A couple of weeks back, I was at university in Southampton, for the first workshop of the Sound Heritage network. Convened by Jeanice Brooks of Southampton, and Jonathan Wainwright of the University of York, it brings together heritage and music professionals and academics from around the country, and indeed, the world.
Jeanice kicked off with a presentation on the evidence for the importance of music in 18th and 19th century country house culture, and reasons why country house music is not better known and studied. The focus of music historians on the German music culture at the time, and a prejudice that domestic (by which I mean not just British, but “played in the home”) music simply wasn’t very good. The relatively recent change in musicology, away from these ingrained attitudes has led to a light being cast upon country house music for the first time.
Jeanice mentioned a number of houses where research has already taken place: Stourhead, Tatton Park, and other NT places among many others both in the UK and, for example, Vacluse House in Australia, the challenges in presenting musical collections are many and varied, especially for organisations like the National Trust. For example “Curators feel very unequipped to deal with this musical material.” She says a place might have tons of sheet music, but no family records or instruments, or one of the other two, but no music.
With the work of the National Trust’s own Mark Purcell, the sheet music is at least listed in COPAC. But most domestic places are not suited to playing this music for their visitors in formal concerts, and the music was never intended for concert listening in the first place. Working with the National Trust and Southampton University in research funded by AHRC, Tatton Park tried a number of experiments around their music collection – public master classes for students, commissioning some new works, and making films to share performances to larger audiences than you can fit in the music room. Here’s Jeanice introducing that project on YouTube.
Jonathan Wainwright explained a little more about the aim of the Sound Heritage network – A better understanding of the role of music in country house culture. To that end, he suggested what the network’s objectives might include: to create lasting connections between people from the various institutions; making connections between the tangible and intangible heritage, a web-site is a given, but could there/should there be a collection of essays, including not just the stories behind musical collections, but also the challenge of interpreting music ? Ultimately, he and Jeanice hope that the network will generate both large scale (national) projects and small scale projects. So he also threw a couple of questions out to challenge not just those at the workshop, but the wider network: what places’ collections are still in need of research? How do we match dislocated collections with their pace of origin?
Then we had a presentation from Karol Mullaney-Dignam, PhD, the only scholar in Ireland doing research in Country House music. She explained that there is an added political element to the issue of preserving and playing country house music – after independence country houses were seen as relic of colonial rule. The state was not particularly interested in preserving the buildings or the contents, and there was little appetite for a charitable solution like the National Trust. Since the nineties, with a growing “Culturally curious” domestic tourism audience, country houses have become a more accepted part of the cultural landscape. This has allowed Karol in her work for the Office of Public Works, to connect places and their music.
But music was completely overlooked in the OWS owned places, state owned places have had their collections sold off. Music collections are still found in privately owned houses, but rarely archived or cataloged, so she had her work cut out for her pieceing together stories from scraps of sheet music, the occasional instrument, and (mostly) household accounts.
I particularly liked her observation that the social use of these houses changed during the nineteeth century from enfilades, a series of rooms filtering access to power, to a circulatory party space.
Then after lunch we crossed across to the theatre to join a recital from Soprano Emily Van Evera and harpsichordist Martin Perkins. Over the course of an hour, the two musicians mapped the life of Lady Charlotte Bridgeman by her music. They showed us bills for music lessons, books and harpsichord spares, and even notation for popular music of the day, copied by Charlotte herself (and later borrowed by Elvis Presley, with different lyrics as you might imagine). The music they selected to play matched the romantic, and sometimes tragic events of her life.