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A Higher Calling - The lofty ideals of Victorian Organists

QUINN, IAIN,JAMES,THOMAS (2012) A Higher Calling - The lofty ideals of Victorian Organists. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 23 July 2017.

Abstract

This thesis charts new territory by examining the figure of the organist within Victorian culture and society. It examines the perception of the organist as a leader in musical life as well as the perceptions that revolved around them. Central to an understanding of the musical ‘figure’ is the role of the organist in pursuing a ‘higher’ course through their endeavours. Seeking a professional role equal to those equal of law and medicine their collective ethos continually strove for self-improvement and self-evaluation.

The thesis is arranged in six chapters enveloped by three larger parts. Part I examines the role of the Victorian organist as a composer by focusing on the factors that influenced and inspired their numerous contributions to the sonata genre. The form of the sonata, coupled with the inclusion of a fugue in so many examples, highlights the deeper meaning placed on writing works that were seen as representing higher forms of composition. The Victorian organists aspired to write works that were not simply useful pieces for church or concert use but more significantly works that could be viewed as superior contributions to the great repertoire. It was a definitive role that elevated their profession to increasingly greater heights.

Chapter I shows the influence of classical idioms from the 1850s onwards and the relationship of sonatas to the classical tradition. Chapter II looks at the influence of the Leipzig Conservatorium in the 1880s and the impact found on English students who undertook study there. Ultimately a lineage is traced through to Elgar and his seminal contribution to the literature in 1895. The concluding chapter of Part I centres on the aesthetical conditioning factors attached to the emergence of this new tradition and the greater reasoning behind the place of these works in the canon.

Part II examines the perception of the organist as seen through literature by studies of Robert Browning and Thomas Hardy, respectively. Through Browning we see the image of a servant in communion with the Divine and in turn a musician set apart from the mainstream. Browning’s reading of the musician Abt Vogler opens the discussion to consider a musician of an earlier era viewed through a Victorian lens.
The second chapter of Part II examines Hardy’s narrative of a young woman who plays the organ but runs afoul of ecclesiastical and societal expectation through her personal infidelities. It is a portrayal that cuts to the core of understanding the role of the woman organist in Victorian society. A deeper examination of the role of the woman in sacred and domestic contexts illuminates a provoking conclusion as a study of gendered perception.

Part III is devoted to the work of England’s greatest concert organist of the nineteenth century, W. T. Best. Through a study of Best’s programming trends we can observe the role of the civic organist as a music director for the city of Liverpool in all but name. However, beyond the well-known aspects of bringing music to the masses, we can see how Best’s pursuit of higher ideals was manifest in programming that sought a superior ground between the promenade and the scholastic concert.

Across six chapters we find musicians tempered by a spirit of idealism that came from within the profession. As their reach was great across the cultural landscape so too was their selective response to conditioning factors of the period. This is exemplified by not only compositional and programming trends but also their portrayal in literature and the relationship of their work to contemporary aesthetical considerations. As such a rich canvas is developed that helps define key areas of our understanding of the Victorian era whilst demonstrating the figure of the organist as a ‘worthy’ seeking a higher calling.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Victorian organ poetry women sonata
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:23 Jul 2012 15:04

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