Building a Concert Career in Edwardian London

McVeigh, Simon. 2018. Building a Concert Career in Edwardian London. In: Rosemary Golding, ed. The Music Profession in Britain, 1780-1920: New Perspectives on Status and Identity. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 189-219. ISBN 9781138291867 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Given the well-documented over-supply of musicians in London around the turn of the nineteenth century, establishing a place in the public eye and achieving a reasonable income constituted major challenges. It is true that there were seemingly limitless opportunities for appearance before the public at the numerous recital venues in and around the West End. But there was an similar over-supply of recitals too, and for a concert merely to break even required assiduous cultivation of patrons and musical contacts, energetic promotion and press manipulation, and an originality of programming that would both build a brand identity and also attract the attention of the critics. For many musicians, private concerts (‘At Homes’), country house visits and teaching were still just as important as they had been a century before.
The chapter draws on archival and periodical material in building up a broad perspective on musicians’ careers in the period. Three case studies – Myra Hess, Percy Grainger, the Chaplin sisters – offer a wide range of perspectives on networking tactics and programming. The performer with the most obvious path to stardom was Myra Hess, but it was perhaps the slowest in realisation, due in part to the relatively conservative nature of her branding and programming. Both Grainger and the Chaplins experimented with programmes and formats in a way that immediately made them stand out from the crowd – Grainger in the service of his ultimate goal of recognition as a composer, the Chaplins as highly distinctive harbingers of the historical performance movement. But in every case there was considerable reliance on the income from At Homes on the one hand and from provincial engagements and tours on the other. Concerto engagements in London, at least at the main symphony concerts, remained rare, while solo and joint recitals could realise only small profits at best. All these musicians were dependent upon energetic self-promotion and on the assiduous cultivation of musical and social networks, in which aristocratic and wealthy patrons continued to play an extremely significant role. In each case, financial security, musical reputation and artistic rewards were dependent on a complex web of relationships that could only bear fruit through the most dedicated patience and an unswerving determination to succeed.

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music profession, London concert, women musicians, piano recital, historical performance

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15 March 2018Published

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Date Deposited:

28 Sep 2018 12:22

Last Modified:

03 Dec 2020 14:07


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