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Julia's Gift: The Social Life of Scores, c.1830

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020


This article addresses a subject long overlooked by students and scholarship – the musical annual. Emerging in London in 1829, this was an enormously popular brand of commercial publication conventionally produced for holiday sales. One particular copy – given as a present to an 11-year-old girl that year – proves a useful starting point from which to interrogate these items as a whole. Several avenues of inquiry suggest themselves: ideas of gift exchange and commerce, histories of the role such music played in adolescent upbringing and pianism, accounts of period notions of ‘the fair sex’, and considerations of the relation between authenticity and deception in annual poetics. In the end, the author attempts to recuperate some enigma or aura for the musical score -not by appealing to some allusive or metaphysical ‘work-content’ immanent in the text, but by exploring the sense in which these volumes were and are souvenirs – perhaps remote from traditional intellectual concerns, but redolent of a bygone and elusive ‘social life’.

Research Article
Copyright © 2006 Royal Musical Association

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This piece is for Thea, born 1 June 2004.


1 The Musical Bijou: An Album of Music, Poetry, and Prose for 1829, ed. F. H. Burney (Thomas Mackinlay) (London, 1828).Google Scholar

2 Mackinlay had at least one other musical annual in circulation in 1830 and 1831; see The Musical Forget Me Not for 1831, ed. Thomas Mackinlay (London, 1830).Google Scholar

3 Julia's baptism date is recorded as 28 April 1818; see Register of Baptisms, Parish of Mitchel Troy, Monmouth, 1801–40.Google Scholar

4 Harmonicon, 7 (1829), 42.Google Scholar

5 Many of the arguments formulated in this article owe much to existing readings of the pre-Victorian annual, although I have taken the opportunity to ask after the place of music in such publications. Literature dealing with the annual is vast. For two recent examples, see Pascoe, Judith, ‘Poetry as Souvenir: Mary Shelley in the Annuals’, Mary Shelley and her Times, ed. Betty T. Bennett and Stuart Curran (Baltimore, 2000), 173–84, and Jill Rappoport's discussion of Letitia Elizabeth Landon's clever manipulation of the boundaries between ‘gift’ and ‘sale’ for commercial gain in ‘Buyer Beware: The Gift Poetics of Letitia Elizabeth Landon’, Nineteenth-Century Literature, 58 (2004), 441–73.Google Scholar

6 Harmonicon, 7 (1829), 27.Google Scholar

7 Ibid., 301.Google Scholar

8 The Musical Bijou, ed. F. H. Burney (Thomas Mackinlay) (London, 1829), n.p. Annuals were generally compiled for the New Year, which means they carried a date for the year following publication.Google Scholar

9 For more on Bochsa and his activities as a convicted forger, see my ‘Dancing the Symphonic: Beethoven–Bochsa's Symphonie Pastorale‘, 19th-Century Music, 27 (2003–4), 2547.Google Scholar

10 Biographie universelle des musiciens, et bibliographie générale de la musique 1860–80, ed. François Joseph Fétis, 2nd edn, 8 vols. (Paris, 1863), v, 418.Google Scholar

11 Harmonicon, 7 (1829), 30.Google Scholar

12 Ibid., 33.Google Scholar

13 Athenaeum, 111 (9 December 1829), 778a.Google Scholar

14 Spectator, I/77 (11 December 1829), 796b.Google Scholar

15 This song was probably the result of an entreaty by Frederick William Collard, who had overseen the free loan of a Clementi piano to Mendelssohn during his 1829 visit. On his return from Scotland, Mendelssohn, in his own words, ‘asked Mr Collard to let me have it on hire this time, he sent me a few English verses and begged me to set them to music. This will be hard for me because I “must”‘; see Felix Mendelssohn: Letters, ed. Gisella Selden-Goth (London, 1946), 60.Google Scholar

16 Athenaeum, 111 (9 December 1829), 778a.Google Scholar

17 The Times (27 April 1829), 23.Google Scholar

18 Spectator, I/76 (11 December 1829), 796b.Google Scholar

19 Atlas, IV/189 (27 December 1829), 844b.Google Scholar

20 The Keepsake for 1829, ed. Frederic Mansel Reynolds (London, 1829).Google Scholar

21 Arjun Appadurai, ‘Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value’, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Appadurai (Cambridge, 1986), 363 (p. 11).Google Scholar

22 See, for example, Jean Baudrillard's classic explanation of how commodities bring on the fake ecstasy of salvation (The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures, 1970; London, 1998, 60).Google Scholar

23 Of course, this theoretical formulation, shop-worn as it is, recalls Marx. His dialectical materialism theorized the first of these dehumanized worlds: a highly structured society of visible exchange that perceived a special place for the commodity. Marx's critique of capital involved explaining how the commodity became a substitute for the social relations that lie behind it. Objects were invested with deep relational significance; hence what he called their ‘fetish character’. The result, as Marx would have it, is tragic. The possessor is duped into feeling intimacy: not for a person, but for an inanimate object. Hence the famous words from Das Kapital: ‘In [the religious] world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands. This I call Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities’; quoted in Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham, NC, and London, 1993), 164, from Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (New York, 1906).Google Scholar

24 The Social Life of Things, ed. Appadurai, 21.Google Scholar

25 Harmonicon, 7 (1829), 301.Google Scholar

26 Ibid., 8 (1830), 30.Google Scholar

27 The debates over the exact moment of the ‘birth of consumer society’, of course, are heated and numerous, and too complicated to rehearse here (although late eighteenth-century London usually looms large). For an excellent history of consumption in relation to ideas of gender, the 1820s proving a particularly rich ground for analysis, see The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, ed. Victoria de Grazia and Ellen Furlough (Berkeley, 1996).Google Scholar

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29 Quoted in Pascoe, ‘Poetry as Souvenir’, 176.Google Scholar

30 Harmonicon, 7 (1829), 301.Google Scholar

31 Atlas, III/134 (7 December 1828), 781a.Google Scholar

32 The Musical Gem: A Souvenir for 1830, ed. William Ball and Nicolas Bochsa (London, 1829), n.p.Google Scholar

33 Spectator, I/76 (11 December 1829), 797.Google Scholar

34 This Lévi-Straussian notion became particularly popular in ‘woman-as-commodity’ feminist studies in the 1970s and 80s; see, for example, Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which is Not One (1977), trans. Catherine Porter and Carolyn Burke (Ithaca, NY, 1985).Google Scholar

35 See Ruth A. Solie's chapter ‘“Girling” at the Parlor Piano’, Music in Other Words: Victorian Conversations (Berkeley, 2004), 85117. Such gender-sensitive readings are hardly ‘new’. ‘Girling’ was in fact all that was left to music in England, according to the writer of ‘Why are Not the English a Musical People?’, Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, 12/330 (6 September 1828), 146. The writer continued: ‘“Music,” says Plutarch, “was the universal language of Greece, the sacred vehicle of history, philosophy, laws, and morals;” but in England it is little more than a mere amusement to while away the evening, or at best, but a branch of female education. Pianos are become articles of furniture to be met with in almost every other genteel house; Miss and her sisters sit down by turns, and screw themselves up to Ah vous dirai, or “I'd be a butterfly” – till some handsome young fellow who has stood behind her chair for six months, turned over her music, or accompanied her through a few liquorish airs, vows his tender passion, brings her the last new song, and at length swears to be her accompaniment throughout life. The piano is then locked up, the music sent to Bath or Canterbury, and the lady is married and cannot sing.’Google Scholar

36 Burstyn, Joan N., Victorian Education and the Ideal of Womanhood (London, 1980), 34.Google Scholar

37 The Musical Bijou … for 1829, ed. (Mackinlay), 67.Google Scholar

38 Matthew Head, ‘“If the Pretty Little Hand Won't Stretch”: Music for the Fair Sex in Eighteenth-Century Germany’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 52 (1999), 203–54 (pp. 244, 247). For a critique of the idea of a stark separation between female ‘private’ and male public spheres, and a description of the lifestyles of privileged women of Julia's milieu, see Vickery, Amanda, The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England (New Haven, 1998).Google Scholar

39 Peter Garside, ‘The English Novel in the Romantic Era: Consolidation and Dispersal’, The English Novel 1770–1829, ed. Rainer Schöwerling, 2 vols. (Oxford, 2000), ii, 15–104 (pp. 74, 63).Google Scholar

40 Atlas, IV/185 (29 November 1829), 780b.Google Scholar

41 The dance was misattributed, a manuscript having been found among Weber's papers after his death in London in 1826. This document was in fact a copy of the fifth of Carl Gottlieb Reissiger's Danses brillantes pour le pianoforte (1822). A hugely popular waltz, it maintained its reputation as ‘Webers letzter Gedanke’ throughout the nineteenth century, despite the fact that its provenance was widely known; Percy Scholes, Oxford Companion to Music (2nd edn, Oxford, 1939), 584.Google Scholar

42 Spectator, I/77 (19 December 1829), 807b.Google Scholar

43 This was Johann Anton André (1775–1842), the first great Mozart scholar, who bought the so-called ‘Mozart-Nachlass’ from the composer's widow, Constanze, in 1799. In 1829, he published his edition of Die Zauberflöte ‘in precise agreement with the composer's manuscript, as sketched, completed and orchestrated by him’, along with his second edition of Mozart's Requiem. These scores were landmarks in the history of the documentary edition; see Plath, Wolfgang, ‘André, Johann Anton’, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (rev. edn, London, 2001), i, 619–20.Google Scholar

44 Athenaeum, 111 (9 December 1829), 778c. This was the second movement of Beethoven's Sonatine op. 79, which was purchased and first published by Clementi in 1809. The autograph is now in the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn.Google Scholar

45 Athenaeum, 111 (9 December 1829), 778a.Google Scholar

46 Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (London, 1992), 211–44.Google Scholar

47 Atlas, IV/189 (27 December 1829), 844b. The similarity between this autograph facsimile and Alceste's second-act aria in Gluck's Italian version of the opera is indeed striking. Mozart's autograph replicates bars 275–99 in ‘Non vi turbate, no, pietosi Dei’ almost exactly; see Gluck, Christoph Willibald, Alceste (Wiener Fassung von 1767), ed. Gerhard Croll (Basle, 1988), 236–8.Google Scholar

48 Atlas, IV/189 (27 December 1829), 844b.Google Scholar

49 Ibid., V/235 (14 November 1830), 749a.Google Scholar

50 Perhaps I have put this too strongly. In his book on the subject, Derrida posits the gift as an ‘other within’. It is sociologically significant, but only by way of a relation of unresolved difference. This is his typically contorted explanation: ‘If the figure of the circle is essential to economics, the gift must remain aneconomic. Not that it remains foreign to the circle, but it must keep a relation of foreignness to the circle, a relation without relation of familiar foreignness. It is perhaps in this sense that the gift is the impossible’; see Derrida, Jacques, Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago, 1992), 7.Google Scholar

51 Carolyn Abbate, ‘Music – Drastic or Gnostic?‘, Critical Inquiry, 30 (2003), 505–36 (p. 524).Google Scholar

52 Thackeray's invective was important to stereotyping the annual as ‘merely decorative’ and ‘for women’. In his satire, he identified four kinds of scent: scented orange-trees, scented exotics, scented water in the movable fountain, scented fire in the golden brazier. Elsewhere, he described these annuals in terms of ‘a large, weak plate, done in what we believe is called the stipple style of engraving, a woman badly drawn, with enormous eyes – a tear, perhaps, upon each cheek – and an exceedingly low-cut dress – pats a greyhound, or weeps into a flower-pot, or delivers a letter’; see Thackeray, William Makepeace, ‘A Word on the Annuals’, Fraser's Magazine for Town and County, 16 (1837), 757–63 (p. 758).Google Scholar

53 Stewart, On Longing, 136.Google Scholar

54 Marius Kwint, ‘Introduction: The Physical Past’, Material Memories, ed. Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward and Jeremy Ansley (Oxford, 1999), 116.Google Scholar

55 Stewart, On Longing, 145.Google Scholar

56 Abbate, ‘Music – Drastic or Gnostic?‘, 506.Google Scholar

57 Lydia Goehr, The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music (Oxford, 1992). One ‘work-based’ publication that received attention in 1829 was Purcell's Sacred Music, ed. Vincent Novello, 4 vols. (London, 1828–32).Google Scholar

58 ‘Work'- and text-fidelity are best thought of as related; both were essential to Romantic-Modern hermeneutics. Richard Taruskin's view that work-fidelity was narrowed to text-fidelity over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is only generally defensible. This formulation does disservice to the 1830s, privileging ‘Ideal’ over ‘Material’ Romanticism. Just like Moderns, Romantics made fetishes of the text; they believed dogmatically in ‘being true’ to it. In the 1830s, in fact, Truth was to be sought by bringing the ‘work’ behind, within or above the text ‘to life’; hence the metaphysics or (false) mystique of the Romantic score; see Taruskin, Richard, Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance (Oxford, 1995), 12.Google Scholar