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date: 24 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter outlines the proliferation of musical biography and life-writing in its multifarious forms across Europe in the long nineteenth century, and its role in establishing and perpetuating the canon, shaping the reception history of specific composers, constructing exemplary lives, providing firm foundations for the intellectual culture of the time, and maintaining a strong relationship to music history and criticism. Two case studies explore distinctive examples of “popular” manifestations of nineteenth-century music-biographical writing by influential authors to educate and entertain wide communities of autodidactic readers. This first concerns a two-volume compilation of anecdotes, surveyed for its reflection of Victorian values and musical preoccupations; the second, a collected biography whose close reading reveals much about the passive role into which women were repeatedly cast in contemporaneous life-writing on the Great Composers. A concluding section considers the extent of the impact and continued indebtedness of modern musical biography and musicology to the legacy of nineteenth-century intellectual developments.

Keywords: musical biography, music history, biography, life-writing, nineteenth-century music, anecdote, women and music, gender studies, popular biography, autodidact culture, exemplary lives

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