Why was 'The Harmonicon' so important?

'The Life and Death of The Harmonicon: An Analysis', Royal Musical Association Chronicle 22 (1989), 137-63

The Harmonicon was a monthly music magazine published in London in the 1820s. It became one of the most celebrated music journals of Europe in the 19th century. Containing equal parts of printed music and writing about music, it boasted a huge range of content, from music history, biography and ethnography to news and reviews of both printed music and music performances in London and abroad. Modern scholars have attributed considerable weight to its critical voice.

If the title was so successful, though, why did it cease after 11 years?

This research uncovers the Harmonicon's commercial background and publishing history, showing how and why its entrepreneurial owners, far from enjoying financial success, had to prop up the journal's survival. They were pioneering an innovative - expensive - product in a notoriously difficult reading market, new and undeveloped. Looking at the Harmonicon's continued existence and its specialist successors opens up a larger sphere of cultural activity around music than either the journal's critiques or its printed music alone would suggest.

'a really splendid piece of work ... beautifully researched, and beautifully written'

Ruth Richardson, fellow of the Royal Historical Society

Combining analysis of original ledgers from the publisher (Longman) and printer (Clowes), the article shows how the high cost of music printing, combined with an uncertain body of regular purchasers, led to successive design changes and finally to the demise of the title.

This work grew out of my doctoral research in 1983, and links up with my more recent work on the early Philharmonic Society of London (founded 1813), including its ambitions to improve music printing, educate the public, and develop income streams for professional composers and music teachers.

The full article is available here.

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