The Careers of British Musicians, 1750-1850: A Profession of Artisans

The Careers of British Musicians, 1750-1850: A Profession of Artisans

The Careers of British Musicians, 1750-1850: A Profession of Artisans

The Careers of British Musicians, 1750-1850: A Profession of Artisans

Synopsis

The study of the social context of music must consider the day-to-day experiences of its practitioners. This book traces the daily working life and aspirations of British musicians during the sweeping social and economic transformation of Britain from 1750 to 1850. It features working musicians of all types and at all levels--organists, singers, instrumentalists, teachers, composers, and entrepreneurs--and explores their educational background, their conditions of employment, their wages, the systems of patronage that supported them, and their individual perceptions.

Excerpt

Musicians struggled against perceptions that they were artisans, “mere fiddlers” from low social origins, in regular contact with foreigners and even more disreputable elements of society. Was there any truth to such ideas? If so, the ideal of middle-class professional status would remain elusive. This chapter will consider where professional musicians fit in the social and geographical landscape. It will then be possible to ascertain the scope of the obstacles to musicians' social and professional aspirations, and to what extent they would have to change not only the perceptions but also the realities of their social identity in order to emerge as nineteenthcentury professionals.

Social origins and mobility

The social origins of professional musicians can be gleaned from the occupations of their relatives (table 2). Information on the occupations of female relatives, particularly their mothers, is relatively scarce, although the musical families represented in the table undoubtedly included women musicians. Such information appears more frequently toward the midnineteenth century, when more women were entering the profession. The information in the table confirms that the vast majority of musicians in Britain from 1750 to 1850 came from the middle ranks of society. The higher ranks represented here are almost all foreigners whose children or grandchildren became successful musicians in England. This is one of the many indications of the musical profession's comparatively low social status in England. Whereas the children of wealthy or high-ranking Europeans were sometimes free to pursue musical careers, their English counterparts virtually never made such a choice. Sometimes the parents of musicians worked in the realms of literature, art, and the theatre as well as the professions. The musical children of clergy frequently became church organists. Also represented in the table are independent artisans and artisans/laborers. The most striking feature is the large proportion of . . .

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