- Music and Academia in Victorian Britain by Rosemary Golding, and: Music & the British Military in the Long Nineteenth Century by Trevor Herbert and Helen Barlow, and: Music and Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Britain ed. by Paul Rodmell
The topic of music and institutions, which drives these three books, also raises a methodological question particularly relevant to this review: how does musical scholarship sit within the institution of Victorian studies? Music as a field often tends to direct its attention elsewhere in the nineteenth century; hence England’s undeserved reputation as “the land without music.” Interdisciplinary work from those without music backgrounds can prove a challenge, due to the extent of necessary specialized knowledge and vocabulary. Of course, there is a wealth of material for study in Victorian music, demonstrated in part through Ashgate’s “Music in 19th-Century Britain” series, to which two of these volumes belong. Still, all of these books face the challenge of bridging the audiences of musicology and Victorian studies.
Trevor Herbert and Helen Barlow’s Music & the British Military in the Long Nineteenth Century faces a particular challenge in that in its eponymous subjects it has two sets of specialized terminology. Thickly described and meticulously researched, this book works hard to bring its readers up to speed, especially in the first few chapters, which are encyclopedic in the best sense. More general scholars of Victorian studies may find the later chapters more rewarding, as they contain more cultural analysis of the military band’s role, both within the military and in relation to the broader public. The discussion of pitch, for instance, is fascinating, detailing the practical, institutional, and ideological factors that went into first establishing a standard military pitch at A = 452.4 Hz, then bringing it down to the now-recognized A = 440 Hz, almost a semitone lower. And this comprises only a several-page section of this densely packed book.
One quibble mainstream Victorian studies scholars may have with Herbert and Barlow’s work is their tendency to err toward reading texts with the grain. In other words, they do not explicitly question some of the essential assumptions behind military ideology—and music’s role in it. In a moving section of the introduction, they remind us that military musicians faced death as a necessary part of their job. Yet their invocation of “the killing fields of Zululand” does not account for the effect of the military on the indigenous people of the Empire (7). Their chapter on Empire, which closes the book, is emphatically from the perspective of the colonizers, arguing that “the musicians of the military played an important part in conveying the sense of cultural security that made colonialism agreeable to many civilians” (240). True, they mention the use of music in “the displacement of a group of aborigines,” but with far less detail and pathos than they use for disciplinary practices within the military, such as “drumming out” of a regiment—which is one of the book’s most fascinating sections (252, 223).
Perhaps the authors think a critical reading is too obvious and unnuanced, as they suggest in relation to a Marxist reading of military music and ceremony as cultural indoctrination: “the primary effect of military music,” they insist, “especially in the nineteenth century, was to enlighten and above all to create musical opportunities in civilian life for a class that was otherwise disenfranchised from it” (13). Couldn’t it rather be said that military music had the effects it did on social mobility because of the weight of dominant ideology behind it? Indeed, in their treatment of the Kneller Hall project, the most extensive military musical training program, Herbert and Barlow...