Interview with PhD candidate, Melina van Leeuwen

Can you describe your research in a nutshell?
I am currently writing a PhD about the work of Carlos Salzedo (1885-1961). Although he was well-regarded by fellow composers in the new music scene of the United States in the early-mid twentieth century, Salzedo’s compositions have since been neglected by the broader music community, and thus generally have only been of interest to harpists. My research is focused on examining Salzedo’s philosophic writings. I intend to argue that Salzedo’s philosophical approach to music, captured in his umbrella concept of “new harpism”, is coherently embodied in his harp writing after 1917.

What inspired you to research Salzedo?
It actually began in a rather un-inspired way. It occurred to me that although I played his technique, I knew very little about Salzedo. He seemed an obvious choice. It was only when I began researching that I found a philosophical angle to the whole thing and my passion for the project came about.

What has been the most interesting finding for you so far?
As a harpist from the Salzedo school of technique, I was very surprised to discover his essays about his idea of “Music of the Future”- he had some pretty intense ideas. Before I began researching, I had no clue he was so involved with other “ultra-modernists” of his day, and that his interests extended to philosophy.

How do you think your research can be applied by harpists, and musicians more generally?
I would like to think that Salzedo’s philosophical approach to playing the harp would be interesting to all musicians. It is my opinion that scholarly inattention to Salzedo’s compositions has come at a significant cost to harp players, and to the state of harp composition today. For, regardless of opinions from competing technical methods, Salzedo undoubtedly created a highly idiomatic language of composition for the harp, one that any school of harpist or composer can benefit from being exposed to.

What are some of the challenges you’re facing writing your thesis?
My completion date is in two years time. At the moment my main challenge is securing funding for archival research overseas- I need to get access to unpublished correspondence and journals of Salzedo… fingers crossed it all comes off!