This book originally appeared in 1989 as part of the series Popular Music in Britain published by the Open University Press. In revising the work for republication, I have had to confront two problems. The first is that the work has been cited a fair number of times in the past ten years and, moreover, was adopted as a key text for A832 Victorian Popular Music, one of the modules of the Open University's MA in Humanities. It was, therefore, a matter of concern for me that the pagination of the original should be maintained. Hence, for this edition I have chosen to add a completely fresh general chapter rather than to expand existing chapters. I have also provided an extensive bibliography which I hope will benefit other researchers of nineteenth-century British and American popular song. I have appended references to recent research by others (and myself) in a new section at the end of the notes to chapters.
My second problem relates to the period in which the book was written (the 1980s), and the stage that cultural theory had reached during that decade. This was a time when Cultural Studies, Literary Theory, and the New Art History were creating turmoil in academia. Initially, the new cultural theorizing taking place in the UK was heavily indebted to the work done in the 1970s at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (University of Birmingham) which, in turn, relied upon the ground-breaking work of Raymond Williams and E. P. Thompson. Then, the influence of Continental thinkers increased and, while some were accommodated easily enough (the Frankfurt School), others (for example, Barthes and Kristeva) caused battle lines to be drawn up between two contending camps: culturalists on one side and structuralists on the other. British structuralism gave way rapidly to poststructuralism but struggled harder and longer against the claims of culturalism. Now, whole point of this over-general history lesson is to point out that my book bears some of the scars of this cultural theoretical warfare. Within three years of its publication, I found myself drawn firmly into the poststructuralist camp. The deciding factor, for me, was my difficulty in accounting for some sort of inner expressive essence when I embarked upon further research into questions of sexuality, gender, and ethnicity in music. I shall expand no further, except to say that if I had written this book in the 1990s it would have turned out rather differently from the product before you.
In returning to the theoretical framework of this book, I do wish to add a few words designed to defend it against a misreading made by some of my critics. So, [xv/xvi] let me assure readers that, while I was somewhat monolithic in my characterization of the Victorian bourgeoisie, I was well aware of the pitfalls of mapping high- and low-status music onto high- and low-status consumers in a simplistic manner, and such was certainly never my intention. I readily acknowledge that a middle-class factory owner could enjoy a blackface minstrel song, and a factory worker could enjoy singing in Handel's Messiah or playing Mendelssohn's music as a member of a brass band (see pages 87, 105, 193 and 197). On the other hand, I refer those who argue that such examples show there is no relation between musical taste and social class to the empirical data gathered by Pierre Bourdieu (especially in his book Distinction). There is also a strong argument to be made for the effectiveness of different styles in articulating distinct class interests (cf. the work of Richard Middleton). Furthermore, the field of the popular that opened up in the nineteenth century was one in which different classes and class fractions fought over questions of intellectual and moral leadership (or what Gramsci termed 'hegemony'). This struggle concerned matters of cultural status and legitimation, and popular culture functioned frequently as an area of compromise over values, allowing the working class to adopt evasive or resistant strategies. In other words, popular song could and, I argue, did function as a site for the contested meanings of social experience.
Another matter that raised critical hackles in some quarters was the Marxist perspective I adopted. I continue to argue, however, that to begin to understand matters relating to music and class in the nineteenth century, it is important to know how ideas of class were being reformulated during that epoch, when a new perception grew of classes as socio-economic groupings with the capacity to effect social change. From this perspective, most familiar from the writings of Marx and Engels, some groups were regarded as left over from a previous 'mode of production' (for example, the aristocracy and peasantry were perceived as residual feudal elements), while others were seen to represent a modern clash of class interests (for example, capitalists and the working class). Ideas of'class struggle' and 'class consciousness' developed in the nineteenth century and their relationship to song is duly considered in this book. For Marx, the crucial determinants of class position in economic terms were, first, whether or not one had ownership of the 'means of production' and, second, whether one had the ability to purchase labour power or needed to sell one's own. For me, this still remains the most convincing analysis of the class divisions (described in terms of working class, middle class and upper class) that arose during the time of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. It is important to note, however, that the new conceptualization of class saw social position as something that could be, at least partially, attained by anyone, whereas the former ideas, based on notions of hierarchy and rank, were linked to a belief that these were determined at birth.
It will be clear from the above that I remain unrepentant and, thus, I forego asking the reader to pity the lot of someone who, in a reworking of Strephon's sorry condition, is a Marxist down to the waist but finds his legs are fanatical about Gilbert and Sullivan. There again, I like to think that had the great castigator of capitalism lived a little longer he would have found much to enjoy in Utopia Limited, an opera that chose the unlikely subject of political economy as the target of its satire.
Derek B. Scott
10 April, 2000
Last modified 11 June 2012