Academic journal article Notes

Samuel Wesley and the European Magazine

Academic journal article Notes

Samuel Wesley and the European Magazine

Article excerpt

In her 1990 Notes article "The Musical Press in Nineteenth-Century England" Leanne Langley described music in Victorian England as a "dark and weedy patch in the garden of European music," traditionally avoided by music historians.(1) In the course of the introductory remarks to her wide-ranging survey she drew attention to the richness of writing on music in the daily press, in general periodicals, and in the specialized music journals that first appeared at this time, and pointed to the need for a scholarly reevaluation of the musical world of nineteenth-century England, which would include a careful and systematic reading of press sources. "Far from avoiding this patch of the garden," she suggested, "we ought to get in the middle of it and dig."(2)

Although Langley's remarks were particularly aimed at the 1820s and later; they are also relevant to the first two decades of the century. This period, coming immediately before the establishment of the two first long-run specialist English music periodicals (Richard Mackenzie Bacon's Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, founded in 1818 [henceforth QMMR], and William Clowes's monthly Harmonicon, founded in 1823 and edited by William Ayrton), is a particularly neglected part of the patch. It saw two attempts to set up specialist music periodicals: Joseph Kemp's New Musical Magazine, Review and Register, which ran for thirteen monthly numbers in 1809-10, and A. F. C. Kollmann's very differently conceived Quarterly Musical Register, which appeared for only two numbers in 1812.(3) Clearly, either the time was not yet ripe for a periodical devoted exclusively to music, or (more probably) no entrepreneur had hit on the right formula for success in this area. But there was a good deal of writing in the daily and weekly press and in general periodicals: articles on technical and historical topics, reviews of books on music and of musical publications, and a few reviews of performances. Opera was strongly featured in John and Leigh Hunt's weekly The Examiner (founded 1808),(4) and there were regular columns of reviews of music publications for some or all of the period in such magazines as the European Magazine, the Monthly Magazine, the Gentleman's Magazine, and Rudolph Ackermann's Repository of Arts.(5)

One immediate obstacle to detailed work on the period, as anyone coming to it from earlier or later soon discovers, is a lack of finding aids. The first two decades of the nineteenth century remains a largely uncharted period, too late for eighteenth-century interests, and too early for the invaluable Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals and the Waterloo Directory of Victorian Periodicals, both of which start their main coverage in 1824.(6) Additionally, writings on music in the general press are not covered by the ongoing RIPM project, which is restricted to specialist music journals.(7) Although a valuable outline of such coverage has been supplied by Langley,(8) a comprehensive index and detailed examination is still needed.

An additional problem, not unique to writings on music or to this particular period, is the almost universal convention of anonymity, which applied equally to articles, reviews, and letters.(9) The usual defense of the practice was that an anonymous review spoke with greater authority than a signed one, and that reviewers were able to give their views without fear or favor. The truth, of course, was frequently otherwise. Whereas the cloak of anonymity may in some cases have enabled authors to write with greater honesty and independence, it also allowed them and their editors to follow private agendas in ways that were anything but impartial, promoting and favorably reviewing the work of their friends and professional associates (and even on occasion their own work) while attacking or ignoring that of their enemies.(10) But the convention of anonymity was undoubtedly a useful one for editors, giving them considerable flexibility in the contributors they used and enabling them on occasion to write considerable amounts of their periodicals themselves, under a number of different literary personae and horns de plume. …

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