Talking Points & Lectures
Daniel Snowman is a social and cultural historian. He was born in London, educated at Cambridge and Cornell, and at 24 was a Lecturer at the University of Sussex.
For many years, he worked at the BBC where he was responsible for a wide variety of radio series on cultural and historical topics.
Since 2004, Daniel has held a Senior Research Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research (University of London) for whom he has given lectures, organised and chaired both academic and public Seminars and recorded a succession of interviews with leading fellow historians.
Photo by Norbert Meyn
Principal Lecture and Study Day topics for 2021/22
“Not bloody likely!” The Marketing of Covent Garden, 1600-2000
The Covent Garden piazza was the first great square in London. Created in the 1630s, its perimeters were decorated by a string of Italianate buildings – notably, on its western side, that self-consciously Palladian church, St Paul’s, by Inigo Jones. One of the most fashionable areas in town, the piazza soon sprouted every amenity a wealthy Stuart or Hanoverian household might require: coffee houses, a market for fresh fruit and vegetables (and elegant but discreet prostitutes), and in 1732, the first of three successive theatres on the square’s north-eastern borders. All this made for rich pickings by artists such as Hogarth and others.
Over the (nearly) four centuries since the piazza’s creation much was to change as the sights, sounds and skills on show shifted with the times. One theatre after another burned down only to be redesigned and rebuilt, while today’s market would be unrecognisable to earlier habitués from Swift and Dr Johnson to Shaw’s Eliza Doolittle. In 1872, Gustave Doré portrayed Covent Garden as little more than a dark and dangerous place of the night. Yet the Covent Garden piazza and the cultural life it has long embraced have continued to survive, indeed to thrive: a state of grace which would surely sometimes have seemed (to Eliza at least) ‘not bloody likely’
“Guerra! Guerra!” Music, the Arts and War: 1800-2000
Art has often been stimulated by war, from the Iliad and Aenead to novels such as War and Peace, the poetry of Wilfred Owen, the visual images of Goya’s Horrors of War, Picasso’s Guernica, Henry Moore’s huddled masses and the sculpture of countless war memorials. Then there’s music. Upbeat anthems like the Marseillaise or choruses belting out “Guerra! Guerra!” in operas such as Aida – and the sadness of Nimrod every year at the Cenotaph.
With the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War and the 80th of the outbreak of the Second, we examine the links between art and war across Europe over the past two centuries. During the course of our artistic explorations, we encounter the triumphs and tragedies of Napoleonic times, visit mid-century Italy during its struggle for independence and learn how the arts portrayed the Crimean War, the regime of Napoleon III before and after he was toppled by the Franco-Prussian war, the Boer War and the two World Wars – both at the time and since.
This lecture places art in a powerfully resonant historical context. It is richly illustrated with imagery taken from throughout Europe, and it also draws upon the messages (sometimes disturbing, sometimes comforting) embodied in music, drama and literature and that most multimedia of art forms, opera.
The Gilded Stage: A Social and Cultural History of Opera
In Mozart’s day, who would have known who he was, and how? Why did the ‘prima donna’ get her fiery reputation? Which have been better for opera: dictatorships or democracies? Has opera ever been truly self-financing? When did opera audiences begin to turn up on time and remain quiet during performances? And how did a supposedly ‘elitist’ art form take root in such egalitarian societies as Australia and the USA?
These are some of the questions addressed in a richly illustrated Lecture about the history of an art form that incorporates all the others. From the birth of opera in late Renaissance Italy we move to Louis XIV’s Versailles, Handel’s London, Mozart’s Vienna, Verdi’s Italy, Wagner’s Germany, Gilded Age America and the world-wide spread of opera in the 20thC. The Lecture concentrates on the ‘demand’ rather than the ‘supply’, and considers eg: patronage of the arts, the changing nature of the operatic professions, opera and politics, theatrical architecture and stage design, and the impact of new technologies from gaslight to digital downloads. By the 21stC, opera had become truly global in its appeal. Yet, with the core repertoire seeming to slip into an ever-receding past and the world plunged into economc recession, the question must be addressed: does opera have a future?
Verdi and Victoria: National Icons
Queen Victoria and Giuseppe Verdi died within a week of each other in January 1901, two octogenarians widely revered as the embodiments of their respective nations. They had much in common: Victoria loved music and opera, while Verdi cared deeply about the politics of Italian unification. Each achieved early celebrity, later ‘retiring’ from the public eye (thereby attracting some resentment) before becoming a national treasure once again in old age.
Both became encrusted in layers of mythology, during their lifetimes and thereafter, as British and Italians alike refashioned their past in the service of an ever-shifting present. Drawing on a rich multiplicity of images, this Lecture examines the changing iconography of the two ‘V’s’ against the background of the wider cultural history of their respective nations.
The Hitler Emigrés
What do these have in common? The Penguin Pool at London Zoo; the Glyndebourne and Edinburgh Festivals; the art publishers Phaidon and Thames & Hudson; the cartoon character “Supermac”; The Buildings of England; the film The Red Shoes; the Amadeus Quartet.
Each was created by émigrés from Central Europe who, escaping the shadow of Nazism, found refuge in Britain. Artists and architects, film makers and philosophers, musicians and publishers, historians, psychologists and scientists – all brought something of their continental legacy to Britain. Their collective talent was enormous and their influence far in excess of their numbers. The Lecture is richly illustrated: a colourful and provocative introduction to the art and culture of our own lifetimes.
Highlights (in addition to over 650 lectures for ‘The Arts Society‘ – formerly ‘NADFAS’), have included
- Yerushah Lecture (University of Cambridge, 14 May 2003)
- Scouloudi Lecture (University of London, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, 12 June 2003)
- Leo Baeck Lecture (Imperial War Museum, London, 3 November 2004)
- Paper on ‘Why the Public Loves History’ (University of London, Institute of Historical Research Winter Conference, Senate House, 13 February 2006)
- Public interview with Daniel Barenboim (Royal Academy of Music, London, 3 Feb 2010)
- Introduction to Opera’ day (Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 20 Feb 2010)
- The 2010 Annual Fellows’ Lecture (University of London, Institute of Historical Research, 1 June 2010) Details here.
- Paper on 19thC opera history (Royal Musical Association annual conference, London, 15 July 2010)
- 2010/11: Six Lectures on the Social History of Opera (Royal Academy of Music, London; monthly, from September 2010 to March 2011). Details here.
- Introduction to Aida: ‘Insight’ evening (Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 3 March 2011)
- Paper on the Social History of Opera (University of Western Ontario, Canada, 9 March 2011)
- Speech on the Social History of Opera (University Club, New York, 15 March 2011)
- Paper on 19thC opera politics to the ‘Music in Britain’ social history seminar, University of London, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House (9 May 2011)
- Introduction to Die Meistersinger (Education Day at Glyndebourne, 15 May 2011)
- Paper to the Anglo-American Conference of Historians, University of London, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House (6 July 2012)
- Paper (on Elektra and Salome) to the Institute of Musical Research, Senate House, London (22 October 2012)
- Lecture on ‘Puppetry and Opera’: Puppet Centre conference, Barbican, London (9 November 2012)
- Lecture on opera history at Juilliard School of Music, New York (31 January 2013)
- Lectures to New York Metropolitan Opera Guild (1 and 2 February 2013)
- Lecture (Verdi and Victoria) for the “Viva Verdi!” festival at the Italian Cultural Institute, London (7 February 2013)
- Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller Memorial Lecture: The Hitler Emigrés Re-visited: Senate House, London (21 February 2013) Details here.
- Chaired final plenary session, Institute of Historical Research annual Winter Conference (‘History and Biography’), Senate House, London (8 March 2013)
- Delivered pre-concert talk about Michael Tippett’s: A Child of our Time (London Philharmonic Orchestra), and sang in the performance: Royal Festival Hall, London (1 May 2013)
- Lecture to 120th annual conference of the Jewish Historical Society of England (28 August 2013)
- Lecture at National Gallery (London) to introduce their exhibition Facing the Modern: Vienna 1900 (Study Day: 30 November 2013)
- Lecture at Royal College of Music, London, to introduce their 3-day international Symposium “Singing A Song in a Foreign Land” (21 February 2014)
- Lecture (War and the Arts) at Barber of Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham re: their exhibition, “Rebel Visions” (26 November 2014)
- Delivered pre-concert lecture for Classical Opera’s inaugural ‘MOZART 250’ weekend, Milton Court, London (21 February 2015)
- Chaired panel at Institute of Historical Research conference on ‘London and the First World War’ (20 March 2015)
- Speaker: ‘Cities of Modernity: European Arts and Architecture 1880-1914’: Royal Institute of British Architects (21 April 2015)
- Organised and chaired two 6-part series of public Seminars at the Institute of Historical Research with leading historians debating how we use and abuse the past. These were held at Senate House (London) during the academic years 2015/16 and 2016/17.
- ‘History, History Everywhere…’ October 14, 2015 Watch on YouTube.
- ‘History as Heritage’ November 11, 2015. Watch on YouTube.
- ‘Re-writing the Past’ January 13, 2016. Watch on YouTube.
- ‘Pictures of the Past’ February 10, 2016. Watch on YouTube.
- ‘Uses and Abuses of the Past’ March 9, 2016 . Watch on YouTube.
- Lecture (The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera) at Royal College of Music, London (14 January 2016)
- Chaired final session of Anglo-French History Conference, London University, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House (18 March 2016)
- Pre-performance talk (Hänsel und Gretel) at Royal College of Music, London (2 July 2016)
- Pre-performance talk (‘The Amadeus Quartet’) at Martin Lovett tribute event, Royal College of Music, London (5 March 2017)
- Chaired opening two sessions of conference on ‘History Heritage and Ideology: Universities and the Commemoration of Benefactors’ at Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London (24 March, 2017)
- Presented a 12-week (36-session) course at the Victoria and Albert Museum to accompany their major exhibition on the history of opera (September – December 2017, and again in autumn 2018).
- Addressed All-party Parliamentary Group on history of opera (29 November, 2017).
- Gallery Talk (‘Verdi and Victoria’) at Victoria and Albert Museum (15 February 2018).
- Presented ‘Introduction to Salome’ evening at English National Opera (18 September 2018)
- Chaired Symposium on ‘Operetta’ evening at English National Opera (24 January 2019)
- Presented ‘Introduction to ‘Jack the Ripper’ evening at English National Opera (5 March 2019)
- Spoke at at Jewish Book Week, King’s Place, London (launch of Insiders/Outsiders book: March 6, 2019).
- Presented ‘Introduction to Hansel and Gretel’ evening for English National Opera (4 June 2019)
- Gave two lectures about ‘Musical Life in Victorian Britain’ to mark the bicentenaries of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (V&A Museum, 7 June 2019)
- Presented ‘Introduction to Orpheus and Eurydice’ evening for English National Opera (4 September 2019)
- Presented 8-lecture course on the history of opera at Victoria and Albert Museum (12/13 October 2019)
- Presented ‘Verdi and Victoria: Two of a Kind’: Opera Prelude (with Alex Aldren, tenor) at Cadogan Hall, London (29 October 2019)
- Chaired presentation at Jewish Book Week, King’s Place, London: launch of books on Jews and the Fashion Industry in pre-Nazi Berlin and postwar London (March 1, 2020).
- Spoke at conference ‘Cambridge: City of Scholars, City of Refuge, 1933-1945’ (Trinity College, Cambridge: 5-6 March 2020).
Zoom lectures during Coronavirus Lockdown have included:
- What Do You Do When Your Theatre Burns Down? The destruction of the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden in 1856″ (to IHR Junior Research Fellows, 11 June 2020).
- The Impact of the ‘Hitler Emigres’ on British Musical Life” (for Insiders/Outsiders project, 20 July 2020)
- The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera” (two lectures to students in China for the Oxford Prospects and Global Development Institute, Regent’s Park College, 30 and 31 July 2020).
- Victorian Britain: Culture and the Arts (12-lecture course for the V&A Academy, June/July 2021)
Interviewing Daniel Barenboim before an audience at the Royal Academy of Music, London
"Daniel says somewhere that he doesn’t want to judge people. And he doesn’t. He writes candidly about his orthodox Jewish background, the benefits brought by German refugees, the evils of McCarthyism, the racism of the American South. He has been everywhere. As a musician and broadcaster, he has interviewed politicians like Crossman, luminaries like Barbirolli, and befriended singers like Domingo. He has even calmly discussed ‘the bomb’ with Harry Truman. He is a writer, producer, performer, historian and human being all in one and this book deserves to be read widely."
11th Earl of Sandwich and former President of the Pepys Club
"Daniel Snowman’s well-lived life – as broadcaster, historian, singer, lecturer, opera-buff – has taken him around the world and brought him in contact with many of the cultural and political greats of the modern world. His warmly empathetic, intelligent and open-minded personality informs every page of this insightful and civilised memoir."
Editor of History Today, 1997–2008
"I have known Daniel over 70 years, but had no idea what a rich and full life he has led. I found it so impressive how he has managed to combine his two loves, history and music, largely through his world-wide travels and research, and his fascinating interviews (about some of which I would have liked to have learned more!). The book is beautifully presented, easy to read and well illustrated. I particularly appreciated the shortish chapters.
I would happily award Daniel the alpha star he apparently always wanted!"
"A masterpiece by a profound thinker: wonder and wisdom, grace and beauty, sprinkled with the human condition, dazzle the senses."