The debate in England on the progress and regress of music, 1888–1907

John Ling

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Drawing on a very extensive survey of English periodicals, specialist and non-specialist, this thesis examines the critical commentary on composition – foreign and native – and on the level of public interest in serious music during the twenty-year period from 1888 to 1907. A preoccupation in existing scholarship with the polarised descriptors of ‘das Land ohne Musik’ and ‘English Musical Renaissance’ has narrowed the account of the debate. Critical opinion was wide-ranging and diverse, even on the question of the relationship between music and ethics. Most critics saw music as a cosmopolitan field, and the thesis adds substantially to scholarship by analysing the critical commentary on new foreign music. It demonstrates that the topic of programme music, raised to prominence by the music of Richard Strauss, attracted as much critical attention as the development of native music. Opinion on the latter was far more diverse than its portrayal in the ‘renaissance’ narrative, and did not, as some scholars claim, reflect anxiety about the growing political and economic power of Germany. Some critics regarded the expression of national identity in music as irrelevant, whilst others tried to formulate ethical desiderata for English music. The thesis also examines the commentary on the level of demand for and supply of serious music – foreign and native. The Queen’s Hall Proms did most to popularise serious music, but with the exception of Elgar, native music was unpopular and an effort to boost it by means of a national festival failed. Contemporaries were less inclined than some scholars to acquit England completely of the ‘ohne Musik’ charge, as in their view commerce prevailed over art, state aid was unforthcoming, provincial festivals and music colleges came in for much criticism and the appearance of flourishing concert life was deceptive, although there was no denying the growth in amateur participation.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Harper-Scott, J. P. E., Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


  • late c19/early c20
  • England
  • music criticism
  • English music
  • foreign music in England
  • music in society
  • ethics

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