Music to Some Consequence: Reaction, Reform, Race

Oskar Cox Jensen

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A naval chaplain in the 1790s, a radical arrested after Peterloo, and a smash hit of blackfaceminstrelsy: these three disparate historical actors all provide exemplary cases of music in action,playing upon the political passions of the British people. Thinking across the three examples, thisarticle reflects upon the aims of the forum Music and Politics in Britain, c.1780-1850, as well as advancing its own autonomous argument. Alexander Duncan was drummed out of the navy for publishing a pamphlet advocating the use of martial music in action; inspired by the French, Duncan was effectively arguing for a democratization of Britain's servicemen by playing upon their passions. The potential for subversion inherent in this approach was borne out by the career of Samuel Bamford, a Lancashire weaver; music was central to Bamford's activism, and I chart the functional ends to which he deployed music around 1819. In a third instance, with the 1840s hit Buffalo Gals, music led to public disorder. The song, due in large part to its musical qualities, enabled forms of licentious behavior among white males that mobilized latent forms of gendered as well as racial prejudice, so that its performance came to excuse forms of sexual harassment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-388
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of British Studies
Issue number2
Early online date9 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

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