Fellow 2009-10

Christina Bashford


Bashford image
An elementary school violin class in late Victorian Britain.

Violin Culture in Britain and Beyond, 1880-1930

In Britain in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, there was a remarkable surge of interest in playing instruments of the violin family. The surge, which peaked around 1930, affected both music education and the violin trade and broke long-accepted barriers of gender (string instruments became open to women) and class (working-class participation grew in industrial areas). Similar transformations occurred across the British Empire and in America and mainland Europe, most notably in Germany.

Results of this phenomenon affected the shape of the music profession and laid the foundations for careers in classical music enjoyed by subsequent generations. Yet the nature and significance of this fin-de-siècle “string” culture have been largely overlooked by music historians. How and why did this upswell take place? What were its broader cultural implications? Professor Bashford will begin answering these questions with an historical investigation from a number of angles: economic, social, cultural, musical, and ideological.

During her Center appointment, Professor Bashford will launch her study with a concentrated search of primary materials. She will also write an initial paper that (a) examines the upsurge in making, buying, selling, playing, and collecting string instruments in Britain and (b) assesses the paradox of the rising popularity of crafted wooden instruments in a time that celebrated music’s connection with industrial innovation and mechanization. In subsequent research, she plans to enlarge the project to include case studies of activities in other countries, and to produce a book on the subject.