George Grove, Music and Victorian Culture

By Solie, Ruth A. | Notes, March 2005 | Go to article overview
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George Grove, Music and Victorian Culture

Solie, Ruth A., Notes

BRITISH MUSIC George Grove, Music and Victorian Culture. Edited by Michael Musgrave. New York: Palgrave, 2003. [xiv, 346 p. ISBN 0-333-94804-1. $82.00.] Illustrations, bibliography, index.

Having grown up in a home graced with "Spy" cartoons of eminent Victorian barristers, I was delighted to see on the dust jacket of this book the same cartoonist's rendering of George Grove ("G") for an 1891 issue of Vanity Fair. It is a good index of the way in which Michael Musgrave and his colleagues manage to place Grove so richly within the context of time and place. Living from 1820 to 1900, Grove was a virtually exact contemporary of Queen Victoria herself (1819-1901), and indeed, as Musgrave says, "no one figure in laternineteenth-century Britain is as worthy of the title Great Victorian of Music" (p. 3).

The lack of that serial comma in the tide may be a stumbling block for American readers, who should be aware that the book really is about those three topics. It does not theorize or undertake cultural criticism, but it is by no means devoid of wider historical interest.

George Grove, Music and Victorian Culture is a multiauthor book but it is not really set up as a collection of independent essays. Rather, it reads more as though Musgrave, in setting out to write a detailed study of Grove's life and career, enlisted supplementary assistance in some specialized areas from the reigning experts-for example, David Wright on the founding of the Royal College of Music (RCM), Christina Bashford on program notes, Peter Horton on archival materials at the College (where he is reference librarian), or Rosemary T. VanArsdel (a specialist on Victorian periodicals) on Macmillan 's Magazine.

The arrangement of chapters in the book roughly follows the four stages of Grove's varied career: engineer, secretary, editor, administrator. The first section, "Grove's World," contains three largely biographical chapters that set the stage for the rest. In the first, Musgrave strives to set out a few threads that connect the different aspects of a life that took several perhaps unexpected turns; even in his first paragraph, he brings to the foreground a few of the particular facts of Victorian life that especially marked Grove: an extraordinary earnestness that could sometimes turn to melancholy, and the rise to eminence not despite, but because of the lack of professional status.

Grove's was perhaps the last generation for whom dedicated professional training was not necessarily the source of the greatest cultural authority; while he always regretted having been articled to a civil engineer rather than attending Oxford, the mere fact of it did not later stand in the way of his becoming a recognized expert in both music and Biblical archaeology, or of his selection as the secretary of the Royal Society (then known as the Society of Arts), or of the Crystal Palace. Training notwithstanding, it was not as an engineer that Grove made his name. A point of interest for American readers may be the trip to the United States he took in 1878 accompanying his friend Arthur P. Stanley, the Dean of Westminster. They traveled the familiar Victorian tourist route (Boston/Newport/ New York/Washington/Baltimore/ Richmond), not failing to see such expected sights as the Adirondack^, the Berkshires, and Niagara Falls; but also, and of course much less typically, visited with the presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins.

Other chapters in this section offer more personal and intimate aspects of Grove's life (perhaps even a bit more intimate than strictly necessary): his temperament, appearance, family background, marriage and family life, hobbies, and so forththough it is hard, with Grove, to think of a "hobby" that didn't eventually become an occupation. More satisfying is Musgrave's discussion of Grove's early work as engineer, explorer in the Holy Land, and literary critic; he provides extensive quotations from Grove's published writing in geography and his communications to The Times regarding the Palestine exploration, and the full text of his critical essay on Tennyson's "Tears, Idle Tears.

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