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Department of Music, School of Arts

Professor Richard Widdess

MUSB MA PhD(Cantab) MA(London) FBA


Richard Widdess
Department of Music

Professor of Musicology

School of Arts

Professor of Musicology

SOAS South Asia Institute

Academic Staff, SOAS South Asia Institute

Professor Richard Widdess
Email address:
020 7898 4685
020 7898 4699
SOAS, University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Russell Square: College Buildings
Office No:
Office Hours:
Wednesdays 1-3pm


My formal engagement with the music and culture of South Asia began with an MA in Area Studies (South Asia) at SOAS, where I studied under Rajeshwari Datta for music, Wendy Doniger for history of religion, and John Gray for Sanskrit. I continued with a PhD in historical musicology of South Asia with Laurence Picken of Jesus College, Cambridge. I studied dhrupad singing with Nimai Chand Boral, and among Indian musicologists I have been particularly inspired by Premlata Sharma, N. Ramanathan, Nazir Jairazbhoy and Mukund Lath.

My interests in both teaching and research focus on music as a universal human activity, a non-verbal expressive system communicated primarily through sound. I am interested in understanding how different musical systems work in the contexts in which they are performed, or were performed in the past, and in developing tools for analysing their structure and meaning. I am interested in the cognitive capacities that link music with other domains of human culture such as language, religion, and visual arts. In regional terms my interests focus on South Asia, particularly classical and religious music traditions of northern India and Nepal (see Research). In non-regional courses I teach aspects of transcription and analysis, historical ethnomusicology, organology, cognition and meaning in music etc.


In the field of South Asian music my research began by examining the earliest documentary evidence for the art and theory of melody in India, and for the origins and development of rāga, the most distinctive contribution of Indian culture to music. This project resulted in my book The rāgas of early Indian music: modes, melodies and musical notations (Oxford 1995). A second project was to study the dhrupad genre of North Indian vocal art-music. Collaboration with Ritwik Sanyal of Banaras Hindu University, a leading exponent of the genre, resulted in a joint book, Dhrupad: tradition and performance in Indian music (Ashgate 2004), examining the characteristics of the genre, its history, ideology, revival, performers, performance and structure.

A third area of interest since 1988 has been the music of the Newar ethnic group in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, which I have been able to observe with the collaboration of Gert-Matthias Wegner, Carol Tingey, and local scholars and musicians. I have published articles on Buddhist ritual song, 17th-century rāgamālā paintings, and the Ghẽtā̃giśi stick-dance, and a third monograph, Dapha: Sacred singing in a South Asian city (Ashgate 2013). In this book I address issues including the meanings of Newar music in its social and ritual context, the historical background to devotional singing in Bhaktapur, musical structure, and cognitive aspects of musical performance.

Cutting across these areas of research is a preoccupation with the analysis of performance, either with or without the involvement of the performer in the analysis. I have published analyses of performances by the singer Ritwik Sanyal, the sarodist Wajahat Khan and the sitarist Budhaditya Mukherjee. I am interested in the application of ideas from music cognition and linguistics to the analysis of musical structure and performance; I am currently collaborating with Martin Rohrmeier (Technical University, Dresden) on studies of implicit learning and recursion in Indian classical music, and participating in a neuroscience project in implicit learning at Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

PhD theses completed under my supervision include those of Carol Tingey (pancai bājā music of Nepal), Martin Clayton (rhythm in Indian music), Anna Morcom (Hindi film songs and the cinema), Nicolas Magriel (sarangi style in North Indian art music), Katherine Brown [now Schofield]  (Hindustani music in the time of Aurangzeb), Raiomond Mirza (musical structures in Zoroastrian prayer performance), Dean Morris (transmission and performance in the Gwalior gharānā), Nicoletta Demetriou (ideology and practice in Greek-Cypriot folk music), David Kane (music and Islamisation in Bengal), Jyotsna LaTrobe (devotional singing in Rarh) and Chloe Alaghband-Zadeh (analysing the ṭhumrī style of North Indian vocal music). Current research students include Morgan Davies, Rasika Ajotikar and Christian Poske.

I directed the Leverhulme Trust project Musical Traditions of Northern India and Nepal, with Carol Tingey and Gert-Matthias Wegner (1990–94); and the AHRC-funded project The Khyāl Song Repertoire of North Indian Art Music, with N. Magriel and L. du Perron (2002–06). I hold an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership with the British Library. I received the 2006 Music Forum, Mumbai award for Contributions to the Cause of Indian Music by Non-Indian Personality, and was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2015.

I am interested in supervising PhD dissertations on the history, theory and practice of South Asian music, and on analysis and cognition of world music.


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Available for
  • Radio
  • Special Study Programmes
  • Short Term Consultancy
Regional Expertise
  • South Asia
Country Expertise
  • India
  • Nepal
  • Hindi
  • Sanskrit


Authored Books

Widdess, Richard (2013) Dāphā: Sacred singing in a South Asian city. Music, performance and meaning in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Ashgate. (SOAS Musicology Series)

Widdess, Richard and Sanyal, R. (2004) Dhrupad. Tradition and Performance in Indian Music. Ashgate.

Widdess, Richard (1995) The Ragas of Early Indian Music. Clarendon Press (OUP).

Book Chapters

Widdess, Richard (2015) 'North India.' In: Church, Michael, (ed.), The other classical musics: fifteen great traditions. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, pp. 139-159. (Forthcoming)

Widdess, Richard (2015) 'Text, Orality, and Performance in Newar Devotional Music.' In: Orsini, Francesca and Schofield, Katherine, (eds.), Tellings and Texts: Music, Literature and Performance in North India. Open Book Publishers.

Widdess, Richard (2013) 'Schemas and improvisation in Indian music.' In: Kempson, Ruth and Howes, Christine and Orwin, Martin, (eds.), Language, Music and Interaction. London: College Publications, pp. 197-209.

Widdess, Richard (2011) 'Dynamics of melodic discourse in Indian music: Budhaditya Mukherjee’s ālāp in rāg Pūriyā-Kalyān.' In: Tenzer, Michael and Roeder, John, (eds.), Analytical and cross-cultural studies in world music. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 187-224.

Widdess, Richard (2010) 'Laurence Ernest Rowland Picken 1909-2007.' In: Johnston, Ron, (ed.), Proceedings of the British Academy, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows, IX. Oxford University Press, pp. 226-255.

Widdess, Richard and Wegner, Gert-Matthias (2005) 'Musical miniatures from Nepal: two Newar ragamalas.' In: Pal, Pratapaditya, (ed.), Nepal: Old Images, New Insights. Bombay: Marg Publications, pp. 81-91.

Widdess, Richard (2001) 'Kirtana [and] Thumri [and] Dhrupad [and] Tala [and] Raga [and] Sruti [and] Sangita [and] Rasa [and] Gharana [and] Gat [and] Alapa [and] Kriti [and] Khayal.' In: Sadie, S. and Tyrell, J., (eds.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd edition. Macmillan.

Widdess, Richard (2001) 'India, III: Theory and practice of classical music.' In: Sadie, S. and Tyrell, J., (eds.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd edition. Macmillan, pp. 170-210.

Widdess, Richard and Wegner, G-M (2001) 'Nepal, Kingdom of, I. Music in the Kathmandu Valley.' In: Sadie, S. and Tyrell, J., (eds.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd edition. Macmillan, pp. 757-760.

Widdess, Richard and Duran, L. (2001) 'Picken, Laurence.' In: Sadie, S. and Tyrell, J., (eds.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd edition. Macmillan, pp. 718-719.

Widdess, Richard and Ruckert, G. (2000) 'Hindustani raga.' In: Arnold, A., (ed.), The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Vol. 5: South Asia, the Indian subcontinent. Garland Publishing Inc., pp. 64-88.


Rohrmeier, Martin and Widdess, Richard (2016) 'Incidental Learning of Melodic Structure of North Indian Music.' Cognitive Science . (Forthcoming)

Widdess, Richard (2014) 'Orality, writing and music in South Asia.' Musicology Today, 19 .

Widdess, Richard (2012) 'Music, meaning and culture.' Empirical Musicology Review, 7 (1–2).

Widdess, Richard (2011) 'Implicit Rāga Knowledge in the Kathmandu Valley.' Analytical Approaches to World Music, 1 (1).

Widdess, Richard (2011) 'Dāphā: dancing gods, virtual pilgrimage and sacred singing in Bhaktapur, Nepal.' Musike, 5/6 . pp. 55-79.

Widdess, Richard (2006) 'Musical Structure, Performance and Meaning: the Case of a Stick-Dance from Nepal.' Ethnomusicology Forum, 15 (2). pp. 179-213.

Nooshin, L. and Widdess, Richard (2006) 'Improvisation in Iranian and Indian music.' Journal of the Indian Musicological Society, 36–37 . pp. 104-119.

Widdess, Richard and Wegner, Gert-Matthias (2004) 'Musical Miniatures from Nepal: Two Newar Ragamalas.' Marg. A Magazine of the Arts, 56 (2). pp. 28-39.

Widdess, Richard (2004) 'Caryā and Cacā: Change and Continuity in Newar Buddhist Ritual Song.' Asian Music, 35 (2). pp. 7-41.

Widdess, Richard (2003) 'Time, space and music in the Kathmandu Valley.' International Institute for Asian Studies Newsletter . p. 32.

Widdess, Richard (1994) 'Involving the performer in transcription and analysis.' Ethnomusicology, 38 (1). pp. 59-80.

Basra, Khalid and Widdess, Richard (1989) 'Dhrupad in Pakistan: the Talwandi gharana.' Dhrupad Annual, 4 . pp. 1-10.


Widdess, Richard (2006) 'Rāga.' London: Centre of South Asian Studies, SOAS.

Khan, Wajahat and Widdess, Richard (2006) 'Wajahat Khan plays Rageshri.' Navras Records.

This list was generated on Sat Nov 28 00:35:25 2015 GMT.