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  • Music and Society in Cork 1700–1900 by Susan O'Regan
  • Frances Wilkins
Music and Society in Cork 1700–1900. By Susan O'Regan. Cork: Cork University Press, 2018. [viii, 363 p. ISBN 9781782052203 (hardback), €39.] Illustrations, bibliography, index.

Susan O'Regan has a long association with the city of Cork. As a graduate from University College Cork and currently a lecturer of music history at the [End Page 443] Cork School of Music, she has been researching the city's musical history for many years. This is clearly evident in Music and Society in Cork 1700–1900 and makes her highly qualified to have carried out such a study of music in the city, Ireland's second largest population center after Dublin, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The book is beautifully presented with an eye-catching cover and peppered with relevant illustrations, including inspiring images to start each chapter, showing a nice attention to detail. As an ethnomusicologist, I immediately made the association between this book and Ruth Finnegan's The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), an ethnographic study of contemporary music making across social, cultural, and economic groupings in Miton Keynes.

While Finnegan explores primarily amateur music making, firsthand and at a specific point of time in the mid-1980s, O'Regan is concerned mostly with the professional performance culture of the city (in particular theater, opera, concerts, and church settings) over two centuries and through the study of historic documents (in particular newspapers, but also memoirs, travel writing, church records, and contemporary journals). This book is a testament to the sheer volume of information that can be gleaned from these historical accounts, which as a result enables readers to build a very interesting picture of a musical culture of the past. O'Regan gives a real sense of the repertoires, instrumentations, main figures, and musical institutions across the spectrum of venues for music performance.

Following a brief introduction, the first chapter, "Ireland's Second City," provides a good introductory description of the city and what was happening in its economic, political, cultural, and religious environment. O'Regan gives a detailed account of musical life during this time in Cork: the classical music being performed, as well as information on music shops and their wares, classes, instruments, and the process of commercialization and commodification of music. She also mentions music education among the urban middle/upper classes in the city, touches on dancing masters, and discusses the Irish harp and the attempts to recover the last remnants of the tradition. Using purely historic sources is bound to have its limitations; for this study, these limitations are situated in what was considered worthy of reporting in print—the formal events rather than the everyday musical gatherings in the home and other venues where ordinarily people gathered together to sing or play music. The book to a large extent concerns the upper classes—those who were involved in operatic, concert, and theatrical performances at dedicated venues, that section of society considered noteworthy at the time. The traditional everyday music making among the lower classes, for which Ireland is famous and has built a worldwide reputation in the present day, is almost totally absent, and while there is some mention of Ireland's national or "indigenous" music, this is within a formal context of concert presentations and published manuscripts. One instance of musicians performing without the aid of music manuscripts was considered unusual and noteworthy: the Turolese Rainer Family, a folk band, was "reputedly singing by ear" (p. 143). As we know, however, traditional music making would have been largely learned and performed without the use of written scores.

In addition to listing, often in encyclopedic fashion, the various performances that took place, O'Regan centers some interesting and more detailed parts of the book on certain performers from the city. These illustrate how the [End Page 444] increased connection with England via the establishment of the St. George Steam Packet Company in Cork in 1823 encouraged these performers to pursue their careers in London, Bath, and other cities. Some of Cork's most prominent musicians who grasped the opportunities...