Prof Karen Desmond



Logic House


Karen Desmond is Professor of Music at Maynooth University. She works on the manuscripts and notation of French and English polyphony in the later Middle Ages. Her research as a historical and digital musicologist delves into the aesthetics, theories, and technologies that underpinned medieval music-making. She is currently the Principal Investigator for a five-year ERC-funded project titled BROKENSONG (2023-8) that examines polyphonic singing and written culture in late medieval Britain and Ireland. Her most recent journal article, published in the Journal of the American Musicological Society (‘W. de Wicumbe’s Rolls and Singing the Alleluya ca. 1250’), examines this repertoire and the connections and crossover between the plainchant Alleluya prosula, insular liturgical polyphony, and the motet.


Several of Desmond's publications explore the expansion of fourteenth-century music notation systems during a period known as the ars nova. Desmond's monograph on the ars nova, titled Music and the Moderni, 1300-1350: The Ars nova in Theory and Practice, won the 2019 Lewis Lockwood Award from the American Musicological Society, and was a finalist for the 2019 Wallace Berry Award from the Society for Music Theory. This book's research and writing was supported by an NEH Research Fellowship (2014) and an SSHRC Banting Fellowship (2014-16). Other book projects include her translation of Lambert’s Ars musica, edited by Christian Meyer (Ashgate, 2015) and The Montpellier Codex: The Final Fascicle, a collection of essays co-edited with Catherine Bradley (The Boydell Press, 2018). Desmond was co-editor for two recent special issue journals: one on the fourteenth-century composer, Philippe de Vitry (in Early Music), and one on the fourteenth-century astronomer and music theorist, Jean des Murs (in Erudition and the Republic of Letters).


Desmond is also a digital musicologist: her music encoding project ‘Measuring Polyphony’ was awarded an NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant for the development of an online mensural music editor (2019-20). She has a wide range of teaching and research experiences at several different international institutions including as Professor of Musicology at Brandeis University (2016-2023), University of Cambridge (Visiting Fellow, Clare Hall and Visiting Scholar, Faculty of Music, Spring 2019), Harvard University (Visiting Assistant Professor, Spring 2018), McGill University (Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, 2014-2016), the University of Cologne (a postdoctoral researcher (2012-2013) on a DFG-funded project led by Prof. Dr. Frank Hentschel at the Institut für Musikwissenschaft), and University College Cork (Lecturer in Musicology, 2011-13). Her Ph.D. in musicology is from New York University (2009), and was supervised by Edward H. Roesner. Desmond served as chair of the American Musicological Society’s Board Committee on Technology from 2019-2022, and currently sits on the editorial boards of the Journal of Musicology and Early Music.