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  • Music and Academia in Victorian Britain by Rosemary Golding
  • Jeremy Dibble (bio)
Music and Academia in Victorian Britain by Rosemary Golding; pp. 259. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013. $143.36 cloth.

A focus on the formation of musical education in Britain’s nineteenth-century universities has long been required within the growing number of scholarly monographs on Victorian music. Music’s place within Victorian academia tells us much about how significant (or insignificant) it was to the intelligentsia of the age, which was responsible for its shape and content, at whom it was aimed, and how it informed British musical and cultural life. Golding’s study attempts to draw out the central issues and dilemmas of what music stood for within the academic environments of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, and London. She also explores how the discipline was frequently undermined by debates on the difficulties of academic status and professorial non-residence; appointments of professors (as opposed to composers); the purpose and execution of formal lectures; the quandary between practical skills such as composition and performance and the more theoretical elements, such as harmony, counterpoint, history, and acoustics; and, ipso facto, the nature of the degrees for which students supplicated. Moreover, was the music degree aimed at professionals, amateurs, or scientists? Edinburgh University’s checkered history between 1837 and 1865 (which entailed the interpretation of the generous General John Reid bequest of £73,876 18s. 3d. for musical studies) highlights many of these inherent problems. Two short-lived appointments between 1842 and 1844, of Henry Bishop and Hugo Pearson, both able professional musicians and composers but with no real commitment to their academic offices, were followed by that of the “local” (and thereby resident) Glaswegian, John Donaldson, a nonprofessional with a genuine scientific interest in organology, history, and acoustics, who at least succeeded in establishing a course, even if the public demanded concerts and musical patronage.

Oxford University’s relationship with music, while longstanding, had ossified over centuries, and the duties of a disinterested, non-resident professor were nominal, as was the means of obtaining a degree through the submission of an “exercise” (a composition based on a stipulated technical rubric). Furthermore, the close co-operation of university and established church was accentuated by the degree’s recipients—essentially cathedral organists of “gentlemanly” standing. Golding’s research helpfully outlines the debate instigated by Peter Maurice’s letter to the university’s vice-chancellor, What Shall We Do With Music?, which emphasized the fundamental problem of music’s second-class status in Oxford caused by professorial non-residence and a lack of student participation. Maurice suggested that music should be included as part of a general education rather than treated as a distinct discipline. Frederick Ouseley’s arrival as Heather Professor of Music in 1855, was, as Golding rightly asserts, groundbreaking. As a baronet, [End Page 198] his supplication for the degrees of BMus and DMus (considered socially demeaning among his peers) immediately lifted the status of music by his own example. Though Ouseley was a capable musicologist (as witness his unpublished Oxford lectures and musical association papers), his main preoccupations were organizing music teaching, the music professorship, and the formulation of written papers in addition to the exercise (and its public performance), while, at the same time, he cleaved regressively to the aesthetic principles of his predecessor, William Crotch. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the ecclesiastical conditions that circumscribed them, his reforms indicated a wish to elevate music’s academic status, a task that was carried out by Ouseley’s protege, John Stainer, whose mission was to make the degrees more accessible to a wider spectrum of supplicants.

The situation at Cambridge University was much the same as at Oxford, and the main recipients of the degrees, as Golding emphasizes, were cathedral organists. Thomas Attwood Walmisley cherished hopes that music’s popularity in the 1840s would engender a new beginning for the subject’s study, but his premature death (helped by alcohol) caused the baton to pass to William Sterndale Bennett. Such was Bennett’s European reputation that he was appointed in spite of the university’s desire for residence and his non-organist status. Moreover, Bennett, as a well-established composer of concert...


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