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The Musical World

(London, 1836-1891)
  • Complete Introduction (1836-1865): English
  • Complete Introduction (1866-1891): English

Prepared by Richard Kitson
(1996: 11 volumes, 2007: 14 volumes)

The preeminent nineteenth-century British music journal, The Musical World: a Weekly Record of Musical Science, Literature, and Intelligence, was published weekly in London. This RIPM publication deals with the journal from its inception to 30 December 1865. Founded by the well-known music publisher J. Alfred Novello, The Musical World was at first edited by several important literary and musical scholars. In 1844 James William Davison became the owner of the journal which he edited until his death in 1885.

The topics of major articles published in The Musical World are unusually wide ranging and cover issues about musical performance, history and theory. While the journal focuses on issues affecting the progress of music in Britain it also treats music and music making on the continent and in North America. Regularly encountered are biographical sketches of leading British and foreign musicians, histories, and annual reports of institutions such as the Philharmonic Society, the Society of British Musicians, the New Philharmonic Society, the Sacred Harmonic Society, the provincial music festivals of Worcester, Gloucester, Hereford, Leeds and Birmingham, and many other institutions of lesser importance. The prospectuses of the major opera houses, forthcoming festivals, and concert series such as the Monday Popular Concerts and the Crystal Palace Concerts appear without fail. Reports from provincial cities are published regularly.

Of particular interest are the many summaries of the dramatic and musical situations of new and old operas, oratorios and cantatas. Controversial questions—concerning standard pitch and acoustics, the construction of organs and their placement in cathedrals and churches, the conflict between traditional Anglican chant, Gregorian chant and congregational hymnody—are treated both in original correspondence and in learned articles. The many issues related to everyday business and finance of the British musical world, including the management of theatres, music publishing, performers’ fees, music copyright, and governmental support of the Established Church are reported in detail.

The great span of time during which Davison reviewed on operatic productions at Her Majesty’s Theatre, The Royal Italian Opera (Covent Garden) and the Theatre Royal (Drury Lane) permitted him to compare the original London casts with those that followed. The promenade concerts (Jullien, Musard and Alfred Mellon), important in the development of public music appreciation, the annual monster concerts of Julius Benedict and Luigi Arditi are described in detail. Davison also provides the reader with an historical recounting of the rise of the solo pianoforte recital in reviews of innovative concerts given by Leopold de Mayer, Emanuel Aguilar, Charles Hallé, Wilhelm Kuhe and Arabella Goddard. The establishment of regular chamber music concerts is an important topic in the journal.

The vicissitudes of English opera performed by English singers is a topic of exceptional interest throughout many years. Each new work by Michael Balfe, William Vincent Wallace, Edward James Loder and other composers receives detailed analysis and somewhat partisan review. Of particular interest are the several schemes to finance full-fledged English opera companies in London for a winter season, and the efforts of the singers and managers Louisa Pyne and William Harrison who worked diligently in this regard. English opera, performed by English singers was well-received in the United States, and Davison was zealous to reproduce many American reviews reflecting this.

This RIPM publication deals with the second half of The Musical World (MWO) from 6 January 1866 (Vol. 44, no. 1) to its final issue published on 24 January 1891 (Vol. 71, no. 4), namely, twenty-six volumes comprising 1,361 issues. From 1866 to 1886 most issues contain sixteen pages; occasional increases of four or eight pages in 1886 are created by the expansion of the advertising sections at the beginning and the end of each issue, and, in 1887, the addition of a weekly supplement “The Organ World.” Throughout, a two-column format is employed. The page numbers assigned to each year are in numerical order.

While MWO was, before 1866, without rival in Great Britain, the expansion of an English music press thereafter did not undermine its prominence. The journal continued to reflect the intent of its early editors, by providing a reliable record and a broad view of diverse musical activities and opinions both in Great Britain and abroad. The amount of information contained in this immense corpus of nineteenth-century literature offers an unrivalled account of musical life in London and the British provincial centers. At the same time it reports extensively on musical life in the major centers of Europe, Australia and North America.

James William Davison (1813-85) became proprietor and editor of MWO in April 1843, and in this task he was assisted by a number of other writers and colleagues, including Joseph Bennett and Desmond Ryan and several promising young British writers—among them H. Sutherland Edwards and T. E. Southgate—who assisted in writing reviews and the weekly preparation of the journal. When Davison's health failed in 1878 he withdrew from active participation in music journalism but continued to direct the affairs of the journal until his death on 24 March 1885. After Davison’s death, Bennett appears to have continued to supervise the journal until the editorship passed into the hands of Francis Hueffer from 1886 to 1888, after which Edgar Frederick Jacques took command of the journal.

Issues of the journal are generally divided into two sections. The first part, headed with the journal’s masthead title, publication date and publication information, contains important articles about a wide variety of music topics, reviews of major musical productions, and the biographies and letters of contemporary musicians and those of an earlier age. The second part, headed with a repetition of the journal’s title and publication date of the issue, contains signed and unsigned editorials or remarks on pertinent topics of local and international interest by Davison, his assistants and other writers, and republication of articles from the European (in English translation), British and American press. Thereafter follow additional reviews of concerts and operas (in London, the provinces and abroad), reviews of published music and books about music, one or more miscellaneous sections containing interesting facts (and gossip) about the musical life of diverse locales, notices of forthcoming events and poetry. A change in the organization of the journal’s content was introduced in 1890 with the division of issues into sections, each reflecting different aspects of the arts: “The Dramatic World,” “The Poet’s World,” and “The Organ World.”

A great achievement of the editor and his acolytes was the assembly of a large amount of European music literature—primarily French, German and Italian—that was translated specifically to appear in the journal. While the number of subjects treated is vast and wide-ranging, many emerge with some regularity. For example, in the years 1866-90 the journal contains more than 1,300 references to Mendelssohn including reviews, articles about Mendelssohn’s life, character, opinions, compositions and excellence as a performer. In all, there are some 1,780 references in MWO to Wagner the man, his operas and music dramas, their texts and staging, his theories about operatic music, his concept of an appropriate venue for operatic performances, his London appearances in 1855, and a host of other topics relating to the unique and controversial composer. Of particular importance are translations into English of Wagner’s writings: “A Communication to My Friends” dealing with the operas from Der fliegende Holländer to Der Ring des Nibelungen, and the complete text of Judaism in Music, first published in The Musical World in 1869 and reprinted in 1882, the year of the first performances of Parsifal at Bayreuth. Eduard Hanslick’s perceptive analysis of Wagner’s anti-Semitic diatribe, and rather a negative analytical discussion of Wagner’s theories in relation to these Bayreuth performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen are published in translation.

Verdi, a less controversial figure than Wagner, is featured in over 850 articles, biographical sketches, reviews and plot summaries of his operas and miscellaneous news. Davison’s initial antipathy toward Verdi’s music—reflected in the critic’s refusal to review Lumley’s production of Verdi’s I Masnadieri at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1847—became more favorable in subsequent years. There are over 120 reviews of performances of La Traviata, and the December 1871 Cairo première of Aida is reviewed and discussed by eminent European critics Filippo Filippi and Ernest Reyer. The first London performance of Otello with members of the original Milanese cast (1889) is treated by, among others, George Bernard Shaw.

Performances of operas, studies of their plots and musical construction and extensive reviews of the London operatic seasons comprise an important aspect of MWO. The main notices deal with the Italian opera performances in London by J. H. Mapleson’s company at Her Majesty’s Theatre, and the Royal Italian Opera at the Covent Garden Theatre under the direction of Michael Costa, Frederick Gye and Signor Lago. London opera audiences read extensive reviews in the journal about the parade of internationally recognized opera singers in these performances. Comparisons with singers of an earlier age give a stamp of authenticity to these reviews. English opera and opera performances in English by the Carl Rosa Opera Company are frequently discussed and reviewed in MWO. The reviews are often supplemented with portraits and photographs of Company members. Comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan are treated, as are operetta importations of the genre from France. The enormous success of H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance in Britain and the United States is well documented, as is the piracy of these operas in American and Australian cities owing to lax copyright agreements between the United States, Australia and Great Britain.

German romantic operas and Wagner’s music dramas were sung in London in the original German in 1882, having been heard there in the 1860s and 1870s only in Italian. The journal devotes considerable space to reports about two visiting German opera companies: Angelo Neumann’s German company and that of impresarios Hermann Franke and Bernhard Pollini (Pohl). Plot summaries, tables of leading motives, reviews and Charles Lyall’s caricatures of Hans Richter conducting are abundant.

Orchestral concerts in London and the provinces are reviewed on a regular basis, with particular attention to large symphonic works. The concerts of the Philharmonic Society under the direction of William George Cusins give rise to discussion in the journal of the conservative repertory of the programs selected by the directors of the society, and the general indifference to compositions of British composers. Regular orchestral concerts given at the Crystal Palace under the direction of August Manns are notable for their more adventurous repertory and for the collaboration of many well-known conductors, instrumentalists and singers such as Gounod, Hans von Bülow and Adelina Patti. The development of the Crystal Palace orchestra under Manns is featured in the reviews, which raise questions about the quality of his conducting skills.

Also receiving much attention in the journal are performers of concertos, solo instrumental pieces and vocal selections at the Crystal Palace, the Philharmonic Society and the Monday and Saturday Popular Concerts. The orchestral concerts given at St. James’s Hall under the direction of Hans Richter are discussed in detail. Richter’s concerts introduced the British public to the then unknown symphonic poems of Liszt, the symphonies of Brahms, and large extracts of Wagner’s operas. The Covent Garden Promenade Concerts given at the conclusion of the season of operas also receive regular review notices. While orchestral performances in London are the main focus of the journal’s concert reporting, the formation and continuing activities of provincial orchestras are not neglected.

Of the hundreds of chamber music and solo concerts that are reviewed extensively in The Musical World the most striking are the Monday Popular Concerts and the Saturday Popular Concerts given at St. James’s Hall. These were organized by Thomas Chappell and J. W. Davison, who provided extensive program notes for each concert, many of which were reproduced in MWO. Choral music also receives considerable attention. For example, the amateur organization the Sacred Harmonic Society and its extensive but conservative repertory is treated in more than 200 reviews, and Henry Leslie’s choir with its repertory of Renaissance madrigals is favorably reviewed in more than 100 concerts.

A type of concert, referred to as a “vocal and instrumental” given in London and in the provinces—and which comprised the programming of a mixture of genres: songs, arias and duets by vocalists; string quartets, pianoforte trios and solo compositions for pianists and stringed instrument players—received considerable attention. The journal also offers over 200 reviews of pianoforte recitals from those of Arabella Goddard and Charles Hallé to Hans von Bülow, Anton Rubinstein, Walter Bache, Ernst and Max Pauer, Vladimir de Pachmann, Camille Saint-Saëns and Isaac Albeniz, and to a growing number of British pianists including Horton Allison, Frederic Lamond, Maggie Okey, Ridley Prentice, Landon Ronald, Dora Schirmacker and Franklin Taylor, and the prodigies Frank Merrick, Tobias Matthay, Ethel and Harold Bauer, and Ernest Hutcheson.

Reviews of published music and books are not a regular weekly feature of MWO. A valuable photographic gallery of portraits of musicians was introduced as supplements to The Musical World in 1883 and continued until 1890.