The musical press in 19th-century England

'The Musical Press in Nineteenth-Century England', Music Library Association Notes 46 (1990), 583-92. First given at the 21st Annual Conference of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, The Newberry Library, Chicago, 1988; participation supported by a grant from the British Academy

As part of a specially invited music panel on the 1988 conference programme of RSVP, a society devoted to studying the content and significance of 19th-century periodicals, I presented this summary of the musical press. My colleagues D.W. Krummel and James Coover, both music librarians, enlarged the discussion by covering, respectively, Victorian periodicals containing solely printed music and periodicals designed for the music trade. All three talks were published together in Notes, the journal of the Music Library Association in the USA.

My piece surveys distinct forms of press material on music, besides writers and the readerships they cultivated. I advocate careful use of these sources for new information about composers, works, performers, and the spreading appreciation of music among widening social groups, including amateurs and professional musicians. The extent of the market - and the intellectual scope covered in formats from daily general papers to quarterly music titles - shows the important growth and diversification of music as a cultural industry across the UK.

But in such a deep market, I also caution against any assumption that a given music column, writer or critic necessarily influenced every reader's opinions, or otherwise represented a typical or national view. Individual titles, journal publishers and writers still need modern scrutiny, context and tracking against other evidence - performances, sheet music and ticket sales, for example - before conclusions about 'English taste' can be drawn. Nothing was so variable, or so voracious, as English interest in music in the 19th century.

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