading Langland’s Piers Plowman alongside Orwell’s Animal Farm, say, or Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde alongside Seth’s The Golden Gate. In his work as a teacher, he especially enjoys introducing students to new skills and materials for study that they may not have encountered before. Whether that means learning a new critical theory and how to think with it well, or learning to read medieval handwriting and to understand the physical structure of manuscripts — whatever is necessary to the task at hand — there is an enjoyment and value to be found in identifying a literary or musical problem, then selecting and honing the critical tools necessary for solving it. Those tools, as well as the musical and literary phenomena we work them on, can belong to us all.
Also involved in college music teaching is the Director of Music, Stephen Layton. For some of the specialist subjects supervisions are arranged with people outside the College who are experts in those particular fields.
In addition to guiding Music students through the University courses the College encourages them to pursue their own musical interests both academically and practically. It offers grants towards the costs of instrumental tuition, for vacation projects, and for travel and music-making abroad. Trinity has a good collection of music scores and texts; there is also a CD library.
The College welcomes applications from those who are inquisitive and enthusiastic about music, historically and analytically. A keen aural sense is essential; the ability to play a keyboard instrument at least moderately well is highly desirable. A reasonable fluency in writing harmony exercises is also desirable. Potential applicants are advised to take the Grade 8 Music Theory Examination of the Associated Board. Knowledge of a foreign language – especially French, German, or Italian – is helpful.
More information about the courses available in the Music Tripos is available on the Faculty website:
Interviews involve a general discussion of topics in music. Candidates are also asked to sit a written test that requires them to harmonise phrases of a Bach chorale. We aim to admit about five candidates each year; conditional offers are typically A*AA, including Music but excluding Music Technology – comparable conditions are set for those taking the IB and other school-leaving examinations. Grade 8 Music Theory may be offered instead of Music A-level, or an EPQ in Music may be offered in addition to three A-levels.
- Dr Sean Curran
- Dr Paul Wingfield