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Musical Conservatism: Victorian Composers and the Philosophy of Precedent

LITTLE, BENJAMIN (2022) Musical Conservatism: Victorian Composers and the Philosophy of Precedent. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Musical conservatism is a concept that is regularly invoked in both musicological literature and popular discourse, but is almost never defined or explained. The words ‘conservative’ or ‘reactionary’ are also often used as derogatory terms to denote insincerity, naivety, or lack of artistic depth. Edward German (1862-1936), Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), and Edward Elgar (1857-1934), the primary case studies of this thesis, have each been identified – and often self-identified – with both musical conservatism and conservatism more broadly. Each of these composers also acted as a political activist for conservative causes, which they supported through their music and writings. Through an in depth study of a large volume of primary materials and the discourse surrounding the music of these three composers, this thesis provides an examination of the claim that the music and politics of conservative composers are intrinsically linked because they emerge from the same philosophical foundations. Their writings and music are also analysed through an assessment of their adherence to the first principles of conservatism, newly theorised here as a four part series of philosophical statements. Conservatism, in this conceptualisation (drawn from the writings of conservative and anticonservative theorists from Burke to Scruton) is to be understood as belief in the primacy of precedent, flawed and imperfectible human nature, the acceptability of inequality, and the importance of the pursuit of beauty in art. It addresses previously unanswered definitional questions on the subject of musical conservatism, its problems as a term, and its intrinsic nature. It also explores the relationship between musical conservatism and the pervading philosophical and political conservatism of late Victorian and Edwardian England.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:conservatism; musical conservatism; music and politics; music and philosophy; philosophy; conservatives; political philosophy; Edward Elgar; Charles Villiers Stanford; Edward German; 19th Century Music; Victorian Studies;
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:11 Jan 2023 09:28

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