Victorian England: an Age of Expansion

  • Donald Burrows
Part of the Man & Music book series (MAMU)


With the Royal Jubilees of 1887 and 1897 in Britain came the selfconsciousness of a ‘Victorian Age’: prosperous, successful, confident, innovatory and leading the world in many areas of human endeavour. Apart from the continuity provided by the monarch herself, there was some substance to this image, for British society had pursued its own path largely untrammelled by the effects of violent divisions of revolutionary fervour or the fervid attempts to create a unified national consciousness that were characteristic of other major European societies. Such an outcome could hardly have been foreseen in 1848, however, when suffrage and corn laws were still perceived as potentially destabilizing national issues. Many people, including musicians, fled to Britain from the consequences of the 1848 revolutions elsewhere and, as had been the case with the famous French Revolution half a century before, there was little confidence that London would not see a similar turbulence. Even the Great Exhibition of 1851, which symbolizes the prosperity and stability of mid-Victorian society, was darkened by official fears (unrealized in practice) that the gathering of the people might be the excuse for some threatening disturbance. Stability and confidence were achievements, not inborn characteristics, of Victorian Britain, and they were accompanied by realistic recognition of limitations and doubts.


Musical Training Musical Activity Town Hall Symphony Orchestra Musical Profession 
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  1. 5.
    For a more comprehensive list, see The Romantic Age, 1800–1914, ed. N. Temperley, Athlone History of Music in Britain, v (London, 1981), 5.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    For a typical Jullien programme, given in Bradford in 1848, see E. D. Mackerness, A Social History of English Music (London, 1966), 182.Google Scholar
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    quoted in P. M. Young, George Grove, 1820–1900 (London, 1980), 63.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in J. N. Moore, Elgar on Record (London, 1974), 78Google Scholar
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    For a detailed treatment of this subject, see R. Nettel, Music in the Five Towns, 1840–1914 (Oxford, 1944).Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    See A. Jacobs, Arthur Sullivan: a Victorian Musician (Oxford, 1984), 3.Google Scholar

Bibliographical Note General background

  1. Basic modern narrative histories are G. Best’s Mid-Victorian Britain, 1851–1875 (London, 1979),Google Scholar
  2. D. E. D. Beales’s From Castlereagh to Gladstone (London, 1980) andGoogle Scholar
  3. H. Pelling’s Modern Britain (London, 1980).Google Scholar
  4. The two relevant volumes of the Oxford History of England, E. L. Woodward, The Age of Reform, 1815–70 (Oxford, 2/1960), andGoogle Scholar
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  6. are more detailed but nevertheless heavily weighted towards political history. Studies of economic history include R. S. Sayers’s A History of Economic Change in England, 1880–1939 (Oxford, 1967),Google Scholar
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  9. recent ‘social’ histories include F. Bédarida’s A Social History of England, 1851–1975 (London, 1979)Google Scholar
  10. and A. Briggs’s Social History of England (London, 1983). Music and musical culture receive only superficial treatment in the general histories.Google Scholar

The musical world

  1. The need fof a rounded and wide-ranging treatment of music during the period has been filled by The Romantic Age, 1800–1914, ed. N. Temperley, Athlone History of Music in Britain, v (London, 1981).Google Scholar
  2. In addition to covering a broad field of music-making in a series of essays of high quality, this volume provides a wealth of bibliographical references. Though largely superseded by this volume, the relevant sections of two older books, E. Walker, rev. J. Westrup, A History of Music in England (Oxford, 1952), andGoogle Scholar
  3. P. M. Young, A History of British Music (London, 1967), contain interesting insights;Google Scholar
  4. the same is true of the specialist study by F. Howes, The English Musical Renaissance(London, 1966).Google Scholar
  5. Similarly, useful attention can still be given to the relevant section of E. D. Mackerness, A Social History of English Music (London, 1966).Google Scholar
  6. Music as a ‘popular’ cultural activity is the subject of a careful survey in D. Russell, Popular Music in England, 1880–1914 (Manchester, 1984): this book gives impressive coverage of such areas as musical education, brass bands, choral societies and the extent to which music (of various sorts) penetrated ‘the masses’, supported by good statistical and analytical material.Google Scholar
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  8. On specific topics first recourse can be taken to individual articles in Grove 6; in addition to biographical entries, those dealing with music in leading cities and such general topics as tonic sol-fa education contain a wealth of useful and well-balanced information. Nor should earlier editions of Grove be ignored: apart from the contemporary perspective of some of the writing, their articles devoted relatively more space to the music and musical activities of their own or immediately preceding periods.Google Scholar
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  10. and the lively musical criticism of the young George Bernard Shaw as a newspaper correspondent in London from 1876. His work has been collected in The Complete Musical Criticism of Bernard Shaw, ed. D. H. Laurence (London, 1989).Google Scholar
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  13. the latter supplemented by the anonymous A Century and a Half in Soho (London, 1961).Google Scholar
  14. W. Pole’s Musical Instruments in the Great Exhibition of 1851 (London, 1851) is an interesting starting-point for the technological background to instrumental music.Google Scholar
  15. For the development of the musical profession, and for many insights into the social context, C. Ehrlich’s The Music Profession in Britain since the Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 1985) is invaluable.Google Scholar
  16. For provincial music-making, in addition to the articles on individual cities in Grove 6, two substantial local studies are R. Nettel’s Music in the Five Towns, 1840–1914 (Oxford, 1944) andGoogle Scholar
  17. Watkins Shaw’s The Three Choirs Festival (Worcester and London, 1954),Google Scholar
  18. the latter summarizing and analysing much of the detailed narrative to be found in D. Lysons, J. Amott, C. L. Williams and H. G. Chance, Origin and Progress of the Meeting of the Three Choirs of Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford (Gloucester, 1895).Google Scholar
  19. The musical progress of women in a period when the musical profession was largely male-dominated is charted in D. Hyde, New-Found Voices (Liskeard, 1984),Google Scholar
  20. and the less exalted (though often attractive) musical cultures are the subject of R. Pearsall’s Victorian Popular Music (London, 1973).Google Scholar
  21. Of relevance to the whole country is the appropriate section of N. Temperley’s The Music of the English Parish Church (Cambridge, 1979).Google Scholar

Individual musicians

  1. The leading creative musicians of the period are well served by two recent biographies, A. Jacobs, Arthur Sullivan: a Victorian Musician (Oxford, 1984) (which includes an extensive bibliography) andGoogle Scholar
  2. J. N. Moore, Elgar: a Creative Life (Oxford, 1984),Google Scholar
  3. the latter perhaps best taken in conjunction with the same author’s Elgar: a Life in Photographs (London, 1972).Google Scholar
  4. They largely, but not completely, supersede biographies of Sullivan by P. M. Young (London, 1971, rev. 2/1973) and of Elgar by P. M. Young (London, 1955), M. Kennedy (London, 1982) and D. McVeagh (London, 1955). Other single-composer biographies are C. L. Graves, Hubert Parry, 2 vols. (London, 1926),Google Scholar
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  6. M. Hurd, Immortal Hour: the Life and Period of Rutland Boughton (London, 1962).Google Scholar
  7. There are no comparable biographical studies of Sterndale Bennett, Macfarren, Mackenzie or Costa, though Mackenzie’s autobiographical reminiscences were published (London, 1927), as were those of Macfarren’s brother Walter, who was himself a musician (London, 1905). However, two other important figures in the musical life of the period are well served. Although there is no modern biography of Hallé as such, The Autobiography of Charles Hallé, with Correspondence and Diaries, ed. M. Kennedy (London, 1972),Google Scholar
  8. supplements C. E. and M. Hallé, Life and Letters of Sir Charles Hallé (London, 1896).Google Scholar
  9. The leading musical ‘enabler’ is magnificently portrayed in P. M. Young, George Grove, 1820–1900 (London, 1980).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Granada Group and The Macmillan Press Ltd 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald Burrows

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