The music of the times. Well, the 'Star'

Published by: mike on 29th Apr 2018 | View all blogs by mike

The music of the times - well, the ‘Star’

 ‘.....It was a time when I was not the lenient, almost foolishly good natured critic I have since become...’

                                        Bernard Shaw   (The ‘Star’  15 August of 1877.  ‘Vocalists of the Season’)


      There is a source for the music of the late Victorian period.   Bernard Shaw had been a music critic.  He reviewed concerts from 1876 to 1893 for the ‘Star’ newspaper

     A London theatre has been presenting a season of Oscar Wilde plays and a few days ago I saw their new production of ‘An Ideal Husband‘  Among the cast are Edward Fox and his son Freddie Fox. 

     A local cinema lists this production as a live screening on 05/06/2018.  It might be shown at a cinema near you.

   Edward Fox plays Lord Caversham and his son plays Lord Goring.  Goring is the son of Lord Caversham.  Goring is often portrayed as an image of Wilde.  When Lord Caversham asks his son, “Do you always really understand what you say, sir?” and his son  replies, “Yes, father, if I listen attentively,”  perhaps a certain frisson has been added to the scene due to the actors’ relationship?

   In these productions, the theatre curtains are drawn while the set is changed.    

   During these intervals, some of the cast emerge from the wings and entertain the audience with  songs and music of the period.  In ‘An Ideal Husband’ a violinist plays what I think is ‘salon’ music.  


   I have three huge volumes of Shaw’s music criticism on my bookshelves.  I cannot really recommend them as general reading.  I think I got them in a remainder shop many years ago.  I thumbed through the first volume last night.  In an article published in the ‘Scottish Music Monthly of Dec 1894, Shaw explains why he became a music critic.

     ‘.....My own plan was a simple one. I joined the staff of a new daily paper as a leader writer. My exploits in this department spread such terror and confusion that my proposal to turn my attention to music criticism was hailed with inexpressible relief.....’  

     In the ’Star‘ ( 4th October 1889)  he begins a review titled ‘A Defence of Ballet’ with the comment: ‘ is all but thirteen years  since I went to the Lyceum  theatre one November evening to hear the Carl Rosa Opera company perform..”    It was a time, he comments, when: ’.... I was not the lenient, almost foolishly good natured critic I have since become.....’


    The English musical word can only offer great thanks for the mellowing of Mr Shaw.  On the 15 August of 1877 in article called ‘Vocalists of the Season’ he notes Madame Antoinette Stirling’  ‘......She is a perfectly unconventional artist....of the safe old croaking school..”  

      Shaw approves of her recital but notes the accepted method of singing ballads:

     “Mrs Stirling’s style is coloured by a remarkable mannerism.   Such peculiarities, however, are invariably attractive.  It is only affectation that repels.  Ballad singing is usually accompanied by coquettish smirks a smile at the end of each stave, and an absurd prolongation of the pathetic phrases, by way of apology for the absence of legitimate effect.  The mob applauds and the judicious hearer recoils ...’

      This must be the Puritan Shaw speaking but he was an advocate -almost a disciple  - of Wagner.   His portrayal of the ballad singer of 1877 is much as the singer would be portrayed today. I recall they were portrayed in this fashion in the two earlier plays in the Wilde season.

      An American paper ‘The Poverty Bay Herald 29, June 1893’  reviews a recital of Madame Antoinette Stirling in a favourable light and lists the ballads she sings.  ‘The Lost Chord’ by Sullivan is s ballad that is still recalled.


1 Comment

  • Mat
    by Mat 2 months ago
    I enjoyed this, Mike. Although must say my heart sank when I heard the Fox clan mentioned, again. Although Intrepid Fox used to be one of mine. Is it still there? All best.
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