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Empiricism, Ideology and William Crotch's Specimens

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2013

Howard Irving*
University of Alabama at Birmingham Email:


William Crotch's Specimens of Various Styles of Music Referred to in a Course of Lectures Read at Oxford and London was a remarkable new type of score anthology when it first appeared in three volumes published between 1807 and 1810. Many anthologies in this period effectively serve as memorials to an earlier classical tradition, but Crotch compiled the Specimens with an almost museum-like detachment and intended it only for the practical pedagogical purpose of tracing the evolution of music. Crotch's empirical, dispassionate, and one might say scientific approach in the Specimens mirrors a turn in British culture generally around the turn of the century toward empiricism, a shift that has been discussed at length in connection with the painter John Constable and his circle. Crotch himself was, not coincidentally, a significant landscape painter and a friend of Constable during the years in which the Specimens were published.

Crotch's relatively objective approach to criticism in the Specimens is most noticeable in his treatment of so-called “national” music. In this area his remarks are strikingly different from the criticism of contemporaries, especially Charles Burney. In connection with concert music, however, Crotch is less successful at pursuing a programme of value-free criticism. In some cases he clearly selects examples with the goal of influencing a composer's reception and stresses qualities that are in line with his developing conception of what might be called “classical music”.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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1 On the back cover of these ‘Observations etc. on Dr Crotch's Works on Music’, which is catalogued by the Norfolk Record Office as NRO MS 11099, is written ‘B.C. Bertie Ch. Ch. Oxford 1838’. This is presumably Brownlow Charles Bertie (born 1819), grandson of the better known Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon and significant figure in eighteenth-century music. According to Alumni Oxonienses Brownlow Charles Bertie matriculated at Christ Church 11 May 1837 at the age of 17 and died in 1852.

2 Weber, William, The Rise of Musical Classics in Eighteenth-Century England: A Study of Canon, Ritual, and Ideology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992)Google Scholar

3 Weber, William, ‘The Intellectual Origins of Musical Canon in Eighteenth-Century England’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 47 (1994): 493CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 As Burney prepares to enter into a discussion of Handel's music, he pauses to lament the lack of a Handel complete edition and proposes a subscription to finance its publication. See, An Account of the Musical Performances in Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon May 26th, 29th; and June the 3rd, and 5th, 1784 In Commemoration of Handel (London, 1785): 47.

5 Kassler, Michael, Hawes, William, Krummel, Donald William, and Tyson, Alan, Music entries at Stationers' Hall, 1710–1818: from lists prepared for William Hawes, D.W. Krummel, and Alan Tyson and from other sources (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004): 594Google Scholar

6 Among the former are Samuel Arnold's four volumes of Cathedral Music from 1790 and some well-known older volumes of cathedral music and anthems by William Boyce, William Croft and Maurice Greene. Among the somewhat more recent and slightly more inclusive titles are C.I. Latrobe's Selection of Sacred Music from the Works of Some of the Most Eminent Composers of Germany and Italy and Joseph Corfe's popular two-volume collection of sacred music from ca. 1800. Finally, Bertie's list includes some popular single-author collections of old music from around the turn of the century, including Arnold's collected edition of Handel and Corfe's well-known Beauties of Purcell and Beauties of Handel.

7 Johnstone, H. Diack, ‘The Genesis of Boyce's “Cathedral Music” ’, Music and Letters 56 (January 1975): 27–28Google Scholar

8 ‘The Silver Swan’ appears in Specimens, II:18.

9 Weber, ‘The Intellectual Origins of Musical Canon in Eighteenth-Century England’, 493. Weber contends that empiricism ‘was not a world view; rather, it was a linguistic vehicle, a way of thinking and writing that each musical and literature culture adapted to its own particular needs’.

10 Irving, Howard, Ancients and Moderns: William Crotch and the Development of Classical Music (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999)Google Scholar

11 Examiner, 27 January 1872, in an article on the early years of the Royal Institution.

12 See Morris Berman, ‘The Early Years of the Royal Institution 1799–1810: A Re-Evaluation’, Science Studies 2, No. 3 (July 1972): 205–40 and Social Change and Scientific Organization: The Royal Institution, 1799–1844. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978): xxv. Davy's relationship with his upper-class audience had much to do with the Royal Institution's transformation from a well-intentioned effort to better the condition of the poor through the dissemination of practical knowledge to, at least in part, a source of fashionable amusement that soon included music and other arts. See, George A. Foote, ‘Sir Humphry Davy and His Audience at the Royal Institution’, Isis 43, No. 1 (April 1952): 10.

13 Sarah Fuller, The European Musical Heritage 800–1750 revised ed. (Burr Ridge, IL: McGraw Hill, 2006)Google Scholar

Katie Marie Stolba, The Development of Western Music, An Anthology 3rd ed., 3 vols (Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998)Google Scholar

Evan Bonds, Anthology of Scores to A History of Music in Western Culture 2nd ed, 2 vols. (Upper Saddle River New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006)Google Scholar

Willi Apel and Archibald T. Davidson, Historical Anthology of Music 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946)Google Scholar

Claude Palisca and J. Peter Burkholder, Norton Anthology of Western Music 6th ed., 3 vols. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010)Google Scholar

14 King, A. Hyatt, Some British Collectors of Music c. 1600–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963): 60Google Scholar

15 The Specimens includes movements from two Pleyel quartets. These include the first movement of Benton 353 in C major (Specimens III:23) and the third movement of Benton 358 in F minor (Specimens III:24).

16 NRO MS 11228. Some of the lectures in this manuscript are dated, and the dates vary widely. The presumptive early date suggested here is based on a letter from Crotch to his mentor the Rev. Dr Joseph Jowett dated 24 January 1805 (NRO MS 11214). In the letter, which concerns his first lecture series in London, Crotch describes a lecture he had already read elsewhere (presumably Oxford) that combined music by Mozart and Pleyel in the manner that NRO MS 11228 does.

17 Irving, Howard, ‘William Crotch on “The Creation” ’ Music and Letters 75 (1994): 548560CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18 NRO MS 11230.

19 Irving, ‘William Crotch on “The Creation” ’: 558Google Scholar

20 This paragraph summarizes Crotch's explication in Specimens, Preface to vol. 1, 1–2.

21 Klonk, Charlotte, Science and the Perception of Nature: British Landscape Art in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996): 67Google Scholar

22 NRO MS 11232. ‘Te gloriosus Apostolorum’ appears in Specimens, II:128.

23 NRO MS 11232.

24 Andrew Hemingway, Landscape Imagery and Urban Culture in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992Google Scholar

Thornes, John E., John Constable's Skies: A Fusion of Art and Science (Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press, 1999)Google Scholar

25 Colin Harrison, John Malchair of Oxford: Artist and Musician, with essays by Susan Wollenberg and Julian Munby (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1998): 6–7Google Scholar

Lemaitre, Henri, Le Paysage Anglais à l'Aquarelle, 1760–1851 (Paris: Bordas, 1955)Google Scholar

Fleming-Williams, Ian, ‘Dr William Crotch (1775–1847): Member of the Oxford School and Friend of Constable’, The Connoisseur 159 (May 1965): 28–31Google Scholar

Rhyne, Charles S., John Constable: Toward a Complete Chronology (Portland. Oregon: Published by the Editor, 1990)Google Scholar

26 Lemaitre, Le Paysage Anglais, 134Google Scholar

Fleming-Williams, ‘William Crotch’, 28–31Google Scholar

27 This is true, for example, of Humphry Davy, about whom Coleridge (who in fact wrote of himself, ‘I am a so-so chemist, and I love chemistry’) is quoted as having exaggerated that ‘had not Davy been the first chemist, he, probably, would have been the first poet of his age’. See, John Davy, Fragmentary Remains, Literary and Scientific, of Sir Humphry Davy, Bart. (London: John Churchill, 1858): 322–33.

28 Klonk, Science and the Perception of Nature, 150–151Google Scholar

29 Rhyne, John Constable, 71Google Scholar

30 Burney's ‘Account of an Infant Musician’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, vol. lxix, pt. I (1779): 183–206Google Scholar

31 Hemingway, ‘Landscape Imagery’, 16–17Google Scholar

32 R.B. Beckett, comp., John Constable's Discourses (Suffolk Records Society, 1970)Google Scholar

33 Klonk, ‘Science and the Perception of Nature’, 5Google Scholar

34 Beckett, John Constable's Discourses, 12Google Scholar

35 Charles Burney, A General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (1789), ed. Frank Mercer (New York: Dover Publications, 1957)Google Scholar

36 Charles Burney to Joseph Cooper Walker 13 October 1796.

37 Anonymous [Charles Burney], Review of Joseph Walker, Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards in Monthly Review 77 (1787): 428.

38 Dean-Smith, Margaret, ‘The Preservation of English Folk Song and Popular Music: Mr Malchair's Collection and Dr Crotch's SpecimensJournal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 7 (2 Dec.): 108–109Google Scholar

39 William Jackson, The Four Ages; together with Essays on various Subjects, Monthly Review series II vol. 26 (1798): 190–199Google Scholar

Jackson's Observations on the present State of Music, in London in Monthly Review 6 (October, 1791): 196–202Google Scholar

40 Dean-Smith, Margaret, ‘The Preservation of English Folk Song’, 108–109Google Scholar

41 NRO MS 11063.

42 NRO MS 11063.

43 Burney to Walker, 13 October 1796.

44 NRO MS 11066.

45 Violations of harmonic laws he thinks fundamental in early polyphony provoke a crisis for Burney in General History I:557, and cause him to despair that since ‘there is a mode and fashion to Harmony, as well as Melody, which contribute to render the favour of musical compositions so transient’ then ‘little hope can remain to the artist that his productions, like those of the poet, painter, or architect, can be blest with longevity!’.

46 NRO MS 11228.

47 Dissi a l'amata mia lucida stella, Specimens II:15, Bow thine ear, Specimens II:16.

48 ‘Josquin chant’ Specimens II:4, Palestrina Deposuit potentes, Specimens II:12, We have heard (recomposed by Aldrich), Specimens II:13. The actual composer of the ‘Josquin chant’ has not been identified. By ‘chant’ Crotch seems to mean in this case the chordal style of English plainchant. He discusses the harmony of this example in his Substance of Several Courses of Lectures (Clarabricken, Co.Kilkenny: Boethius Press, 1986), 81.

49 Tallis, Gloria Patri, Specimens II:14, Byrd, Non nobis [Domine], Specimens II:17.

50 NRO MS 11064.

51 NRO MS 11064.

52 NRO MS 11231.

53 Specimens III:1.

54 NRO MS 11228.

55 NRO MS 11233.

56 NRO MS 11233.

57 Sonata no. 1 Op. 12, Specimens III:25.

58 NRO MS 11230.

59 NRO MS 11229.

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