De Profundis: Speaking of Music
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Roy Barnett Recital Hall, Music Building (6361 Memorial Road)
$15 Adults | $10 students
Available online at or by phone at 604.822.2697 or in-person at the Chan Centre Ticket Office


In advance of the De Profundis performance, the Library chatted with Dr. Terence Dawson (School of Music) and Dr. Gregory Mackie (Department of English) about the joint collaboration and inspiration behind the event.

Dr. Terence Dawson (School of Music)WITH DR. TERENCE DAWSON

What is inspiring about performing this piece given the context of the Wilde letters?

Dr. Dawson: The inspiration in performing the piece comes from the necessity to immerse oneself in Wilde’s desperate situation. This situation led [Oscar] Wilde to pen the words of his letter to Lord Alfred Douglas. One can only hope that Wilde’s experience of intense sufferings were somewhat eased by his expressions of sorrow, loss, madness and even hopefulness. His physical situation, which was his “plank bed, loathsome food, hard ropes, harsh orders, dreadful dress, silence, solitude and shame…”, he tried to transform into a “spiritual experience” and a “spiritualising of the soul”. Perhaps this alone saved him from insanity. 

How did the collaboration with Dr. Gregory Mackie arise?

I wanted to hear Greg’s opinions as a Wildean scholar who would shed some light on this journey. I read of the UBC Library acquisitions of Wilde manuscripts and it was as though Wilde himself dropped this opportunity right in front of me at the time I was preparing for my first performance of the work in March 2015. The panel discussion was a natural fit, as was the participation of my colleague in the School of Music, David Metzer.

What would you like the audience to walk away with at the conclusion of this performance?

I hope the audience will understand that Rzewski’s expressive music is driven by Wilde’s words. The fusion of the two elements of music and text is much like the pairing of Schubert and Goethe; one cannot imagine a more perfect union. Performing the work is a journey for me as a pianist, and I hope the audience will walk away having felt like they have experienced a kind of journey themselves.

Dr. Gregory Mackie (English)WITH DR. GREGORY MACKIE

How do Oscar Wilde’s letters during his imprisonment shed light into his life as an unconventional playright/author?

Dr. Mackie: De Profundis is actually one long (very long) letter. The title (“out of the depths”) was added by Wilde’s literary executor after the writer’s death. Wilde actually called it “Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis” (Letter from Prison and in Chains). It’s his most autobiographical work, by far, and it’s largely the source of the legend of Wilde as the suffering martyr – a fatally misunderstood champion of art and beauty. It gives us a lot of information about Wilde’s life during the years leading up to his scandalous downfall in the trials of 1895. Wilde wrote it to Lord Alfred Douglas, his sometime lover. Douglas had goaded Wilde into launching the libel suit that ended in spectacular failure with Wilde being imprisoned for “gross indecency”- basically homosexuality.

How much does the letter provide a glimpse of the constraints of Victorian conceptions about homosexuality?

The letter doesn’t have all that much to say, specifically, about Victorian conceptions of homosexuality — it alludes to these things more indirectly, and instead offers up a more universal condemnation of injustice and oppression. It’s a very emotive, philosophical, and expressive piece, because Wilde is trying to make meaning from his abject humiliation and suffering – to extract something from the wreck of his life. The conditions under which it was written are also mind-blowing: Wilde was permitted to write only a certain amount per day over several weeks, and he demonstrates total recall of a great number of literary works, including his own.

Congratulations to the GSS cIRcle Open Scholar Award winners for October 2015!

The Open Scholar Award rewards non-thesis work from UBC Vancouver graduate students twice per year. The most recent winners include Paul Liu, an MSc graduate student from the UBC Department of Computer Science, and Monica L. P. Lytwyn, who completed her MEd in Early Childhood Education at UBC earlier this year.

Liu’s entry, “An exploration of matrix equilibration,” is an article submitted to cIRcle in September. Lytwyn’s entry, “Co-creating a pedagogical support document to support meaningful curriculum and enhanced quality,” is a paper completed for her degree requirements. Both of their items are now publicly available in cIRcle, meaning researchers from around the globe can access it.

Graduate students are encouraged to submit their non-thesis work to cIRcle – this can include essays, papers, presentations (including posters), and video and audio based projects.

The award is a lottery based system, randomly selecting items submitted to cIRcle during the previous 6 month period. Four awards are given per annum, two in April and two in October. cIRcle, launched by the Library in 2007 to showcase and preserve UBC’s research and teaching materials, is ranked as the top repository in Canada. It also is ranked 14th in North America and 44th globally.

The next award submission deadline is March 26, 2016.

For more information about the award, visit the cIRcle website

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