Research Context

What's the score at the Bodleian?

Charles d'AlbertThe discipline of musicology was established in direct response to the legacy of the music of Beethoven and for a long time exclusively concerned itself with the unified, professional, high-register and transcendent music of great (German) genius. It is revealing in this context that the music to be catalogued in this project was uncatalogued. Librarians and music scholars in the Victorian period simply could not imagine that anyone would be interested in music which, in their opinion, had little value as art defined in the traditional terms of musical scholarship.

Since the 1980s musicology has undergone a process of shedding the assumptions of its founding myths and has subjected ideas of genius, musical value, and musical greatness to historical and sociological critique, situating them contingently within then prevalent romantic aesthetics. New critical perspectives have aimed, among other things, to discover what non-elite music-making reveals about the everyday diffusion of certain kinds of ideas and practices. Making low-register, amateur music for the piano available to scholars will enable further examination of a number of key social functions that such music performed.

Interest in parlour music is already reflected in projects such as The Victorian Web which includes sound files of parlour songs. More generally, Victorian popular music, domestic music, amateur music-making, and music for women are all subject to rapidly growing interest among scholars in the UK and US.

Top right image: Publisher's list of quadrilles, waltzes, polkas, galops, &c. by Charles d'Albert, with prices.


  • "The most important thing for a thriving musical world is a bedrock of enthusiastic amateur music-making. The Bodleian Library's new project shines a light on a time when this fact was thoroughly understood, and when musicians of quite modest technical accomplishment could encompass something of the current musical styles. A knowledge of day-to-day playing for pleasure in Victorian times will reinforce twenty-first-century initiatives in public engagement, like COMA (Contemporary Music for Amateurs), or the Spectrum books of the ABRSM."
  • David Owen Norris
  • Pianist, Composer and Professor of Musical Performance, Southampton University
Back to top