David Yearsley was educated at Harvard College and Stanford University, where he received his Ph.D. in Musicology in 1994. At Cornell he continues to pursue his interests in the performance, literature and history of northern European music among other activities. His musicological work investigates literary, social, and theological contexts for music and music making, and he has written on topics ranging from music and death, to alchemy and counterpoint, musical invention and imagination, and musical representations of public spaces in film. His first book, Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint (Cambridge, 2002) explodes long-held notions about the status of counterpoint in the mid-eighteenth century, and illuminates unexpected areas of the musical culture into which Bach’s most obsessive and complicated musical creations were released. More recently, his Bach’s Feet: the Organ Pedals in European Culture (Cambridge, 2012) presents a new interpretation of the significance of the oldest and richest of European instruments—the organ—by investigating the German origins of the uniquely independent use of the feet in music-making. Delving into a range of musical, literary, and visual sources, Bach’s Feet pursues the wide-ranging cultural importance of this physically demanding art, from the blind German organists of the 15th century, through the central contribution of Bach’s music and legacy, to the newly-pedaling organists of the British Empire, and the sinister visions of Nazi propagandists.
He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Musical Lives of Anna Magdalena Bach, a study of the changing musical contributions and restrictions, performing possibilities and perils that characterized the musical world of the women of the Bach household in the first half 18th century.
David’s musical and musicological interests extend to the Elizabethans, the Italian keyboard traditions of the seventeenth century, Handel’s operas, film music, musical travels, and the intersections between music and politics.
The only musician ever to win all major prizes at the Bruges Early Music Festival competition, David’s recordings of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century organ music are available from Loft Recordings and Musica Omnia.
While his primary interests are in European music culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he has taught courses in music theory, film music, music and travel, and music historiography.