Dunagin on Green and Mayes, 'Consuming Music: Individuals, Institutions, Communities 1730-1830'

Emily H. Green, Catherine Mayes
Amy Dunagin

Emily H. Green, Catherine Mayes. Consuming Music: Individuals, Institutions, Communities 1730-1830. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2017. 264 pp. $99.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-58046-577-9

Reviewed by Amy Dunagin (Kennesaw State University) Published on H-War (April, 2021) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53994

L’art pour l’art (art for art's sake) has cast a long shadow across music historiography. Disciplinary hierarchies that relegate music tinged with commercial interest to the bottom have been hard to expunge. Yet this bias has meant that for many decades musicology largely ignored vast repertoires of music and fields of musical experience—repertoires and experiences that touched the lives of far larger and more diverse communities than those who haunted the opera house or the symphony hall. In Consuming Music: Individuals, Institutions, Communities, 1730-1830, editors Emily H. Green and Catherine Mayes and their contributors have both drawn attention to this gap and contributed to the ongoing effort to fill it. The collection of essays challenges readers to take “commercial” music seriously and to rethink the ways we assign value to musical repertoire. The collection has helped to advance a new phase in musicological scholarship in which popularity and commercial success may be grounds for greater scholarly attention rather than less. This laudable enterprise is well served by the essays that make up the volume, which tackles four aspects of musical consumption.

In part 1, “Selling Variety,” Green and Rupert Ridgewell explore the multifarious functions of publishers in shaping the music marketplace in the late eighteenth century. Green examines the role of German publishers as the “most public purchasers of music” and as “models of consumption itself” (p. 24). Ridgewell contextualizes the sale of printed music within the walls of a Viennese Kunsthandlung, alongside prints, maps, books, and scientific instruments, to explore how this physical “intermingling of the arts and sciences” (p. 29) may have impacted printed music’s production and sale.

In part 2, “Edifying Readers,” Steven Zohn and Roger Mathew Grant discuss how producers of printed music sought to entertain and educate their consumers. Zohn’s contribution explores connections between Georg Philipp Telemann’s Der getreue Music-Meister, or Faithful Music Master, and contemporary English and German moral journals, arguing that, like its literary models, it aimed to promote national culture and women’s education. Turning his attention to an understudied form of printed music—musical examples in theory texts—Grant discusses how taxonomies of meter were ineffective in communicating aural considerations of tempo and affect in an age before the metronome. 

In part 3, “Marketing the Mundane,” Marie Sumner Lott, Catherine Mayes, and Glenda Goodman each offer case studies that highlight the close connection between how musicians shaped their compositions and their own images in response to social and commercial concerns. Sumner Lott analyzes German publishers’ records of printed string chamber music from the 1830s, revealing the prevalence and significance of this semi-private, semi-public genre and the ways in which its composition was tailored for middle-class male consumers. Mayes links stylistic change in early nineteenth-century Viennese representations of Hungarian Gypsy music to new dance fashions, as the waltz began to supplant the contredanse, to which this music had been a popular accompaniment. Shifting the focus from marketing music to marketing musicians, Goodman examines the career and self-commodification of British performer-composer Mary Ann Wrighten Pownall as a case study revealing how women performers navigated gender norms and shaped nascent celebrity culture in early America.

In the fourth and final section, “Cultivating Communities,” Patrick Wood Uribe and Peter Mondelli examine early nineteenth-century efforts to promote shared cultural attitudes. In his contribution on Adolph Bernhard Marx’s editorship of the Berliner allgemeine musikalische, Wood Uribe explores the interrelationship of advertisement to and “spiritual enrichment” (p. 210) of its readership. Mondelli asks us to consider the early nineteenth-century Parisian opera as a space in which a morality of the communal good that characterized the revolutionary era overlapped with a morality of capitalistic commodification. 

Collectively, these essays make a strong case for the serious study of the “individuals, institutions, and communities” that enabled music production and consumption. The case might have been stronger still had the collection been broadened in two ways—geographically and chronologically. One of the stated goals of the book is to “bring into focus the mechanisms of consumerism across the continent and beyond” (p. 5). This promise of geographical breadth and comparative analysis of diverse national and regional contexts is somewhat undermined by the heavy focus (seven of the nine essays) on Austro-German musical culture. 

The editors devote a significant portion of their introduction to explaining the book’s chronological span of 1730–1830. Their justificatory arguments anticipate objections to their chosen end date, which precludes standard explanations of music commodification in connection with the mid-to-late nineteenth-century emergence of mechanical reproduction, a culture of leisure activities, and commodity fetishism. Their start date, however, is equally in need of justification. The editors’ assertion that the period between 1670 and 1720 “was relatively insignificant with respect to musical consumerism” (p. 6) is surprising considering that, in England, precisely these years were critical for the emergence of a range of developments in music commerce—from ticketed public concerts to music meetings to a broadening middle-class consumption of printed music. Certainly, the scale of musical commerce increased dramatically in the middle and later decades of the eighteenth century, but too many crucial antecedents occurred in the preceding decades to dismiss them as insignificant. 

These quibbles with the collection’s scope aside, Consuming Music does indeed “help redefine the received notion of musical culture itself with respect to a period associated since the nineteenth century with a more absolute conception of the art form” (p. 8). A recent increase in attention paid to musical commerce may suggest that, like the shops and periodicals discussed between its covers, it has successfully sold consumers on its contents. 

Citation: Amy Dunagin. Review of Green, Emily H. ; Mayes, Catherine, Consuming Music: Individuals, Institutions, Communities 1730-1830. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2021. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53994

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