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From Dissent to Community

From Dissent to Community

The Sacred Harmonic Society and Amateur Choral Singing in London

(p.159) Chapter 8 From Dissent to Community
London Voices, 1820-1840
Wiebke Thormählen
University of Chicago Press

The history of the Sacred Harmonic Society, one of London’s foremost choral societies, is an established part of England’s performance history in the nineteenth century. Far less is known about its beginnings. This chapter investigates the Society’s founding ideologies and argues that its initial purpose was less concerned with dissatisfaction over the dominance of foreign musicians in London or over the rift between the opera and the emerging concert culture. Rather, its founders sought to establish an amateur music culture in a city set on the professionalization of the music business. The Society’s emphasis on regular rehearsal, and on communality over performance events, betray its roots in the self-conscious identity of a marginalized social group. Its members sought to participate actively in the spiritual and artistic practice of singing sacred music across a variety of denominations, thereby combining spiritual and artistic practices to form a unified voice. This voice, among others, would cause significant changes in London’s concert culture around mid-century, with the sound of communality pitted against a professional music culture fractured by the individual voice of the virtuoso.

Keywords:   Sacred Harmonic Society, Exeter Hall, dissent, choral singing, choral society, Harmonicon, Philharmonic Society

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