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The Musical Examiner

(London, 1842-1844)

Prepared by Diana Snigurowicz
1 volume (1992)

The Musical Examiner: an Impartial Weekly Record of Music and Musical Events published 112 issues in London. James William Davison—later well-known as music critic of the Times and editor of the long-lived Musical World—served as editor. The establishment of The Musical Examiner appears to have been brought about in reaction to the mediocre level of music criticism practiced in England during the 1830s and 1840s. The London daily press rarely employed the services of musically educated critics, preferring rather to rely on general writers who wrote on many different subjects. Under the motto “fair play to all parties,” Davison sought to expose the ignorance of the generalists then writing music criticism for the daily press, by reprinting excerpts from, among others, the Spectator, the Athenæum and the Morning Chronicle. A series of attacks against Charles Gruneison, music critic of the Morning Post, the Maestro, and Great Gun clearly reveals the mediocre level of criticism.

The subjects of leading articles are treated in depth and address the major concerns of the period: superficial music, excessive virtuosity, the British preference for foreign rather than native composers and performers, inadequate English-language translations of foreign-language texts, and the much-needed reform of musical societies. Important continental musicians who visited England during the period—Mendelssohn, Chopin, Spohr, Sivori, Jules Benedict, Leopold de Meyer, H. W. Ernst and Charles Hallé—receive considerable attention. The activities of native singers and musicians—Charlotte Ann Birch, John, Augustus and Charles Braham, Elizabeth Rainforth, John Parry, Michael Balfe, W. H. Holmes, G. A. Macfarren, and Sterndale Bennett—are featured in the many review sections. During the summer London season the public’s great interest in Italian opera at the three main theatres (Her Majesty’s Theatre, Covent Garden Theatre and Drury Lane Theatre) is reflected in the journal. Much space is also given over to reviews of performances presented by the leading musical institutions; namely, the Philharmonic Society, the Sacred Harmonic Society, the Concerts of Ancient Music and the Royal Academy of Music. Controversial topics are treated in the correspondence sections; these include the heated dispute between the violinists Camillo Sivori and Ernst concerning the authorship of the variations on the Carnaval de Venise, and the vitriolic exchange between Charles Stephens and George French Flowers on the subject of counterpoint.