A Study of the Experience of Listening to Music in World War Two Britain

Edinburgh, Kerri-Anne (2019). A Study of the Experience of Listening to Music in World War Two Britain. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e76e


This thesis provides new insights into the experience of listening to music during the Second World War in Britain. It explores the different types of listening practised by individuals who encountered a variety of ‘serious’, ‘light’ and ’popular’ music in diverse wartime circumstances, both live and via technological media. The thesis analyses unpublished diaries and letters written during the war, in which listeners reported on and interpreted their listening experiences. It examines letters written to the BBC about broadcast music; the ‘bulletins’ written by Lionel Bradley about classical concerts in London; and diary entries about popular music, dancing and the cinema written by Frank Lewis and several Mass Observation diarists. These analyses are complemented by the examination of professional reviews of popular and classical music published in Melody Maker, The Times, The Listener, The Observer and The Manchester Guardian. Three central questions guide the research: how did people experience listening to music during the Second World War? To what extent were these different listening experiences shaped and influenced by the war? How did the listeners relate to a variety of notions, including musical taste, the judgement of musical value, musical community and identity? This study focuses on a period previously overlooked by histories of listening; and provides a new listener-oriented perspective on musical culture on the Home Front in World War Two Britain. It argues that the war had a considerable material effect on the circumstances of the listeners’ experiences, but that wartime did not necessarily affect their engagement with or response to the music. It therefore provides new insights into historical listening experiences and the musical landscape of the Second World War, while also making a significant contribution to the methodology of historical listening studies.

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