Pioneering Spirit: Maud MacCarthy - Music, Mysticism and Modernity

Rachel Cowgill (Editor), Sarah Turner (Editor), Christopher Scheer (Editor), James Mansell (Editor)

Research output: Non-textual formExhibition


This exhibition (running 7 February - 9 May 2014 at the J.B. Morrell Library, University of York, and also online) explores the extraordinary life and career of Maud MacCarthy (1882–1967) and her networks in Britain and India in the first part of the twentieth century. MacCarthy's active life as a professional violinist, writer on music and the visual arts, social campaigner and committed mystic is highlighted through a selection of material from the MacCarthy/Foulds Family Papers archive collection held at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.When the collection arrived at the Borthwick Institute in 2008, few could have imagined the stories it contained: a little girl so enchanting upon the violin that she played before queens and prime ministers; a young woman who, despite her public profile, steadfastly rejected the social, political and religious norms of her day; a tireless artistic innovator in the modernist heyday of artistic experimentation; an intrepid traveller and champion of international co-operation; a devotee of mystical movements following a determined quest for spiritual enlightenment in the modern world. Maud MacCarthy, pioneering spirit that she was, managed to be all of these.But despite the existence of this archive, MacCarthy’s story has gone more or less untold until now. Why? At the end of her life, in the freer atmosphere of the 1960s, the world had almost caught up with MacCarthy. By then, her fascination with Eastern spirituality would barely have raised an eyebrow, her objections to nationalism and imperialism would have been readily understood, and even her commitment to using music as a healing agent, labelled as quackery in the 1930s, had gone mainstream (in the form of music therapy). Indeed, for much of her life, MacCarthy was well ahead of her times. She was one of the first Western scholars and performers of Indian music, for example, and she developed community arts projects in the poorest parts of London before it had occurred to many others to use the arts in this way. This archive of personal documents, photographs, newspaper articles, concert pamphlets and published writings sheds light on the astonishing breadth and depth of Maud MacCarthy’s activities in Britain and India.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationYork
PublisherUniversity of York
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2014

Cite this