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Music in London, 1800-1851

Final Report Summary - MUSLOND (Music in London, 1800-1851)

The project’s main aim was to rewrite the history of music in London during the first half of the nineteenth century. Through that geographical and historical lens, its additional purpose was to think about ways in which music history as a whole might be differently configured, in particular by concerning itself with social history at least as actively as it had previously with elite composers and their musical works. The major achievements of the project were a series of large conferences and seminars. All of these brought together a group of international experts for discussion of pre-circulated papers; in many cases the results were groundbreaking enough to merit collection in an edited volume or special issue of an academic journal.
During the project, various strands of this activity became of considerable importance, making plain (as predicted) that the traditional methods of assessing what constitutes musical history are in need of radical expansion. Three of the most important were:
1. The various intersections of music and science. While the science of music (the study of acoustics, for example) had been fairly well covered in the previous literature, it became clear that music in London during this period saw a dramatic intersection of music and science in other spheres. On the most obvious level, this intersection might be illustrated by the career of Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875), a polymath whose activities encompassed the invention of several musical instruments, acoustical enquiry and some crucial advances in the establishment of the electric telegraph. Following this line of enquiry, musical instruments as alternative methods of long-range communication was the subject of more than one essay in our various collections. More than this, however, it became obvious that musical performance very often figured in scientific displays: in some cases with any neat division between “performance” and “scientific display” impossible to establish.
2. The multiple functions of music in the theatre. This is a topic that has, of course, been covered extensively in the existing literature in certain canonic musical genres (the obvious case is opera). However, one of the earliest efforts in the “Music in London” project was to look seriously at theatrical music in non-canonic genres, most obviously as it figured in melodrama. This initiative in turn led to a general sense that the musical landscape of the past could be painted as one with constantly porous boundaries between those emerging concepts, the “popular” and the “elite”.
3. The intersections of musical scholarship and the emerging discipline of “sound studies”. The latter has been a growth industry in academic scholarship during the tenure of the “Music in London” project, and one whose connections to musicology are ever changing. Our project tried wherever possible to strengthen these links, perhaps most notably in a volume about music/sound in times of war, which took and extremely fluid conception of how music and sound might blend together for military purposes.
Of course, there were many further lines of enquiry: into the multifarious ways that music was used in the political arena; the ways in which the developing discipline of “aesthetics” touched on musical matters; the ways that the explosion of print culture altered the musical landscape; the ways in which what might loosely be called “material culture” intersected with musical matters during the period. All in all, we believe that, by means of some twenty major publications (four single-author monographs, six special issues of journals, ten volumes of collected essays) on these and other topics, we have made a decisive statement about what “music history” might in the future entail.