30 June, 2008

Dame Emma Kirkby, Doctoris in Musica honoris causa

Cantatrix lepidissima, quae et permultos arte tua delectavisti et pulchritudinem musicae inprimis antiquae aperuisti, ego auctoritate mea et totius Vniversitatis admitto te ad gradum Doctoris in Musica honoris causa.*

With these words, the Chancellor of Oxford University conveyed upon Dame Emma Kirkby an honorary Doctorate in Music at the University's 18 June congregation.

Kirkby was made DCOBE in the Queen's birthday honors last July, and as I blogged at the time, I believed she well deserved that honor as well as this new one.

Below, I'm posting the encomium* delivered by the Oxford orator:

Is there anything that those who have read Greats at Oxford cannot do? Three years ago we honoured a man who after completing this degree turned to physics and won a Nobel Prize for it, and today we confer a doctorate on a lady who did not devote her whole time to music until she too had made this thorough study of Greek and Latin texts. In those days the vastly learned and formidable Eduard Fraenkel was teaching (or terrorising) his pupils, but she is said to have subdued him by her charm as Orpheus subdued the beasts with his lyre. At all events, in the succeeding years her art has come close to that of Orpheus himself in its power to bewitch the world. A competent critic has described her as the best singer never to have sung Verdi. The beauty of her voice is known to all; some have compared it (quite wrongly, I believe) to a boy's voice, others to a bell, and yet others to a stream of silver. But I suggest that she deserves the greater praise for adding to this God-given talent musicality, technical mastery and historical understanding.

The poets often represent goddesses as jealous and self-assertive; thus Juno in Virgil's Aeneid declares that since she cannot get her way she will raise Hell itself. So I think that there is good reason for celebrated sopranos to be called divas. This honorand is entirely different: with ample reason to boast about herself, she has always remained easy and modest. She has herself said that her recent damehood should be taken as a tribute to the virtues of stillness, clarity and ensemble rather than volume and display. She seeks harmony not only in the music itself but also among the performers; and accordingly she has earned, besides the praise of all, the affection of many.

I present an English nightingale, a tenth Muse, Carolyn Emma Kirkby, DBE, former student and Honorary Fellow of Somerville College, to be admitted to the honorary degree of Doctor of Music.

* At Oxford, the encomiums and admission are delivered in Latin and if you're interested, you can find the original as well as the translation of the Chancellor's admission at the title link...

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