Projects: Empire and the Travelling Virtuoso


Fourth CHOMBEC Conference

(archived entry)

Worlds to Conquer: the travelling virtuoso in the long 19th-century

Victoria Rooms, Bristol, UK, 5–7 July, 2010

Travelling Virtuoso

Conference programme details (updated 23-06-10): download here. [Adobe PDF (91 Kb)]

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An Italian troupe arrives in Macao from Chile in 1833 and mounts seven Rossini operas over the summer before moving on to Calcutta; a renowned French harpist, bigamist and forger, dies in Sydney in 1856 after a reunion with a musical fellow-criminal from his London days; a Canadian diva sings ‘Home, sweet home’ to British sailors in the middle of The Barber of Seville at her debut in Malta, while nearly a hundred years earlier another young singer loses her life, her daughter and her fabulous Indian fortune on the voyage home. Many other musicians, remembered or forgotten, move around the world, often unconcerned with national spheres of influence, amassing debts or fortunes and acquiring or abandoning spouses as careers and reputations are made, lost or reinvented.

 Stories of such musical adventurers abound, especially from the 19th century in the era of steamships and gold rushes, and for every colourful rogue or genius such as Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt who conquered Europe there was another who travelled the world. The glamour and the tedium, journeys and repertoires, tribulations and triumphs, stamina and stardom pertaining to such characters can be savoured for their own sake or framed within the contexts of travel literature. Yet they can also be invoked to challenge the musical histories in which they have all too seldom appeared.

 Why did they go? How did they or their agents manage their tours? Was their repertoire tailored to national communities; was it old or new? Were touring networks and remittances a crucial part of the international musical economy? How do we assess the standard of performance in peripheral contexts (and when were they peripheral)? What were the patronage networks and the national distinctions and tensions? What was the significance of the virtuoso group, the virtuoso family? How and why were institutional careers overseas sought, sustained, endured? Was the visiting examiner a new type of virtuoso?

 The posing or―even better―the answering of these and related research questions in 30-minute slots is invited and encouraged. Emphasis is on the world beyond Europe, on translocality and transnationality, on musical provision and consumption, on case studies involving individuals, groups, genres, places, institutions and repertoires, and on the interrelationships between music and politics, geography, economics, technology and material culture in the ‘long’ 19th century, a portion of whose global musical history we may thereby begin writing. It is hoped that an edited book will be based on selected conference proceedings.


Programme Committee
Benjamin Walton (University of Cambridge)
Esmeralda Rocha (student member, University of Western Australia)
Kerry Murphy (University of Melbourne)
Stephen Banfield (University of Bristol)

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