Women Songwriters of the Victorian Fin de Siècle: Exploring the Sentimental Voice
This project contends that investigating an unexplored musical repertoire – that of Victorian and Edwardian parlour ballads – will uncover a larger story about marginalised musical voices, and will shed light on the musical history of London as a transnational and imperial city. The period 1860 to 1930 witnessed a flourishing of women’s creativity and commercial acumen within the popular genre of the sentimental parlour ballad. Today, much of this once ubiquitous repertoire now survives as historic sheet music collections, publisher’s records and sound recordings held in archives in the US and the UK. Through in-depth research into individual case studies, I propose to explore women songwriters and their networks within a burgeoning transatlantic music industry. The project entails three objectives, which are connected through a need to revaluate sentimentality as a defining aesthetic of parlour songs written by and for women. First, I will explore the figure of the popular woman songwriter within the context of modern musical discourse, drawing connections with critical attitudes to the sentimental in literature and film. Second, I will undertake contextualised close readings of individual songs and songwriters based in London, interpreting women’s compositional and performing voices in relation to race and colonialism. Third, I will address the legacy and afterlife of particular songs in the early twentieth century, exploring how aesthetics of sentimentality and nostalgia were mediated in performance through new technologies of sound reproduction. By combining archival research with critical theoretical approaches to the politics of musical voices, the research seeks to revise our understanding of a pivotal turning point in music history.
Fields of science
Call for proposal
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