After the Napoleonic Wars, Britain was involved in no major hostilities abroad for a lengthy period. Furthermore, the kind of internal dissent which met with vicious suppression at Peterloo in 1819 was contained, if not removed, by the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832 and, later, by the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. These two parliamentary moves helped stave off a British counterpart to the continental revolutions of 1848. During this time the industrial and mercan- the bourgeoisie became increasingly prosperous as a result of soaring industrial production and booming foreign trade. The first plateau of economic expansion was marked with a Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851. It is these years of growing middle-class affluence and its related cultural effects which will be considered in this chapter. The prime Victorian virtues of thrift, self-help, independence, and character, which found their eloquent champion in Samuel Smiles, all serve middle-class economic interests by stressing the importance of individual rather than collective action.
Advertisement for pianos in the London-based Reader (1864). Click on image to enlarge it.
The first musical fruit of middle-class prosperity appeared in the form of a piano. It was the acquisition of pianos in large numbers which was to vastly extend the market for drawing-room ballads, and to standardize the genre as a song with piano accompaniment (rather than, say, harp). In the early part of the nineteenth century it was taken for granted that a song published with piano accompaniment was intended for home music-making, or 'at home' functions such as soirees, since songs at public concerts were normally performed with an orchestral accompaniment until the 1840s. The tradition of publishing music heard at concerts in versions aimed at amateurs stretched back into the previous century: then the passion for the German flute among gentleman amateurs had lain behind such remarkable publications as Handel's complete Messiah arranged for flute. The piano seemed to attract the middle class in its earliest arrival in England: Charles Dibdin introduced it at Covent Garden in 1767, and Drury Lane gained an official pianist in 1770. By way of contrast, the piano did not replace the harpsichord in the King's Band for another twenty-five years. In the 1830s there was a great variety of pianos available (grands, squares, upright grands, upright squares, cabinet pianos, table pianos, giraffe pianos, lyre pianos), but the design that won the day was Robert Wornum's cottage piano. Its small size was not created at the expense of tone quality, and its pleasant shape made it a satisfying piece of furniture. Wornum had been working on his cottage design [45/46] since 1811. The action on an upright piano is unavoidably more complex than the grand, where the strings lie in the horizontal plane, and he continued to make improvements in the late 1830s: for example, his 'tape-check' action, which formed the basis of the upright action used in pianos today. Further improvements were made to upright design in the 1840s, and henceforth the softer-toned square piano began to lose favour. The grand piano, however, continued to be the first choice for the concert platform; the upright was considered a domestic instrument.
Cottage pianos may have been comparatively cheap compared with grands, but they were still very much luxury goods: Wornum's cottage pianos sold for between 42 and 75 guineas in 1838, while a Broadwood's price list of 1840 puts the cost from 44 to 80 guineas (their grands cost 90-125 guineas, and their squares 38—85 guineas).1 These prices have to be measured against average middle-class incomes of £100-500 a year (see Best 110). Although there was a growing market for pianos, as the number of urban middle class rapidly increased, piano making had remained a skilled trade, relying on few, if any, pre-manufactured parts. The preferred description 'piano maker' rather than 'piano manufacturer' itself suggests the pre-Industrial Revolution, labour-intensive method of production. There was no way such a complex instrument could be made cheaply under these circumstances. The main piano-making firm in England, Broadwood, developed an intricate system of divided labour in the hope of increasing their speed and efficiency, but that goal does not seem to have been achieved (Ehrlich 38). At mid-century there were around two hundred piano makers listed in London directories, many of them tiny businesses producing only two dozen or so instruments a year. The demand for pianos was greatest in London and accounts for its being the centre of piano making. The few piano makers operating outside London were, with one or two exceptions in the far north, small firms. Pianos reached the provinces via the railway network, after being sold to local dealers. The railway had revolutionized transport in the early Victorian period: by 1855 there were 8000 miles of track, and trains were no longer thought of as unusual. Dealers could not exist solely on selling pianos, since the trade was seasonal. Christmas and Spring were the best times for sales (the latter because of its popularity for weddings); for the rest of the year they needed to rely on music sales and their expertise in tuning.
Left: An advertisement for pianofortes dated 1856. Note the inclusion of a 'professional
testimonial' to boost sales. Right: D'Almaine & Co.announce a sale in The Graphic, 22
January 1887. These illustrations occupy pages 47 and 48 in the print edition.
The cost of pianos began to fall after mid-century; moreover, plenty of second-hand pianos were finding their way on to the market. D'Almaine & Co., who advertised uprights priced between 25 and 40 guineas in 1856, announced a sale in The Graphic of 22 January 1887 in which a new piano could be bought for just 12 guineas, and, what is more, on 'easy terms'. In the same column the London Music Publishing Company Ltd, boasting itself the originator of the 10-guinea piano, advertises 'PIANOFORTES, High Class, for the Million'. A little lower down, Kirkman and Son state that second-hand grands and cottages are 'always in stock'. Nevertheless, many cheap pianos were shoddy and unsatisfactory. An anonymous booklet. The Guard, which circulated in the mid-1850s, suggested that a twenty-year-old piano was often better than a new one because in those days 'music had not dawned upon the million, consequently only first rate, high priced instruments were manufactured'(quoted Ehrlich 44). England and France had led [46/49] the industry in the early days, transport difficulties having handicapped the Viennese; but British manufacturers suffered badly from German competition from the 1880s onwards. Conservatism and mistrust of new technology was to blame: for example, over-strung pianos and metal frames were innovations of the late 1830s, yet Broadwood did not make their first over-strung piano until 1897, and metal frames were long and incorrectly held to give inferior tone to wood.
The piano became the pre-eminent bourgeois instrument for a variety of reasons. At first, it was a luxury instrument; therefore, its possession indicated worldly success. It was, as already remarked, a pleasing piece of furniture, gleaming in its mahogany or rosewood case. A fondness for excessive ornament emphasized this purely visual appeal; indeed, the decorative parts of pianos were the first to be mass produced: in the second decade of the nineteenth century Broadwood bought cast-brass moulding by the foot and stamped brass ornaments by the dozen. The extremes to which this decorative interest could stretch may be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, where there is a satinwood piano decorated with Gothic ornament, inlaid and gilded, with three silk panels at the front (probably the design of Charles Bevan). The piano had established itself as a luxury item of furniture in the 1830s, as the Westminster Review noted:
With a little allowable flattery of the truth, the Book-case, in an inventory of the goods belonging to any well-ordered English house, might be designated as one of its necessary articles of furniture - not as one of its luxuries: the place of popularity among the latter being claimed by the Pianoforte.5
Sometimes imaginative modifications were made to improve its function as furniture; the Rev. Haweis, writing in 1871, offers the following advice on caring for a piano: 'Do not load the top of it with books; and if it is a cottage, don't turn the bottom — as I have known some people do - into a cupboard for wine and desert' (Haweis 409).
The piano was an instrument ideally suited to the parlour or drawing room in terms of its sound, unlike, for example, the trombone. Smiles, discussing domestic music-making in 1852, says of the piano,
Ah! that's the instrument for the house and the home. Would that every household could have one! But pianos are still dear, perhaps because the demand of 'the million' for them has not yet set in.7
Furthermore, a rudimentary technique on a piano was more likely to win family approval than would an elementary skill on certain other instruments. Smiles warns of the violin, 'it is long, indeed, before any one, however perseverant, can acquire such dexterity on the violin as to give pleasure to a home-audience' (209). Moreover, string instruments were thought of as a male preserve for most of the century. A crinoline served as an effective barrier to the cello and its unladylike playing position between the knees. Its small relation, the violin, was thought no more suitable for women, however, even in the hands of the virtuosic Paravicini. The latter, who toured in the early part of the century, won recognition and admiration for her technical brilliance, but her choice of instrument was deplored on the grounds that it was 'not suited to a female, a fact universally admitted, and which no skill or address can get over.'9 [49/50]
Of course, men were free to play violins and cellos in the parlour, but it was women who dominated home music-making, a fact acknowledged by Macmillan's Magazine: 'our young ladies . . . are the principle interpreters of our domestic music'.10 A man tended to choose an instrument, such as a flute or clarinet, which would mean his calling upon the support of a woman to provide an accompaniment when he played. A woman chose self-contained instruments, like the harp, guitar, or piano, which could supply their own harmony. The obligation of ministering to the male was thus as much a part of domestic music-making as of a woman's other domestic duties. The harp and guitar began to decline in popularity towards the mid-century, since the piano coped far more readily with the ever increasing chromaticism which spelt progress for bourgeois music, and which filtered through from concert hall to drawing room.
Though piano pieces, duets, and occasional concerted pieces were played, domestic music-making was largely vocal. The preference for vocal music was explained in scornful terms by the Rev. Haweis in his Music and Morals of 1871 (an influential text arguing for the wholesome effects of 'good' music):
It is thought almost as rude to interrupt a lady when she is speaking as to talk aloud when she sings. Accordingly the advantages of being able to sing in society are obvious. The lady can at any moment fasten the attention of the room on herself. If a girl has a voice, the piano is too soon suppressed in favour of it ... It is true she usually accompanies herself; that is, she dabbles about on the keys,. . . but the room listens, and the room applauds. The maiden is happy; and mamma thinks she requires no more singing lessons. [515-16]
The cessation of singing lessons was no doubt eagerly welcomed by papa too, since half-a-guinea a lesson was not an unusual remuneration for 'professors of singing' at mid-century. The ability of a singer to command greater attention than an instrumentalist persisted throughout the century. E. Lake painted the following description of 'at home' functions in 1891:
i Here in London, we first ask an artist to perform, then ensues the pause of curiosity - the silence of expectation, but directly the music begins, then, if it be vocal we have the maddening murmur, whilst if it ventures to be instrumental, then . . . the row is deafening.12
Haweis considered drawing-room music to be little more than a manifestation of | superficial and vain amateurishness. He regretted that piano playing had become a mere accomplishment for young ladies and that the piano occupied the same place in a girl's education as Latin grammar did in a boy's. Eliza Cook had also protested in her journal at the enforced musical training for girls, nearly twenty years before Haweis' book appeared:
No one can love music more than ourselves, but we have a holy horror of the general domestic exhibitions of playing and singing. We cannot imagine why every girl should be expected to shine in an art which requires a peculiar combination of faculties, taste, and feeling.13
Cook found that her remarks led to her being involved in some 'serious domestic remonstrances', but, unabashed, in the next volume of her journal she wrote a [50/51] satirical description of a soiree at Fullblown Villa, Netting Hill, the home of Mrs Perennial Peony. It is a humorous and probably all too accurate picture of domestic musical life among the wealthy middle class.
There are three remarkably fine young feminine Peonys in the family, and all have received a 'first-rate education' — that is, upwards of two hundred a year has been expended on each of them. Music is the mania that pervades the establishment, — it is the petted exotic of their hotbed of accomplishments.14
All the daughters are described as having a genius for singing, but each plays a different instrument (this is 1852). Miss Peony plays the harp:
she labours away at the poor strings, and vexes the ears of all around her with 'difficult compositions', alike interminable and tiresome. She has unfortunately acquired such alarming celerity of execution, that a runaway locomotive is the nighest approach to it. 
Miss Cora plays the piano, priding herself on her sentiment of expression,
but her notion of expression is bounded by a consecutive number of hard bangs, and as uniform a consecutive number of weak touches that can scarcely be heard. Her head is accustomed to work with wondrous energy over the 'forte' passages, and her eyes are duly upturned to the ceiling at every interval of'pianissimo' effect. 
Miss Lavinia, who plays guitar, is probably the least endurable,
for, unfortunately, she 'takes no note of time', and leaves her hearers to do so only from its 'loss'. 
Cook concludes, 'music assumes the character of a rabid epidemic' in this family and 'a serious infliction is endured' by all who sit out their musical soirees. A conflict persisted throughout the nineteenth century between the high hopes of people like Smiles, quoted earlier, and the reality of domestic music-making. When the middle class began to take an avid practical interest in music in the 1830s, it was welcomed by writers on music as showing 'signs of a disposition to restore music to its proper place, by cultivating it intellectually, and not sensually' ('The Pianoforte', 309). And even in the 1870s, when the true nature of this 'intellectual' cultivation of music had been revealed, the Rev. Haweis is still torn between his contempt for drawing-room music and his over-riding belief in the morally wholesome effects of music:
That domestic and long-suffering instrument, the cottage piano, has probably done more to sweeten existence and bring peace and happiness to families in general, and to young women in particular, than all the homilies on the domestic virtues ever yet penned. 
The problem was that Haweis desperately wanted domestic music to be taken seriously; but while music-making in the home was thought of as, in the main, a Oman's pastime, it could never receive serious attention. In the same decade as Haweis's Music and Morals, a writer in Macmillan's Magazine points out, 'In England no disgrace is attached to ignorance of music and everything connected therewith.'20 This is in spite of the fact that a piano was by then to be found in [51/52] every respectable middle-class home, and that cheap concerts had become available: fifteen years earlier the same magazine had commented approvingly on the availability in London of so much good music which could be heard 'at a cheap rate', claiming 'Times are changed for the better.' (M., 'Classical Music and British Musical Taste', 383)
One of the earliest effects of the widespread desire to play the piano was seen in the emergence of publications catering to the demand for progressive lessons in piano technique, such as Ferdinand Pelzer's A Practical Guide to Modem Pianoforte Playing, published in London in 1842. The biggest effect of the demand for music in middle-class homes, however, was on the technology of the music-printing industry. Alternatives were soon being sought to the costly process of engraving [53/54] music. Lithography seemed to be the most promising of these; it had been invented in 1796 by Aloys Senefelder, who had patented the rights in Bavaria and joined up with a music seller. The first English examples, at the turn of the century, were called 'polyautography'. Between 1806 and 1807 Vollweiler ; printed a small amount of music lithographically in London, but then returned to Germany. Ackerman, an ex-saddler made good in the printing trade, established a lithographic press and pioneered the 'popular annual' (beginning with Forget- Me-Not in 1825). In 1837 Engelman took out a patent for chromolithography; the first English examples belong to the early 1840s. Mezzotint engraving existed before lithography but was a sophisticated process. The Queen's Boudoir, a musical annual published by Nelson & Jeffreys, took to colour lithography in 1841, and so too did D'Almaine's The Musical Bijou. Examples of music printing by lithographic process were exhibited at the Great Exhibition. Augener began by publishing lithographic editions only when the firm was founded in 1853. Nevertheless, the engraved plate was still the favourite medium for music printing well into the 1860s. Lithography lacked the clear edges of engraving, so tended to be used for pictorial title-pages rather than for the music itself. There was also a problem with the heavy stones and their storage, not to mention the heavy duty imposed by the government on their importation; later in the century, however, zinc and aluminium plates replaced the lithographic stone.Some publishers looked elsewhere for the printing technology of the future and reconsidered printing from music type, a process Dr Arnold had patented back in 1784. The music supplements to The Harmonicon, 1823—33, were printed typographically. The Harmonicon is important because, as a reasonably cheap periodical, it provided the middle class with access to those songs which, in turn, formed the roots of the drawing-room ballad: the various strands of the latter genre are here gathered together in one collection. Almost all the key figures discussed in Chapter 1 are represented: for example, Bayly, Bishop, Braham, Dibdin, and Shield. It only lacked a selection of Moore's Irish Melodies, although five of these had circulated in a previous periodical, Walker's Hibernian Magazine, in 1810. The disadvantage of using movable types was that they were expensive, took a long time to compose and were then unusable for anything else until the edition for which they had been set up was discontinued. They were at their most advantageous when running off thousands of copies rather than hundreds. To attract large numbers of buyers, the product had to be aimed at the middle-class market. The Musical Library (1834-37) declared: [52/53]
before this work appeared, the exhorbitant sum demanded for engraved music amounted to a prohibition of its free circulation among the middle classes; at a time too when the most enlightened statesmen saw distinctly the policy of promoting the cultivation of the art in almost every class of society.22
Like The Harmonicon, The Musical Library was printed by William Clowes. He claimed to have purchased a secret process of printing music, invented by Duverger of Paris; he had, however, obtained punches and matrices from Germany in order to cast new musical type for The Harmonicon. Another series printed by Clowes was Sacred Minstrelsy (1834-35), but his most lasting influence was on the firm of Novello. Shortly after the first issue of The Musical Times in 1844, Novello went into printing as well as publishing and took over, with some modification, the same system of musical type used by Clowes. Novello had pioneered the concept of 'Cheap Music' from the day the firm was established in 1811 and made further reductions in prices in 1849. By 1854 a vocal score of Messiah could be purchased for 4s., the price which in some cases was paid for a single drawing-room ballad. Of course, Novello could rely on many thousands of sales,23 and had no royalty arrangements to make with singers in return for their promoting the work, nor any financial obligation to the composer; the only restriction on its cheapness other than production costs was the excise duty payable on paper. Not surprisingly Vincent Novello's son Alfred was a tireless campaigner against what he called a 'tax on knowledge', the payment of 3d. on every pound of paper. It was finally lifted in 1861. Novello and Company Ltd targeted the choral market, concentrating on sacred music and 'standard works'. The octavo edition, which is the present norm for choral works, has its origin in the size of The Musical Times; previously, folio editions had been the norm. One Novello edition to be found in every drawing room was of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words. Being a collection of piano pieces by a living composer, it was not the musical terrain usually associated with Novello; the explanation for this departure was that the firm had managed to buy the British copyright outright in 1837.
Musical type was rarely used for drawing-room ballads, except for 'cheap' collections. The modern ballad was not expected to be cheap; expense was linked in the mind to notions of quality. Even the best type-printed octavo editions came in for criticism such as that made by W. H. Cummings later in the century:
let us speak of the best type printed music. Here we find good paper, well-formed lines and notes, but all so minute and crowded that it requires a serious effort to identify and grasp the picture which has to be conveyed to the brain through the eye. The notes are small, but the words are smaller; and when you come to a recitative — in which, of course, the words form the more important element — you will find, for the sake of saving a little space, that the type setter has used a smaller letter than usual.24
Musical typography remained the most common medium for hymn books and psalters (where there was a lot of text), and for printing short extracts of music in educational literature; the advantage was that the music type could be set at the same time as the text type. On the other hand, the plate, punched (for note [53/54] heads) and engraved, was the most flexible medium available; it could cope with anything from piano music to full orchestra, and with equal ease.
Lithography proved to be invaluable for the packaging of music, as a means of lending additional desirability to the commodity on offer. A. H. King coins the term 'pictorial' for title-pages which are 'intended to give a visual representation of the music'.25 A few pictorial title-pages were printed lithographically by Hawkes-Smith around 1821-22, but engraved title-pages were the norm until the 1830s. At this time, a full page given over to the title was uncommon: the pictorial element would most likely be a vignette, the music beginning immediately beneath. The first person to exploit to the full the eye-catching qualities of lithography in the context of the market for domestic music was the enterprising Louis Jullien, celebrated dance composer, conductor, publisher, and popularizer of the 'cheap concert'. During 1844—45 he had a series of polkas and quadrilles printed with enticing coloured title-pages, and, later, a series of coloured albums. In the 1840s and 50s, arrangements of operatic airs, particularly as dances, were favourite candidates for the pictorial title-page, but in the 60s attention shifted to music-hall songs. The most distinguished colour lithographer working in this field was Alfred Concanen (1835-86). The appetite for pictorial title-pages for drawing-room ballads was soon surfeited; critics scornful of them can be found in the early 1850s:
The rage for pictorial ballads has, of course, given an impetus to purchasers, which must prove highly beneficial to all concerned. The composer becomes a kind of lacquey to the artist, and they are thus enabled to turn out of hand a very saleable sort of commodity - the picture itself being well worth the money, and the song illustrating the illustration in such a manner as almost to bring tears into the eyes of the susceptible.26
In the 1860s a coloured pictorial title-page came to be considered too showy and vulgar for the drawing-room ballad, and was associated with songs which lacked seriousness; where seriousness was not in doubt - as in religious ballads — it lasted longest. However, there is no doubt that music-hall songs, gaily adorned with colour lithographs, were bought by many a wealthy bourgeois: Jane Traies has shown how the pictorial covers were often slanted away from an accurate representation of the song-text towards an interpretation which would allow an up-market appeal to the drawing room.27 Black-and-white lithographs were not thought to vulgarize a ballad as much as colour: admired precedents had been set, such as the lithographed song-title for the publication of Bayly's 'I'd Be a Butterfly' in 1827. Ballads in the catalogue of the Musical Bouquet (published originally by Bingley and Strange), 1846?-89, only ever had black-and-white illustrations, if they were illustrated at all. In fact, the decorative title-page, rather than the pictorial title-page, was more common for music which was regarded as serious or of high quality; its design relied on imaginative use of different type founts. An American invention of 1838 enabled type to be made automatically at 100 letters a minute, in marked contrast to the painstaking hand-made method using moulds, which yielded 400 letters an hour. The consequence was a dramatic fall in the price of type, enabling printers to stock up [54/55] with a lot of unusual varieties of type fonts from which attractive covers could be created.
Once a suitably appealing and tasteful commodity had been produced, an efficient means of dissemination was required.[55/56]
Left: Typical example of a pictorial title-page for a drawing-room ballad (in this case a duet).
Black-and-white lithograph, c. 1865. testimonial' to boost sales. Right: Typical example of a
decorative title-page using a variety of type fonts (1864). Note, in particular, the highly
unusual fonts used for the word 'ballad" and the pseudonym 'Claribel'.
Since most of the music printing in nineteenth-century Britain took place in London, the market was restricted until the country had been opened up by the networks of road and rail. Once this had been achieved, and pianos and ballads were travelling side-by-side along those networks, the only problem was how the consumer was going to choose which ballads to purchase. Notices were given in women's journals of elegant soirées where professional singers could be heard; ideas for songs to sing at home could be picked up there. Ballads were also reviewed in the press outside London: for example, the following comments on songs by Miss Lindsay were made by Scottish journals in the 1850s:28
So simple that singers of very moderate attainments will find little difficulty in singing it at first sight. [Aberdeen Journal, reviewing 'Speak Gently']
It is easy, graceful, and pleasing. Her compositions are for the quiet family circle - the domestic concert - the home circle. [Glasgow Times, reviewing 'Jacob']
In the case of ballads published by Robert Cocks & Co., who proclaimed themselves 'Music publishers to her most gracious majesty Queen Victoria, his royal highness the Prince of Wales, and his imperial majesty the Emperor Napoleon III', one might assume that buying them meant singing the same songs as royalty. Wedgwood was also aware of snob value when he issued his Queensware set, which exploited the desire of the middle class to eat their dinner from the same plates as the Queen of England. A recipe listing the essential ingredients which go to make a 'popular' ballad is given in an advertisement printed on the back cover of one of Cocks' publications:
What a lyrical composition intended to be popular ought to be - it has no unnecessary difficulties, and lies within a moderate range-being thus available for all who sing to amuse themselves or their friends, as well as of those who sing for the public.29
The same sort of opinion is obviously held by a reviewer of John Abel's setting of Felicia Hemans' poem 'The Better Land' (published by Chappell in 1844):
The fault we should find with the composition is not that it has too little learning, but too much. It has great originality and beauty, but not the originality and beauty of simplicity . . . The accompaniment is of difficult execution, and with its innumerable accidentals not very easily read ... A great part of the composition is in G flat, which might have been written in the more familiar key of F natural.30
It was not just the musical side of a ballad which had to be tailored to the technique of the domestic musician; it was equally important that the song had easily singable words. This points to one of the main reasons Walter Scott was not able to rival Burns' popularity as a songwriter. In certain cases the tunes Scott selected were, and still are, well-known; but it is more common to hear the tune announced by Scott's title and then played instrumentally rather than sung. 'Blue Bonnets', for example, can easily sound garbled as a result of what may be a well-intentioned attempt on Scott's part to capture the effect of bagpipe embellishments known as 'doublings' (marked * below).
Scott seems unappreciative of the handicapping effect of dipthongs on an amateur singer's crispness of rhythm and accuracy of intonation; witness the bracketed bars below from 'Pibroch of Donuil Dhuibh' (the Gaelic words, incidentally, are not diphthongs):
On the subject of words, it is a pity so many drawing-room ballads are concerned with dreams; it is a difficult word to sing with a classically trilled 'r' without disrupting the kind of smooth flowing melody to which it is almost always set. Here is a typical example, the beginning of the refrain of Cowen's 'It Was a Dream':
[Performance by author]
It was common practice to build a collection of ballads suited to one's individual taste and technique and have them privately stitched together and leather bound. This practice declined in the 1890s when ballads could only be guaranteed to be in vogue for one concert season, rather than for years. Various reasons can be put forward for what amounted to a lack of serious musical effort in the drawing rooms of the majority of middle-class establishments: it may be said that music was simply thought of as a diverting and wholesome entertainment; for some it was merely regarded as a means of displaying their respectability (concern for spiritual improvement) and status (ownership of a piano); for others it was a woman's subject, and therefore, almost by definition, lacked seriousness. At the same time, there can be no doubt that there were those among the middle class who genuinely loved music, while resisting the application and discipline demanded by the art. Perhaps another reason for lack of concentrated effort lay in the physical conditions of the room itself. Such is the opinion expressed by Alexander Wood in The Physics of Music: 'the Victorian drawing room, with its heavy curtains and carpet and its upholstered furniture, had a very short time of reverberation, was acoustically "dead", and never encouraged musical effort'.31 Furthermore, the effect of a hot drawing room on the strings of a harp or guitar would have been to create frustrating tuning problems. The piano, however, did not suffer to the same extent; this is another reason, added to those given earlier in the chapter, why it rose to pre-eminence.
Finally, a few words must be appended concerning the situation in America, since the ballad market linked Britain and America from its earliest days. Besides the steady flow of London publications across the Atlantic, there were the pirated copies of British ballads printed by American publishers who were taking advantage of the absence of international copyright. Music publishing started in the east, in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore; it then expanded [58/59] westward during the years before the Civil War. Makers of musical instruments kept pace with these developments, so that the two businesses 'fed each other in a kind of symbiotic cycle' (Crawford v). The opening up of the country by railroad was as important in America as in Britain.
Pianos were in great demand, but the square was preferred to the upright in American parlours. Alpheus Babcock had constructed a square piano with an iron frame in 1825, and it was this invention which lay behind the successful series of square pianos made by Jonas Chickering in Boston from 1840 onwards. An alternative keyboard instrument to the piano was the melodeon, a small reed organ with single bellows.33 The melodeon was available in the early nineteenth century but became more widely so when Abraham Prescott set up in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1836. Small portable varieties were made which could be played on the lap and pumped by the elbow. The instrument is often confused with the harmonium, a reed organ developed from the orgue expressif and patented in Paris in 1842 by Alexandre Debain. Further confusion arises between the harmonium and the American organ: put simply, the European harmonium has reeds sounded by compressed air, while the American organ's reeds are sounded by suction. Perhaps the melodeon's suction bellows were the inspiration behind the cottage organs produced by the firm of Estey & Co., which set up in Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1856. Suction seemed to give a more balanced sound, and they were able to export great numbers to Britain, where little making of reed organs took place. There were 247 firms making these instruments in America in the second half of the nineteenth century. Though Julius and Paul Schiedmayer began mass-producing harmoniums in Germany in 1853, it was the American organ (often incorrectly called the harmonium) which caught on in Britain. What the cottage piano did for the concert grand, the cottage organ did for the 'king of instruments' — it domesticated it. Moreover, it became a serious rival to the piano in lower middle-class homes during the later century, because it was cheaper and it stayed in tune. The wealthy middle class acquired both instruments (examples of ballads written for both instruments are discussed later).
In America, as in Britain, the flute and violin were favourite instruments for male amateurs. The guitar sustained its popularity among the American middle class longer than it did among their British counterparts. Even in the late 1850s, this fact prevented the American ballad from becoming standardized as a song with keyboard accompaniment: many of Stephen Foster's songs, for example, were published in alternative versions for voice and guitar. The success of Foster further illustrates the similarity between the British and American markets for domestic music. His music, in the words of H. Wiley Hitchcock,
was aimed at the home — at the typical American parlor, with its little square piano or reed organ, its horsehair-stuffed sofa, its kerosene lanterns and candlelight. Simple enough for amateurs to perform, the music of these songs was pitched at a modest level of artistic sophistication. The language of the texts was generally one step removed from ordinary American speech, with a slightly rarefied atmosphere of cultivated gentility. 34
The appearance of several of his songs in an anthology of the 1850s entitled Household Melodies lends further emphasis to their domestic qualities.
Last modified 11 June 2012