The Society of Arts and the Challenge of Professional Music Education in 1860s Britain

Golding, Rosemary (2017). The Society of Arts and the Challenge of Professional Music Education in 1860s Britain. Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, 38(2) pp. 128–150.



Higher-level music education was in a poor state in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. In particular, the country’s most significant conservatoire, the Royal Academy of Music in London, suffered from a lack of financial support, poor management, and a reputation for mediocre teaching and amateurish standards. Responding to the need for an overhaul, the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce launched an investigation into the management of the Royal Academy of Music in 1865. The Society’s Committee interviewed a range of high-profile figures from Britain and abroad. The reports and debates that ensued cast light not only on the state of the Royal Academy but also on the organization of professional music training across the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. Many of these discussions revealed important insights into attitudes toward musical training and its institutions, toward the music profession, and toward music itself. Musicians interviewed for the purpose of the Royal Academy report had varying opinions on the curriculum suitable for aspiring professional musicians, including the role of general education and theoretical music studies. The place of amateurs in such institutions was also an important part of the discussion, both in terms of the students admitted and institutional management. Fundamental divisions over the purpose and nature of professional-level education in music reflect both the changing nature of education and deep fractures in the music profession itself, offering valuable insights into the concerns and problems of the time.

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