Historians have recently been much exercised with debate about changing patterns of consumption and the rise of consumerism. The pioneering work of J. H. Plumb, Neil McKendrick and John Brewer placed the focus firmly on Georgian Britain. Subsequent research has explored the expansion and transformation of consumer culture in the later nineteenth century: the topics covered include shopping, the rise of a ‘mass market’ and the changing social role of goods and leisure, the relationship of the private and public spheres (as well as of suburbs and the centre) and the place of women in urban society. Yet despite music's obvious role in the commercialisation of leisure (and of luxury goods for a widening market), it has barely figured in mainstream discussion. The numerous cultural histories of London during the 1890s make hardly any mention of music or musical life, except in so far as Wagnerism inspired the decadent movement. Even Erika Rappaport's Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London's West End, an exhaustive recent view of London's urban culture around 1900, makes only scant reference to concert life as opposed to the theatre.
This omission is all the stranger, given the absolutely central role that music – live music, of course – played in the daily life of the city. This role is abundantly evident from the prominence and extent of its coverage throughout the contemporary literature, especially in newspapers and periodicals. For not only did the press expand prodigiously during the 1890s in terms of the number of titles: its attention to music also increased beyond recognition. The Daily Telegraph, for example, always included a dozen or more concert advertisements on its front page during the season (and many more for sheet music), while the Standard reviewed several concerts every day. Even suburban newspapers such as the Brixton Free Press reviewed concerts both central and local. Indeed it is scarcely possible to pick up a publication of the 1890s that does not comment on London's musical life: not mere gossip (though this exists, too) but serious and perceptive analysis of musical trends. The weekly periodicals – the Athenaeum, the Spectator and the Saturday Review – continued to give detailed coverage, but so, too, did family and women's magazines.