Dr Marco Ladd

Photo of Dr Marco Ladd

BA, MPhil, PhD (Yale)

Research Fellow; Director of Studies in Music

I’m coming to Cambridge after six years at Yale University, where I received my PhD in music history in May 2019. It’s a return home, of sorts; I read music at Emmanuel from 2008–11 and stayed on for an MPhil in 2011–12. I’m delighted to be coming back: the College was where I first became interested in academic musicology, and it’s fitting that it should be the institution to offer me my first research position.

I was born in Edinburgh to Italian and American parents—both linguists—and grew up speaking Italian and English at home. My fluency in Italian (and the resulting heightened awareness of the interplay between languages) have both left their mark on my research, which centres on music in Italy in the first half of the twentieth century. I’m especially interested in musical repertories that sit at the margins of both elite and popular traditions, which have often been overlooked in music scholarship to date.

In my doctoral work, I examined film music in Italy during the silent era, the three decades of cinematic development preceding the introduction of synchronised sound. The live musical accompaniment in cinemas at this time sat uneasily between visions of cinema as a new art form, and its implicit potential to become a mass medium. As a result, both art music and popular music were drawn into debates about a crucial element of cinematic aesthetics: synchronisation. The development of early Italian film music, I argued, showed that synchronisation between music and filmic images isn’t merely a technical matter, nor is it an inherent property of music-image relations. Rather, it is a culturally and historically bounded ideal that offers a compelling lens onto the history of film and its music.

As a Research Fellow, I’m planning a new project that will consider the emergence of musica leggera, or ‘light music’, in Italy during the 1920s—the decade when this term was first applied widely to various repertoires of canzonette (popular songs), operettas, and the like. But I’m particularly keen to explore the idea of ‘lightness’ itself: why did it emerge when it did? What developments (musical or otherwise) made such a label seem necessary? Like synchronisation, the concept of ‘light music’ is outwardly straightforward, but this apparent simplicity belies the complexity of the musical hierarchies that give rise to it.

Outside of work, I’m an erstwhile pianist and, more recently, a singer; I was in the College chapel choir as an undergraduate, and have sung a fair amount of one-to-a-part Renaissance polyphony since then. I also enjoy listening to, and going to, the opera.


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