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Michael Costa, England’s First Conductor: The Revolution in Musical Performance in England 1830-80.

GOULDEN, JOHN (2012) Michael Costa, England’s First Conductor: The Revolution in Musical Performance in England 1830-80. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Recent literature has thrown new light on the patronage, financing and social context of the music industry in nineteenth-century London. One area that has received less attention is the management and direction of musical performance – a branch of the profession which arguably changed more than any other.
The thesis seeks to identify the radical changes in this area through the life and work of Michael Costa. His fifty-three year career in charge of the main London musical institutions saw the transition from divided control by the violin-leader, musical director and maestro al cembalo to unified control by a professional conductor-manager, of which he was the London prototype. Costa’s uniquely powerful position in the operatic, symphonic and choral world enabled him to embed reforms that laid the basis for much of modern musical practice: not only in baton-conducting but also in the conductor’s contractual powers, orchestral discipline, the lay-out of performers, rehearsal strategy, acoustics, and the system for managing the enlarged orchestras and choruses which emerged in the period. This infrastructure and the raised standards of performance that these reforms fostered were arguably the greatest achievement of English music in the otherwise rather barren mid-Victorian period.
The thesis considers Costa’s crucial role in the battles between the two rival opera houses, between the Philharmonic and the New Philharmonic, and between the venerable Ancient Concerts and the mass festival events of the Sacred Harmonic Society. It tries also to place him in the context of the profound aesthetic changes of the period – in repertoire, performance and attitude to musical ‘works’. Finally it seeks to explain the remarkable rise and eclipse of Costa’s reputation and to reassess in its contemporary context Costa’s contribution to the emergence of the music industry in the form which we know today.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Music, conducting, orchestra, 19th century, Costa
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:04 Dec 2012 14:31

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