The Organization of Musicians in 19th-Century Britain: Towards a New Definition of the Profession

By Angèle David-Guillou

A wide-scale music industry based on concerts and the income they generated emerged less than a century after its beginnings under aristocratic tutelage which protected and regulated the music profession and its repertoire in Great Britain until the end of the 18th century. British musicians thus organized themselves and started working together in order to deal with this change. On the one hand, the variety of the new collectives they formed was characteristic of the labor movements in general. On the other hand, it reflected the specificities of an extremely divided professional environment. Furthermore, their goal was not only to protect their status and defend their rights, but fundamentally to formulate a definition of the musical profession and—for certain organizations—to unite the profession. The study of these professional organizations offers a novel view on the changes with which British musicians were confronted during the 19th century in that it stresses the different discourses and lines of reasoning on the impact of the industrialization of music on their work. This analysis also illustrates how collective action can help develop professional autonomy.

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