Music in the West Country: Social and Cultural History across an English Region.
The challenges of writing a history of music that transcends historically conceived divisions and instead explores all musical activity throughout time within a certain locality-thereby suggesting the potential for geographic distinctiveness of music-increasingly inspires scholars on both sides of the Atlantic. Stephen Banfield has widely written on English music, including that of the West Country, throughout his career.
In this book, he eloquently qualifies the comprehensive, though naturally not exhaustive, outcome of his self-declared "labour of love" as a "provisional history" (pp. xi, xiii), which, based on recent local research throughout the peninsula, ranging from Salisbury in the East and the gateway cities of Bristol and Bournemouth to Land's End and the Isles of Scilly in the West, faces that challenge effectively. As might be expected from a monograph encompassing the medieval Sarum Rite and 1990s trip-hop, certain areas in the region's musical history, variably encoded in an often-fragmentary array of textual sources or through oral transmission, are of greater interest to the author than others. Even so, Banfield's command of the considerable volume of secondary literature and his elegant structuring along broad themes, such as musical authority, incorporation, and capitalization, allows him to reflect organically the musical multifariousness that is at the heart of his proposal.
He does so, in the first instance, by way of R. Murray Schafer's concept of "soundscapes" in relation to literary sources (of course including the region's most famous literary figure, Dorset-born Thomas Hardy), and both soundscapes and literature resurface in a less programmatic manner throughout the volume. The subsequent chapter on the West Country's organs and their builders presents the instrument's tumultuous history-before and after the Puritans' ransacking of churches-as both the musical and communal focus of towns and villages. His exegesis on the Victorian era describes the ecclesiastical ritualism in the Anglican Church and other churches, which not only significantly shaped class, gender, and even regional identity, but also the organ's use in liturgy and its designs and decorations. At the same time, the organ culture spread to secular entertainment in town halls and, by the early twentieth century, to theaters and cinemas, whose organs remain popular in seaside towns. He follows this with a lavish chapter on bands and choirs in which he marshals groups-waits (civic minstrels of the fifteenth to early nineteenth centuries), parish psalmody, military and brass bands, glee clubs and madrigal societies, modern choral societies-in order to chronicle collective music making against the backdrop of developing social mores. He brings this to a close with a no less organic but perhaps less compelling overview of pop and rock performers originating from the South West.
At the center of the book lies a two-part study of how secular musicians made a living, divided by prosopography-in relation to family life, education, patronage, and trade and migration (it is here that some of the more famous musicians and writers active in the region, such as Muzio Clementi and Thomas Moore, receive fleeting mention)-and individual case studies. The latter involve an array of lesser-known (if, by Banfield's account, no less remarkable) concert musicians of the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including a fair number of women, who are generally well represented throughout the volume, as well as the black violinist and composer Joseph Emidy, a near contemporary of Beethoven whose remarkable life story has sparked wider interest in recent years.
The final two chapters, on "musical capitalisation," are introduced by way of "mild reference to theory" (p. xv), a proposed dialectic between the concepts of musicking, cultural capital (Pierre Bourdieu), and the idea of a kind of temporally drifting memory of sound- and landscapes as both a myth-making "machinery of geographical and social nostalgia" (p. 254) and a projection into the future. It is in these chapters that the argument for a regional distinctiveness as a corollary to the region's remote geography and lack of metropolitan infrastructure is at its most persuasive. Heralded by a discussion of the relatively recent cultural "invention" of the West Country itself, Banfield here delves into the twentieth-century English folksong revival and its distinct county identity-that is, folksong "culturally aggregated by county" (p. 264), as exemplified by Cecil J. Sharp's focus on Somerset. An outline of festival culture in Cornwall and Somerset allows the author to address a wide array of sites ranging from ancient stone circles to modern-day beach parties. His particular choices for closer investigation involve pageantry, smallersized but no less stellar classical-music festivals (though the Dartington Summer School and Festival is somewhat slighted), and the Glastonbury Festival as inspired by the Bayreuther Festspiele and masterminded by Rutland Boughton in the early twentieth century. For its more famous second incarnation as the present-day music festival, Banfield is reduced to cultural lament: "perhaps ... a nation not only gets the politicians but also the festivals it deserves" (p. 293). The final chapter is an extensive survey of music's most substantial institutionalization in England and elsewhere, namely by the church, with a focus on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century polyphony, which is perhaps most remarkable for the fact that little of the repertoire has survived. This is followed by an exploration of the role of music education in schools-taking Bristol's Clifton College as an example-and universities and the unsuccessful efforts to establish music conservatories in Bristol and Bournemouth. Lastly, Banfield provides a gloss of concert life and audiences, the BBC's broadcasting activities in the South West, and the history and current activities of its only full-time professional orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, a discussion spiked with a pseudocritique of contemporary orchestral programming.
The author's singular achievement in this volume is his narration of the West Country's musical history within a structure that allows the discrete chapters to illuminate the account from different perspectives, occasionally requiring signposting but more often than not allowing readers, with each jolt back in time, to make these connections for themselves. He does so in a sparkling, intermittently near-conversational style peppered with anecdotes of West Country culture that were "often comic in retrospect but quite capable of tearing a community apart" (p. 39). These features make Music in the West Country accessible to a varied readership, even if some of the cultural references may be lost on someone unfamiliar with England's cultural landscape.
The monetary value of music, musical labor, fundraising, and so forth represent a recurring, almost obsessive theme throughout the volume, ranging from the costs of organs and their players (and blowers) during the Elizabethan era to markups of piano sales in the nineteenth century and the financial precarity of decommissioned churches turned into arts centers today. The book's preface and epilogue offer a somewhat somber reflection on musical (exchange) value given the West Country's slightly above-average vote to leave the European LTnion during the United Kingdom's momentous 2016 referendum. The author here perceives a collective yet aimless sense of a region feeling undervalued, notwithstanding the fact that EU funding has been vital to its economic growth. Redolent of the complexities surrounding national and regional identity, Banfield's tactful assessment of the Brexit referendum giving voice to a population feeling undervalued chimes uneasily with the West Country's musical wealth as documented in this volume.
Repertoire International de Litterature Musicale (RILM)
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|Date:||Dec 1, 2019|
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