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Title: Music in Victorian London Collective Nostalgia and the Cultivation of National Tradition
Authors: Beskin, Alison E
Advisors: Morrison, Simon M
Department: Music
Class Year: 2013
Abstract: Is there such a thing as “English” music? Can music inherently adopt, model itself upon, or reflect elements of nationalism or national traditions? In order to explore the origins of England’s native cultural traditions, I have taken London as the focal point of my study. In chapters one and two, I trace music in London from the time of Handel’s arrival in 1710 to the founding of the Philharmonic Society in 1813. This portrait of London’s cultural landscape in the “long” eighteenth century outlines the challenges that the Victorians inherited to creating and disseminating a native musical tradition. In the third and fourth chapters, I explore how the social, political, and economic climate of Victorian Britain shaped the emerging middle class’s cultural experiences in the capital. In particular, I consider how middle class aesthetics and the demand for certain genres of entertainment influenced the rise of Victorian popular music and concurrently fuelled the development of a native language for serious music. The Victorians’ demand for affordable music in the early to mid nineteenth century promoted the rise of popular genres such as oratorio, ballads, and music hall. These genres could be purchased cheaply from music publishers and heard in live performances for prices as low as one shilling, thus giving the middle classes an entryway into London’s musical life for the first time. Popular music often contained vernacular English elements such as folk song, Arcadian imagery, and tonal harmony. By glorifying ancient styles and forms, the popular music of the 1850s and 1860s reflected nostalgia for a bygone era steeped in conventional morality and pre-Industrial pastoralism. Victorian popular music, although based on authentic native forms, portrayed an idealised depiction of the English landscape and reflected problematic cultural historiographies. Even by the mid-nineteenth century, orchestral music was virtually inaccessible to everyone except royal and wealthy patrons. Furthermore, the music that was available was predominantly written and performed by foreigners. The Victorians thus faced a twofold challenge to consolidating a national tradition for serious music. First, London needed affordable institutions for musical performance and education in order to secure music as a nationwide cultural practice. London possessed numerous concert venues, conservatoires, and publishing houses for the affordable performance and dissemination of music by 1860. The second obstacle, constructing a serious musical language from authentic native traditions, would prove more difficult. In the 1880s, academic professors and composers at the Royal College of Music began to experiment with weaving native elements into orchestral forms. The desire by composers such as Hubert Parry, Vaughan Williams, and Edward Elgar to create a quintessentially English style could be described as an ideology of cultural nationalism. The search for a national identity for English music was concurrent with sentiments of political nationalism in the late Victorian era as Britain confronted challenges from international economic competitors. The English Musical Renaissance represented efforts to free serious English music from foreign domination as well as to construct an English musical style for posterity. When composers of the English Musical Renaissance began to search for vernacular elements to use in serious music, they turned to the same native forms that had been glorified in popular music for the past several decades. The orchestral music that emerged from the Renaissance was thus predominantly tuneful and emphasised folk song, ancient church melodies, and Arcadian imagery. The lasting legacy of the English Musical Renaissance was the creation of a serious musical tradition for London, but one that was based on nostalgia for selectively remembered narratives and that was problematised by the propagation of a collective cultural history that never truly existed.
Extent: 143 pages
Access Restrictions: Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Music, 1948-2016

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