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Musical Networks in Early Victorian Manchester

Johnson, R. M. (2020) Musical Networks in Early Victorian Manchester. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Awarded for a Collaborative Programme of Research at the Royal Northern College of Music by Manchester Metropolitan University.


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My dissertation demonstrates how a new and distinctive musical culture developed in the industrialising society of early Victorian Manchester. It challenges a number of existing narratives relating to the history of music in nineteenth-century Britain, and has implications for the way we understand the place of music in other industrial societies and cities. The project is located at the nexus between musicology, cultural history and social history, and draws upon ideas current in urban studies, ethnomusicology and anthropology. Contrary to the oft-repeated claim that it was Charles Hallé who ‘brought music to Manchester’ when he arrived in 1848, my archival research reveals a vast quantity and variety of music-making and consumption in Manchester in the 1830s and 1840s. The interconnectedness of the many strands of this musical culture is inescapable, and it results in my adoption of ‘networks’ as an organising principle. Tracing how the networks were formed, developed and intertwined reveals just how embedded music was in the region’s social and civic life. Ultimately, music emerges as an agent of particular power in the negotiation and transformation of the concerns inherent within the new industrial city. The dissertation is structured as a series of interconnected case studies, exploring areas as diverse as the music profession, glee and catch clubs, the Hargreaves Choral Society’s programme notes, Mechanics’ Institutions and the early Victorian public music lecture. These chapters are framed by a Prelude and a Postlude focusing respectively on Manchester’s Grand Musical Festival of 1836 and Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, which provide snapshots of musical life in Manchester at the start and end of the period under review, inviting consideration of musical and societal ‘progress’. A concluding chapter synthesises the findings of each case study, drawing on related historiography and cultural theory, in particular the work of Jürgen Habermas, Christopher Small and Thomas Turino, to explore how music contributed to the formation of identity, community and a new way of living in the industrial city.

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