Wellesley Alumna Receives American Musicological Society Honor

December 9, 2013

Brigid Cohen ’00 Wins the 2013 Lewis Lockwood Prize

Brigid Cohen portrait outdoors

Brigid Cohen ’00 has been recognized by the American Musicological Society with the 2013 Lewis Lockwood Prize for best book by an emerging scholar. Cohen, an assistant professor at New York University, received the award for her first book, Stefan Wolpe and the Avant-Garde Diaspora (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Cohen's interest in the work of Wolpe, a 20th-century German-Jewish composer, and her desire to become a musicologist, began during her time at Wellesley. Cohen arrived on campus as a first year intending to study international relations and pursue a law degree. Unexpectedly, “my music classes came to attract me more than any others,” she said. “I was drawn to the challenge of communicating about musical experiences and perceptions, because they are so deeply personalized, changeable, and difficult to grasp.”

Her growing interest in music was supported by a community of invested faculty and passionate peers. Phyllis Henderson Carey Professor of Music Charles Fisk and Catherine Mills Davis Professor of Music Martin Brody mentored Cohen throughout her Wellesley career. In fact, Cohen first discovered the music of Stefan Wolpe in an interdisciplinary, art history-music course taught by Brody and Theodora L. and Stanley H. Feldberg Professor of Art Patricia Berman. Titled “Cold War Modern” and taught in conjunction with an inventive exhibit at the Davis Museum, the course delved into the relationship between avant-garde art and mass consumption during the Cold War period.

"Wolpe's music showed a peculiar combination of kinetic, speech-like, and fragmentary qualities—all of which lent it a kind of enigmatic aura,” Cohen said. “I hadn’t heard anything like it and was transfixed.”

Cohen pursued her love of music inside and outside the classroom, performing with the Chamber Music Society, organizing concerts with likeminded music majors, and writing her senior thesis on modern composers Milton Babbitt and Pierre Boulez. "It was a very rich relationship for all four years of her undergraduate years," said Brody.

After Wellesley, Cohen won a Susan Rappaport Knafel ’52 Fellowship for Foreign Study and earned her master's in musicology from King’s College London. She then returned to Boston to complete her Ph.D. in musicology at Harvard, where she focused her work on Wolpe. "I eventually came to envision the book as an alternative history of aesthetic modernism focusing on questions of forced migration, interdisciplinary community life, and self-narrative responses to historical trauma." Throughout the writing of her dissertation, she continued to have many conversations with Brody, who also served on her dissertation committee.

Now at New York University, Cohen teaches music and mentors the next generation of budding musicologists. She is working on her next book, Musical Migration and the Global City: New York, 1947-1965, supported by a recently awarded fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"I couldn't be more proud of how she has developed as a scholar," said Brody.


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