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The University of Southampton

The Sounds of Femininity: Gender, Class and Religion in British Musical Life c1780-1850 Seminar

Southampton Centre for Nineteenth-Century Research
David Kennerley
16:00 - 18:00
15 November 2017
65/2115, Avenue Campus, SO17 1BF

For more information regarding this seminar, please telephone Mary Andrew on .

Event details

Part of the SCNR Seminar Series for 2017-18.

‘The Sounds of Femininity: Gender, Class and Religion in British Musical Life, 1780-1850’. This period is often thought of as one in which the growth of the middle class and the increasing availability of the parlour piano led to a rapid expansion of female music-making. At the same time the evangelical revival and the culture of feminine domesticity that it fostered is often seen to have channelled this female musicking into restrained, modest, limited forms that replicated in sonic terms the wider restraints imposed on middle-class women’s lives. Drawing on the letters and diaries of a wide range of families, this paper certainly presents evidence that supports such a view, especially, and unsurprisingly, in the case of families influenced by evangelicalism, among whom female musical professionalism, and anything that sounded like it, was viewed with intense moral suspicion. However, very different cultures of female music-making were fostered among families from Broad Church, High Church and Roman Catholic backgrounds. In these milieu, a female amateur might pursue professional standards of musical excellence and win admiration for her skills without being thought to have transgressed feminine boundaries. This profound diversity of attitudes towards the sounds of femininity has not been fully appreciated by both historians of gender and music, and yet, as I hope to show, it holds the key to explaining much about the development of British musical life in this period, and the role of women within it.

Speaker information

Dr David Kennerley, King's College London. David Kennerley is a social and cultural historian of modern Britain with a particular interest in the history of sound, musical life and performance. He completed his doctorate in History at the University of Oxford in January 2014, with a thesis on professional female singers in Britain, c.1760-1850, supervised by Professor Bob Harris. Since then, he has worked as a research assistant to Professor Kathryn Gleadle at the University of Oxford and held two stipendiary lectureships at Worcester College and Somerville College, Oxford. He joined KCL in October 2016 as a Postdoctoral Research Associate on the European Research Council project ‘Music in London, 1800–1851’. His current book project, focusing on the period c.1780–1850, explores sonic aspects of gender in the past, through investigating the ways in which the differing styles of performance and vocality of various kinds of female singers were perceived to encode aurally different types of contemporary femininity, including new kinds of female professional identities. In addition, he is currently undertaking research into the role of musical performance in political culture and has written recently on Charles Dibdin’s loyalist songs in the 1790s and on Chartist performances of opera in the 1840s. He is currently organising a conference (with Oskar Cox Jensen) on ‘Music and Politics in Britain, c.1780–1850’ to be held in June 2017.

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