Music and Academia in Victorian Britain

Golding, Rosemary (2013). Music and Academia in Victorian Britain. Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Farnham: Ashgate.


Music was an anomalous subject in the universities of nineteenth-century Britain. The institutionalisation of music as an academic subject came at a time when the music profession suffered low status, and music itself was commonly conceived as a feminine accomplishment. Universities, on the other hand, remained the bastions of upper-class male domination, with a non-vocational, liberal agenda. By the end of the century, music degrees were available at the major universities, candidates numerous, and lectures on musical subjects common. However, debate continued about the relationship between the universities and conservatoires, and the relative demands and status of the different degrees. Moreover, university music remained uneasily situated between liberal and professional studies. This study captures the tensions that resulted from conflicts of educational ideology and practical reality, and traces the construction of university ‘music’ within a tight-knit matrix of social, institutional, and professional identities.

At the core of the book are four case studies, which examine the responses of University institutions to the problem of music. At Oxford and Cambridge, the presence of music dated back centuries, but its status as a degree subject in the context of liberal educational ideals was a particular issue. At Edinburgh, a generous benefaction required the institution of a professorship and invention of a subject, while at London pressures from conservatoires conflicted with and challenged educational outlooks. The identity of music as a science, and its relationship with the church, are of particular interest. Ideas of professionalisation and regulation through university accreditation were also important. Finally, non-musical factors such as residence and arts requirements are shown to have been crucial to the development of music qualifications.

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