Musical Chairs: the Construction of ‘Music’ in Nineteenth-Century British Universities

Golding, Rosemary (2009). Musical Chairs: the Construction of ‘Music’ in Nineteenth-Century British Universities. Nineteenth-Century Music Review, 6(2) pp. 19–39.



Music occupied an ill-defined place in the universities of nineteenth-century Britain. The endowment of a Professorship at Edinburgh, and thorough-going reforms at Oxford and Cambridge, prompted fundamental questions about the form and place of musical study. As the universities sought to occupy their professors, what exactly they might offer, and how this should sit with the academic and social ideals of the institutions, was subject to debate.

Using documents associated with the applications to professorships at Edinburgh and Cambridge during 1839-75, this article discusses how the academic subject of Music was first defined and developed in British universities. As part of a bid to assimilate musical study to university ideals and render it appropriate for systematised teaching and examination, ‘scientific’ approaches were proposed for the study of history and analysis, acoustics, and composition. Aspects of general education, religion and character were as important as musical qualifications in establishing a place for music in academia, and election documentation from both institutions is rich in social commentary. Conflicts arising from the status of music as profession and amateur occupation, practical and academic study, also shaped the form of music in academic institutions.

Early British ideas of musicology were not constructed according to abstract paradigms, but operated in line with narrow, institutionalised ideas of what was appropriate for a specific class of students, the academic environment and professional interest. The concerns discussed here intersect with problems of national identity, historiography and gender, which pervaded composition, performance and scholarship throughout the period.

Viewing alternatives


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions
No digital document available to download for this item

Item Actions