Musical times

'Musical Times: The Achievement of the Musical Press in Nineteenth-Century England', Jane Stedman Plenary Lecture, Midwest Victorian Studies Association, Annual Conference, University of Missouri, Columbia, 8 April 2016

The Midwest Victorian Studies Association, an American body of scholars interested in 19th-century British history, literature and culture, devoted their annual conference in 2016 to the theme of 'Victorian News: Print Culture and the Periodical Press'. Meeting at the University of Missouri, Columbia, they invited me to lead a seminar and to give their Stedman Plenary Lecture. I chose a focus on music and the press.

'Musical times' in my title flagged two ideas - the well-known monthly of that name launched in 1844 by J. Alfred Novello, which set the benchmark for a music publisher's house journal in England and is still published today, the world's oldest continuously issued music magazine; and the period's whole array of music activity, showing extraordinary social vitality as well as pragmatic interest in making music, not just reading about it, paying for it or listening to it.

After a whistle-stop tour of the historic ways in which music infused the general press while also developing its own discourse through specialist music titles, I offered four case studies. These gave a fair sampling of opinion, journal types and readers, touching opera, choral music, advanced orchestral music and string culture. I used sound examples to illustrate what period readers would have known as the relevant pieces under discussion.

Ultimately in opening a new space for music and its world, the burgeoning 19th-century press, far more than books, created musical writers, cultivated readers and listeners, and helped stimulate social and cultural change well beyond music. Early discussion of women's professional roles, for example, rapprochement between social classes, a widening of educational routes, abolition of the taxes on knowledge, new understandings of national identity and the encouragement of plural, mixed readerships were all facilitated by the musical press in 19th-century England.

'Brilliant!'

Christina Bashford, Associate Prof. of Music, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

'You knocked it out of the park!'

Patrick Leary, founder of Victoria Research Web

'One of the best keynotes I've ever heard'

Walter Arnstein, Emeritus Prof. of History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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