Provincial listening

Parallel session A3 (Chair: Fiona Richards)
24 Oct 2015
15:10 - 16:10
Recital Hall

Provincial listening

The impact of London musical cultures on listeners in the provinces c.1750-1850

Prof David Rowland, The Open University

In the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries much of the cultural life of the Great Britain was centred on London. A significant proportion of the population lived in the capital, which for most of the period housed the major musical venues – particularly opera houses and concert venues. The vast majority of music publishers also based their businesses in the English capital. Visiting musicians from the continent usually headed for London where good earnings could be made, and some of them settled there for significant periods of time. Elsewhere, the picture was mixed. A few places such as Bath, Edinburgh and Dublin boasted genuinely cosmopolitan musical lives and from time to time hosted the most influential musicians of the day, but most towns and cities could only support a relatively low level of musical activity, which was often of a very poor standard. Aside from those individuals – mostly aristocrats – who spent several months a year in the English capital, provincial listeners were only able hear London-based musicians during the summer and early autumn, at festivals or other special events, as and when they existed. In the nineteenth century London remained dominant, but with the rapid growth of industrial cities further north there were more opportunities for audiences to hear music in the provinces. Festivals grew in importance and year-round, country-wide concert tours enabled audiences to hear internationally-renowned musicians. The middle of the nineteenth century saw some movement towards cheaper concert tickets, enabling a broader cross-section of the population to hear music.

How did provincial listeners respond when they heard musicians from London, or from further afield? How did the performances of these visiting musicians compare with the experience of listening to local performers? What do we learn from provincial listeners about the standard of performances that they heard? These questions will be addressed through contemporary accounts of provincial listeners that are typically found in diaries and correspondence.

Militias and the musical experience in the distant provinces in the eighteenth/nineteenth centuries

Prof Trevor Herbert, The Open University

This presentation uses data about the listening experience and other sources to discuss:

  • The expanded franchise for listening to concerted instrumental ensemble music in Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
  • The reasons why this expansion occurred and the impact it had on the infrastructure of professional and amateur music-making.
  • The sonic effect of this music on people distant from traditional centres of music-making.

Interest in British provincial music-making in this period has traditionally focused on the private music of the aristocracy and gentry and the musical events that accompanied occasions such as races and assizes. However, a systematic change in the musical infrastructure occurred in the later eighteenth century, caused by the quasi-mandatory requirement for militia bands to be formed across the entire territory of the British Isles. Thus, ‘provincial’ should not be taken to suggest a limited or restricted development, for its geographical scope was extensive, encompassing many remote areas of Britain.

The existence of so many new instrumental groups in places where music of this type had never previously existed raises questions about musical practice, training, the supply of musicians, their musical goods and the effect of this music on listeners.