Music, Home and Heritage: Sounding the Domestic in Georgian Britain

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Humanities


This project asks how listening to and performing music figured in understandings of home, family and domestic space in Georgian Britain. It seeks both to expand knowledge of the sounding history of Georgian domestic interiors and to explore how to integrate this understanding more fully into heritage interpretations of historic houses today. It considers the meanings that performers and listeners attributed to music in domestic settings, and explores how emotional or spiritual aspects of musical practice figured in the transformation of houses into homes. It will track the increasing delineation of domesticity from public life, and investigate how this intersects with historical narratives on the professionalisation of music, on class structures and on the formulation of family and gender roles. We will probe how music traversed geographical and social space, particularly through dance music, oratorio and opera, which linked familial leisure with forms of public entertainment.

This enhanced understanding of domestic musical practice will be integrated into our exploration of new models for making domestic music visible and audible for heritage visitors today. Music was an important daily activity for many past residents of historic houses, and evoking this activity can help to people the properties in visitors' imaginations, while at the same time providing a powerful antidote to the static sense that historical settings convey for some audiences. Better knowledge of the role of music in domestic architecture, decoration and social life, and of musical links to artefacts and objects, can provide powerful new interpretive tools and highlight connections between tangible and intangible heritage. Through a series of practice-led interpretation experiments, this project will result in case studies for effective interpretation of music in historic houses, and it will contribute to further collaborative research on best practice in the field through partnership with heritage sector professionals.

The project includes an ambitious plan of primary research, including consideration of family papers (diaries, correspondence, accounts, inventories); extant music collections identified with specific houses and owners; music produced for domestic consumption, including arrangements of dance, opera and oratorio; historic guidebooks and furniture catalogues; and extant material settings. The historical research will lead to scholarly outputs in musicology and dance history, while also providing the musical materials underpinning the heritage studies research. In collaboration with the British Library, the research team will conduct a census of musical materials in UK historic houses, substantially enhancing existing research tools while providing the first overview of the material traces of domestic music available for use in heritage interpretation today. With the support of project partner Sydney Living Museums, the project will synthesise existing research on the use of music in historic house interpretation, and devise frameworks for future work in the field. A case study on dance will generate new understandings of how this key social activity was deployed in the home, and result in new recordings of dance music for use by historic dance companies and within the heritage sector. With project partners The National Trust, we will construct a case study at Erddig, providing a detailed history of music making in the house and devising a method for telling the larger story of the property and its occupants through and with music. At Boughton House, a case study mounted in collaboration with the Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust will explore how domestic consumption of stage music worked to construct understandings of private and public space and social identities; an exhibit and performance will bring together objects and sounds from these different realms to create a new interpretation of their relationship.

Planned Impact

This project will benefit a diverse array of non-academic publics, including heritage professionals and heritage visitors; musicians specialising in historically informed performance; and historic dance practitioners.

Activities proposed here have been specifically tailored to address current concerns of heritage sector staff, as identified through the AHRC-funded Sound Heritage network and its focus groups, and to promote their professional development. A census of music collections across heritage organisations in Britain will allow curators to identify items in their collections and develop knowledge about their context. The broad scope of the census will not only address a major lacuna in musicological research tools, but will also enable, for the first time, a detailed picture to be drawn of what music was played in historic houses. Properties that currently have limited or non-existent musical resources will be able to draw upon the census to inform interpretive planning, which will in turn shape the experience of visitors. Case studies proposed in this project will explore new approaches for creating musical interpretations in historic houses, working with site-specific repertories, performances and recording techniques. The documentation of process and evaluation of visitor feedback will inform best practice guidelines for managing music and its conservation in historic houses, as well as provide heritage organisations with models that can be adapted to individual circumstances. The existing Sound Heritage network communication channels provide an international forum for consulting a wide cross-section of heritage professionals as the project unfolds, as well as disseminating information about the project activities and results.

As musical knowledge and tools for its deployment are rolled out through heritage networks, visitors to historic houses will benefit from increased knowledge of music's role in domestic settings and the conscious employment of sound in interpretive displays. By drawing associations between material objects and music collections, curators will be able to produce creative narratives that draw seemingly disparate items together, enabling visitors to connect objects more closely with the people that once owned them. Turning interiors into sounding spaces that resonate both intellectually and aurally has the potential to significantly change the visiting experience. Multisensory engagement with materials can help make sense of societal values, structures and practices from the past, connecting visitors emotionally to static objects and helping them to understand how emotional and sentimental associations were constructed historically.

Musicians engaged in the project will have the opportunity both to learn repertoire from domestic collections that lies outside the mainstream canon and to interact with known compositions in new ways. Scores and recordings of dance music will benefit the historical dance community by providing extra resources for rehearsal and performance. As the majority of dance music from this period consists of published arrangements for piano, there is a pressing need for both transcriptions and recordings of dance music that cater for chamber groups. By working with heritage staff to create interventions for specific historic properties, musicians will have access to performing spaces, modes of performance and audiences that may not otherwise be available to them. On a broader scale, understanding how music was played in the domestic setting will expand knowledge of historical performance practices, which will benefit the early music community. The project's interactions between heritage sector staff and performers will help to build future collaborations that continue to develop links between these disciplines.


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