Back to top

Enlightenment Studies Programme - Michaelmas Term 2020 

Friday, 9 October, 2020

Enlightenment Studies Programme 

Michaelmas Term 2020

In these unusual and difficult times, we are glad to offer you an online programme that covers eighteenth-century music, philosophy, letter-writing, and revolutionary action. As you can see in the programme below (which you can also download here as a pdf), several events are part of the Oxford Lieder Festival; they are produced in collaboration with our friends and colleagues at TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities. Please find the full (online) programme of the Oxford Lieder Festival (9-17 October) here


Monday 12 October (week 1), 15:00:

Mendelssohn and the Jewish Enlightenment 

Talk & recital, part of Oxford Lieder Festival 

Get your ticket here

Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries house one of two major collections of Felix Mendelssohn’s manuscripts, the other being in Berlin. Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music at the Bodleian, shows us some of these important scores, letters, and paintings, and tells the story of how they ended up in Oxford. Within the Oxford Lieder Festival’s exploration of the Enlightenment, TORCH Director Philip Bullock is joined by Avi Lifschitz, historian of 18th-century Europe at Magdalen College, Oxford. They discuss the Jewish Enlightenment in Berlin and ask to what extent it influenced Felix, grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Throughout the event, we hear some of Mendelssohn’s songs performed by two exceptional young musicians from the Royal Academy of Music. 


Tuesday 13 October (week 1), 15:00:

The songs of Voltaire and J.-J. Rousseau 

Talk & recital, part of Oxford Lieder Festival 

Get your ticket here

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was not only a philosopher but also both a poet. Rousseau was also a well-known composer in his own day (Beethoven arranged an aria from his opera Le Devin du village) and wrote many songs. These were collected in a volume compiled in 1781, three years after his death, in a collection entitled Les consolations des misères de ma vie. This is a rare opportunity to hear some of his own songs. Voltaire appears in song primarily via a translation into Russian of his poem ‘À Madame la Princesse Ulrique de Prusse’ by Pushkin. We hear four settings of this poem by Cui, Glazunov, Arensky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Nicholas Cronk, Director of the Voltaire Foundation, introduces the little-known songs of these famous Enlightenment authors. 


Thursday 15 October (week 1), 17:00:

Launch of Elizabeth Montagu Correspondence Online (EMCO) 

Register for a free ticket here

EMCO aims to publish a digital edition of all known letters written by Elizabeth Montagu, the celebrated eighteenth-century salonnière, business woman, philanthropist and woman of letters, together with detailed scholarly notes and other valuable ancillary information, in a free access website. For the first time, letters held in a variety of repositories in different countries are brought together in a form that will enable them to be read and searched by any person in the world who has access to a computer. The launch event will introduce the website and the editorial team, explain the work plan, and raise a (virtual) glass to Elizabeth Montagu. (


Saturday 17 October (week 1), 11:00: 

Beethoven and the Enlightenment 

Talk & recital, part of Oxford Lieder Festival 

Get your ticket here

This year marks the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. Although often denigrated as a song composer, who had no natural affinity for writing for the voice, Beethoven was a pioneer in song as he was in every other genre he turned his hand to. This event is led by Laura Tunbridge, author of the recent book Beethoven: A Life in Nine Pieces. In asking to what extent Beethoven can be perceived as an Enlightenment figure, she is joined by Ritchie Robertson, Schwarz-Taylor Professor of German Language and Literature at Oxford, who provides a rich cultural context, and Joanna Raisbeck, Lecturer in German at Wadham College, who introduces some of the poets Beethoven chose to set. 


Thursday 5 November (week 4), 17:00:

Anniversary discussion of D’Holbach’s Système de la nature 

Register for a free ticket here

2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the publication of one of the most important texts of the French Enlightenment: Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach’s Système de la nature. This text articulates a thoroughgoing atheistic, materialistic, and deterministic philosophy and argues that belief in God and revealed religion was the cause of unnecessary human suffering. D’Holbach’s book immediately caused a sensation across Europe, with dozens of refutations published within a few months, and it saw a surge in popularity in the years leading to the French Revolution. 

To mark this anniversary, The Voltaire Foundation invites you to an interview with Professor Alan Charles Kors, author of well-known publications on d’Holbach and early modern atheism and Epicureanism. See also our new, fully searchable database of d’Holbach’s works: Tout d'Holbach, in collaboration with ARTFL at the University of Chicago.


Thursday 19 November (week 6), 17:00:

The annual Besterman Lecture of the Voltaire Foundation 

Professor William Doyle, ‘Who were the French Revolutionaries?’ 

Further information and an access link will soon be available on the websites of the Voltaire Foundation ( and TORCH (