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David Yearsley


Lincoln Hall, Room 341

Educational Background

  • Ph.D. Stanford University


David Yearsley was educated at Harvard College and Stanford University, where he received his Ph.D. in Musicology in 1994. At Cornell he continues to pursue his interests in the performance, literature and history of northern European music among other activities. His musicological work investigates literary, social, and theological contexts for music and music making, and he has written on topics ranging from music and death, to alchemy and counterpoint, musical invention and imagination, and musical  representations of public spaces in film. His first book, Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint (Cambridge, 2002) explodes long-held notions about the status of counterpoint in the mid-eighteenth century, and illuminates unexpected areas of the musical culture into which Bach’s most obsessive and complicated musical creations were released. More recently, his Bach’s Feet: the Organ Pedals in European Culture (Cambridge, 2012) presents a new interpretation of the significance of the oldest and richest of European instruments—the organ—by investigating the German origins of the uniquely independent use of the feet in music-making. Delving into a range of musical, literary, and visual sources, Bach’s Feet pursues the wide-ranging cultural importance of this physically demanding art, from the blind German organists of the 15th century, through the central contribution of Bach’s music and legacy, to the newly-pedaling organists of the British Empire, and the sinister visions of Nazi propagandists.

He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Musical Lives of Anna Magdalena Bach, a study of the changing musical contributions and restrictions, performing possibilities and perils that characterized the musical world of the women of the Bach household in the first half 18th century.

David’s musical and musicological interests extend to the Elizabethans, the Italian keyboard traditions of the seventeenth century, Handel’s operas, film music, musical travels, and the intersections between music and politics.

The only musician ever to win all major prizes at the Bruges Early Music Festival competition, David’s recordings of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century organ music are available from Loft Recordings and Musica Omnia.

While his primary interests are in European music culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he has taught courses in music theory, film music, music and travel, and music historiography.

Research Focus

  • German Baroque
  • Music and death
  • Alchemy and counterpoint
  • Imagination
  • Musical invention
  • Elizabethans
  • The Italian keyboard traditions of the seventeenth century
  • Handel's operas
  • The film scores of Bernard Hermann
  • Improvisation from the age of Antonio Cabezon to that of Dexter Gordon


History, literature, and performance of 17th-18th-century music


  • Music

Graduate Fields

  • Music


Selected Articles:

  • "Death Everyday: the Anna Magdalena Bach Book of 1725 and the Art of Dying," in Eighteenth-Century Music (forthcoming 2005).
  • "The Concerto in the Age of J. S. Bach," Cambridge Companion to the Concerto, ed. Simon Keefe. Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2005.
  • "C. P. E. Bach and the Living Traditions of Eighteenth-Century Counterpoint," in C. P. E. Bach Studies, ed. Annette Richards. Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2005.
  • "The Musical Patriots of the Hamburg Opera: Mattheson, Keiser, and Masaniello furioso," in Patriotism, Cosmpolitanism, and National Culture: Public Culture in Hamburg, 1700-2000, ed. Peter Hohendahl. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003.
  • "The Awkward Idiom: Hand-crossing and the European Keyboard Scene around 1730," in Early Music (May 2002).
  • "An Ideal Organ and its Experts Across the Seventeenth Century," in The Organ as a Mirror of its Time, ed. Kerala Snyder. Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • "Alchemy and Canon in an Age of Reason," in Journal of the American Musicological Society (Summer 1998); translated as "Alchemie und Kontrapunkt im 'Zeitalter der Venunft,'" in Antike Weisheit und kulturelle Praxis: Hermetismus als Kulturphänomen in der frühen Neuzeit, ed. Anne-Charlott Trepp and Hartmut Lehmann. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001.
  • "Toward an Allegorical Interpretation of Buxtehude's Funerary Counterpoints," in Music and Letters (January 2000).
  • "Stylus Phantasticus and the New Musical Imagination," in GOArt Research Reports, vol. 1, ed. Sverker Jullander (Göteborg, 2000).
  • "J. S. Bach," in Cambridge Companion to the Organ, ed. Geoffrey Webber and Nicholas Thistlethwaite. Cambridge University Press, 1998.