Research Seminar: 'Local/National: Yorkshire Musical Festivals as British Musical History'

Wednesday 17 October 2012, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Charles McGuire (Professor of Musicology, Oberlin College Conservatory of Music)

In England, the provincial music festival was the most important means of concert music production in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Through such festivals, the middle classes ultimately became arbiters of English musical taste, and festival infrastructure was largely responsible for the growth of an internationally-recognized group of indigenous composers in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, and Britten. Music festivals introduced individuals outside of London to music by contemporary composers, both foreign and domestic, and shaped the genres (predominantly choral, including oratorios and dramatic cantatas) desired and celebrated contemporaneously by the English. Such festivals also shifted the progression of musicians from a servant class, regarded as morally suspect because of their associations with decadent aristocratic genres like opera, to a respectable middle-class profession. Finally, the charitable associations of the festivals encouraged the English to stop thinking of music as a mere pleasurable pastime and view it instead as didactic, with the potential to become a moralizing force.

During his Fulbright year at the University of York, Prof. McGuire is continuing his research on musical festivals between 1695 and 1940, in preparation for a forthcoming monograph. In the seminar on 17 October, he will present preliminary evidence in the form of several case studies drawn from his recent findings in Yorkshire archives, documenting how festivals in this area led to several important changes in the contemporary musical infrastructure of England. In this discussion, he will concentrate on two areas: the motion of concerts, as presented by festivals, from a social to serious artistic events, and the concurrent sense that festivals should move from exclusive to inclusive events, so as to include and raise the musical taste of a wider section of society. Both trends had their catalysts in festivals held at York in the 1820s and 1830s, and were actualized through further Yorkshire festivals in Bradford, Hovingham, Leeds, and Sheffield, among many other Yorkshire locations, in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Charles Edward McGuire is Professor of Musicology at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. His areas of scholarly interest are the music of Elgar and Vaughan Williams, the British music festival, sight-singing techniques, and the intersection of choral singing and moral reform movements. His publications include the monographs Music and Victorian Philanthropy: The Tonic Sol-fa Movement (Cambridge University Press, 2009), Elgar’s Oratorios: The Creation of an Epic Narrative (Ashgate, 2002) and The Historical Dictionary of English Music (Scarecrow, 2011), which he co-authored with Oberlin colleague Professor Steven Plank. He has published essays in volumes including Vaughan Williams Essays, The Cambridge Companion to Elgar, Elgar and His World, Elgar Studies, Chorus and Community and in various journals. McGuire holds a B.A. and a B.Mus. from both Oberlin College and the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, and an A.M. and Ph.D. in music from Harvard University. He has taught in various capacities at Harvard University, Ball State University, the University of Maryland at College Park, and James Madison University. He will be a Fulbright Scholar at the Department of Music of the University of York for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Location: D/003