Toward a general history of Australian musical composition : first national music, 1788-c.1860 / Graeme Skinner Skinner, Graeme

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Skinner, Graeme
Music - Australia - 18th century - History and criticism.; Composition (Music); Composers - Australia - History and criticism.
Doctor of Philosophy(PhD) This study is a first attempt at a history of musical composition in early colonial Australia. It demonstrates that the existing general literature gives an inadequate account of the role of composers, and the function and reception of locally composed music within colonial society. That such a study has not been undertaken earlier is due partly to a lingering historical prejudice that the music itself is not very interesting, and not very good; and partly to the intractability of musical and documentary sources. Since 2005, a National and State libraries initiative has built a freely accessible online archive of around 300 printed early colonial compositions; nevertheless, most of these prints were undated, and few of the works or composers featured in previous literature. Since 2008, another NLA initiative, Australian Newspapers 1803-1954, has solved the documentary problem, with its searchable online archive of the colonial press. Using both new resources, it has been possible for the first time to date almost all of the existing prints precisely, and to identify from press advertisements a further 140 prints that are presumed lost. Systematic searches also identified a large number of unpublished compositions previously unknown. Since manuscripts survivals from this period are rare, almost none of these works is still extant. However, their identification adds greatly to the understanding of the profile of composed music in the era and to the careers of individual composers. Whereas fewer than 50 individual works have been cited in previous literature on the period, an appendix checklist identifies 880. This new data is used to chronicle the early history of compositional activity in Australia, from the European takeover onward. While no attempt has been made to hypothesise prior creative activity, early European transcriptions of Indigenous song, characterised at the time as the authentic "Australian National Music", are one focus of the early chapters. Early colonial composed music, meanwhile, answered the immediate needs of the founding British colonial establishments, and later settler colonial society, mainly in dance music and songs. A first performance by professionals (theatre and concert artists, and military bands) was often followed by publication in sheet music format for the domestic market, complementing a limited supply of imported print music. Composers also regularly arranged and reorchestrated imported theatre music for local forces, and improvised. The press greeted new works as contributing to "colonial production" and social improvement. Contemporary commentators theorised that local conditions — geographic, climatic, social, and economic — would help form an Australian national music distinct from its British and European antecedents. The study argues that, responding creatively to colonial realities, composers indeed produced a body of music locally distinctive, modest in ambition, broad in appeal, and functionally supportive of social and national interests. Insufficient infrastructure to support advanced repertoire and larger forms effectively quarantined Australia from canonic influence until the 1860s, allowing a popular early-Romantic music culture to continue to flourish in isolation. The study provides the first bibliographic apparatus and historical framework to assist researchers, performers, and students in using the online materials. The online format prototypes a novel approach to delivering history in which live links to primary sources allow readers to engage with the author's discussion critically.
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2018-02-26 09:14:15.0

This thesis is now largely superseded by the vastly expanded and updated data in the author's research website:

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