Mary O’Neill University of Birmingham

Mary O’Neill University of Birmingham

University of Birmingham crest

Dr Mary O’Neill BA, BMus, MA; PhD (Cantab)

Department of Music

Contact details

Bramall Music Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

To work in a subject about which one is passionate is special, but to have the opportunity to design the ideal working environment, is a rare privilege indeed. This has been precisely my experience at The University of Birmingham, having sat down with the architects at the design stage of Birmingham’s stunning new Bramall Music Building, and been asked to assist in the design of what the ideal facilities and needs would be for a world-leading early music centre. I look forward to working with colleagues and students in our state-of-the-art facilities that will enable us to pursue new directions in our mission for bringing together excellence in research with excellence in performance at all levels.


I teach postgraduate courses on medieval music, baroque music and performance practice. My undergraduate teaching in Music covers a range of topics: historical, analytical, technical and performance-based. Current or recent courses have included: Number and Proportion (in medieval and contemporary music); Words and Music (case studies across all periods); Songs and Sagas; Baroque Performance Practice; and Early Small Ensemble.


A major focus of my research to date has been medieval music, and I am writing a series of monographs on medieval song traditions (women’s songs, dance songs etc). My book on Courtly Love Songs in Medieval France, published by Oxford University Press (OUP), has received widespread critical acclaim. A longer term project is a large study of songs associated with the Cult of Mary.

Other areas of research include performance practice in a range of repertoires from the Middle Ages to the late eighteenth century; Renaissance keywords; the music of Frescobaldi; the interaction between oral and written traditions; Iberian music of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque; and the relationship between music, image and text.

I have recently also been involved in an international European Science Foundation project on the cognition of early polyphony.

Other activities

Leadership and Management

At Birmingham I co-founded the Centre for Early Music Performance & Research (CEMPR) and have been its Director since 2004. CEMPR is a unique centre among higher education institutions in the UK and has few competitors globally. It brings together traditional, applied, and practice-based research in music pre 1800 in an integrated community of academic staff, students, and the professional world of early music performance.  Some of the world’s leading early music performers now teach at CEMPR.

I have also built up the resource of ‘period instruments’ from a handful of instruments to a working collection of over 100 instruments made by the best makers in the world. Phase 1 of the development of CEMPR involved introducing and integrating professional-level early music to performance and academic courses in the undergraduate syllabus. Phase 2 involved introducing innovative postgraduate programmes, including the first PhD in performance practice to be offered in a UK university. Four new early music pathways in Early Music will be launched in the autumn of 2012 for entry in 2013.

Building on the unique infrastructure of early music activities at UG and PG level, CEMPR is now in Phase 3 of its development i.e. innovative early music projects involving practice-led research and research-led practice. Already CEMPR staff and projects have attracted substantial grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and other bodies.

In addition to my role as Director of CEMPR, I have served in various roles at School level, including Head of Academic Programmes, and Deputy Head of the School of Humanities (made up of the departments of  Italian, French, German, Hispanic Studies, Drama and Theatre Arts, English, and Music).


From its inception to its successful conclusion, I worked very closely with the development office (DARO) in the University campaign to raise funds for the new Bramall Music Building, which has its official opening in November 2012.

External activities

As an artistic director of the Birmingham Early Music Festival, I have been responsible for devising many original early music programmes, and for the UK debut of several artists from mainland Europe and the U.S.