The Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts, 1856-1878: A Case Study of Nineteenth-Century Analytical Programme Notes

Bruno Bower
PhD, Royal College of Music, in progress (projected finish 2015)
bruno.bower@oriel.oxon.org
Title: The Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts, 1856-1878: A Case Study
of Nineteenth-Century Analytical Programme Notes.

Abstract:

Analytical programme notes are a surprisingly recent invention,
emerging as a common practice in Britain during the 1830s and 40s.
Previously, notes handed out at concerts would include only a list of
works performed, the names of the performers, and the texts of any
sung items. As yet, none of the scholars who have engaged with this
material have given the analytical texts much close attention. The
ideas they invoke are generally only briefly summarised, often without
citations. While there is much work that remains to be done on the
history of the programme note, enough has been done on contexts that
we can now consider reversing the focus of study, starting with close
readings of the texts and seeing what ideas they invoke. These include
issues of class definition, educational practices, attitudes to
composers and their biographies, and ideas relating to politics and
racial identity. Such scrutiny could help us understand our own
attitudes to these issues, as many of the ideas invoked in the
earliest programme notes are still embedded in the present-day
practice. I will be focussing on the Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts
(1856-1904), partly because many of the notes were written by Sir
George Grove; these notes were used as foundations for his dictionary,
and are therefore of central importance to the development of English
musicology. Audience expectations will also form a key focus of
investigation, as there is an increasing awareness in musicology of
the role audiences play in shaping such texts. This aspect will be
engaged through such questions as: what did authors expect the
audience to know? What did they think the audience ought to know, and
why?

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