The Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts, 1865-1879: a case study of the nineteenth-century programme note

Bower, B. (2016) The Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts, 1865-1879: a case study of the nineteenth-century programme note. Doctoral thesis, Royal College of Music.


In recent decades, historical concert programmes have emerged as a fascinating resource for cultural study. As yet, however, little detailed work has been done on the programme notes that these booklets contained. This thesis concentrates on the notes written for the Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts between 1865 and 1879. The series held an important place in London concert life during this period, and featured a number of influential authors in the programmes, such as George Grove, August Manns, James William Davison, Edward Dannreuther, and Ebenezer Prout. Grove in particular made use of his notes as part of entries in the first edition of the Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Close critical readings of the Saturday Concert booklets illustrate the complex combination of context, content, and function that the programme notes represented. These readings are supported by short histories of the series, the programme note, and the various authors, along with a study of the audience through booklet construction and advertising. A database covering the repertoire performed and programme note provision during the case-study period is included on the attached CD. Programme notes that outlined pre-existing or newly-invented plots make it clear that one of their functions was to give music a narrative. Even notes that did not contain stories per se were filled with material that served a very similar purpose. The most obvious examples were explanations of how the work was created, and it’s place in history. However, all of the language used to describe a piece could signal wider meanings, which then became part of the story being told. References to gender, families, education, morality, religion, politics, or race imbued the works with a wide variety of pre-existing ‘texts’ (in the broadest sense of the word), and formed social and cultural narratives for music.

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