Mary Breatnach

Honorary Fellow


Having completed a degree in modern languages at University College, Cork, Mary studied the viola at the Royal Academy of Music in London and at the Hochschule für Musik in Detmold, Germany, and opted for a career as a professional musician. An interest in investigating relationships between music and literature gradually led to a decision to bring together my training in both fields and, while a member of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, she completed a PhD, the subject of which was the influence of Mallarmé’s poetic and theoretical work on the musical thinking of Pierre Boulez. In 1993, Mary left the SCO and joined French and Francophone Studies at Edinburgh, first in a part-time capacity and later as a full-time lecturer. She continues when possible to play professionally as a chamber musician and recitalist.


B.A. (N.U.I.), L.R.A.M., PhD. (Edinburgh)

Research summary

  • Relations between literature and music in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
  • Nineteenth-century poetry, especially Mallarmé and Baudelaire
  • Wagner and/in literature; Wagnérisme
  • French art song of the nineteenth century (mélodies)

The focus of Mary's research remains essentially interdisciplinary. She has a particular interest in the work of writers of the nineteenth century who sought consciously, and often explicitly, to emulate musical communication in literature.

Project activity

Mary is currently working on a book entitled Music and Modernity in French Literature from 1860 to 1922:Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Proust in which she aims to trace connections between the three authors’ musical interests, the way they used language in order to convey their experience as listeners and their preoccupation with the concept of modernity in literature.

  • “Soaring Above the Snows of Chimborazo: Beethoven and French Literary Aesthetics” (in Austrian Studies, Volume 13, 2005, 19-36).
  • "Baudelaire, Wagner, Mallarmé: Romantic Aesthetics and the Word-Tone Dichotomy" (in Word and Music Studies 4, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003, 69-83).
  • "Writing About Music: Baudelaire and Tannhäuser in Paris" (in Word and Music Studies 2 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002, 49-63).
  • "From Messiaen to MC Solaar: music in France in the second half of the twentieth century", (with Eric Sterenfeld in Contemporary French Cultural Studies, eds William Kidd and Siân Reynolds, London: Arnold, 2000, 244-256).
  • "Pli selon pli: A Conflation of Theoretical Stances", (in Word and Music Studies 1 Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999, 265-275).
  • Boulez and Mallarmé: A Study in Poetic Influence (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1996)