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Rewriting the score

London in 1800 was the biggest metropolis in Europe. In the following 50 years it became a global political, financial and trading capital and a hub of creativity and exploration in literature, theatre, art and music. In those decades many of the architectural, educational, scientific and cultural landmarks of today’s vibrant city were founded.

Music in London 1800-1851 is a five-year research project, based in the Music Department at King’s, which is attempting to rewrite the history of music in early 19th century London, emphasising the city’s unique position in European musical culture.

Funded by the European Research Council, the project takes the broadest possible approach to music history. As well as the expected consideration of concert music, operatic entertainment, chamber and religious music of the time, the research is encompassing less familiar strands. These have included the emergence of popular music, from ballad singing to music hall entertainments; working men’s musical organisations; music education among both elite and non-elite groups; the musical press; the emergence of ethnomusicology, and instrument-making and sound production.

Professor Roger Parker, the project’s Principal Investigator, explains, ‘Past histories of Western music-making have mostly focused on elite culture, and have tended to write about music in relative isolation from the other arts and humanities.

‘Our project takes as its focus musical activity in a period and a city which, for both material and aesthetic reasons, offers excellent opportunities for exploring a broader and more inclusive kind of history.

‘Music-making in London functioned as a widely-based industry, providing much professional employment and featuring in the education of many an amateur; it also contributed to private and public enjoyment, became a source of boredom and occasional irritation, and fostered the creation of a host of cultural, political and imagined communities.’

A large number of visiting academics are contributing to the project’s events, seminars, reading groups and conferences alongside the team of King’s scholars, something which enriches the project’s multidisciplinary perspective. As the project draws to a close in 2018, it is hoped that the originality of its method and scope will serve as a model for a new kind of music historiography. Such a broad examination of the social and political meanings of music in 19th century society should find fresh relevance for musicology into the 21st century.

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