Review of our first ‘Instruments of the Eighteenth Century’ seminar

The next seminar in this series will take place on Wednesday 8th November, 1-2pm at the Bate Collection (St Aldates, Oxford), and will see Francis Knights (Director of Music, Fitzwillam College, Cambridge) speaking about keyboard instruments under the title ‘Instruments of Emancipation’.

Wednesday 1 November 2017 saw the first of a new lunchtime series of seminars entitled ‘Instruments of the Eighteenth Century’. Held in Oxford University’s Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, the seminar series seeks to explore the role of music during the long eighteenth century in different contexts, with the aim of deepening our understanding of the period as a whole.

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The series started on a martial note with a talk entitled ‘Instruments of War’, in which Eamonn O’Keeffe discussed some of the findings of his research concerning military music in the British army during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Considering that the importance of military music has hitherto often been overlooked, O’Keeffe argued that we should instead view it as an integral part of British culture and martial success during the Napoleonic period. Drawing on a wide variety of contemporary evidence, O’Keeffe demonstrated the variety of functions performed by martial music. On the one hand, as a morale-booster and symbol of regimental pride, military music was central to the life of serving soldiers. On the other, music also played an important role in the army’s relations with wider society, either as a tool for recruitment or, through the use of concerts, as a means of fostering good relations with local civilian populations. As such, O’Keeffe suggested that the British army played a vital role not only in bringing music to an increasingly broad audience, but also acted as a means of cultural transmission across Britain’s diverse imperial possessions.

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Following O’Keeffe’s fascinating talk came what is certain to be one of the highlights of the seminar series as a whole: the opportunity to handle original instruments of the period. In this case, the audience was treated to the chance to look more closely at a variety of fifes, a drum and even a “serpent” that was played at the Battle of Waterloo.

In sum, the highly entertaining and informative ‘Instruments of War’ provided an auspicious start for what promises to be an excellent seminar series. Not only should ‘Instruments of the Eighteenth Century’ serve to showcase the important role played by music during the long eighteenth century, but it will also undoubtedly raise awareness of the value of the Bate Collection’s excellent holdings.

Richard Manning
DPhil History, Merton College

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