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The Ghost in the Machine: The role of mechanical musical instruments as primary sources for eighteenth-century performance practice in England, and an examination of the style(s) contained therein.

Baines, Emily Joye (2017). The Ghost in the Machine: The role of mechanical musical instruments as primary sources for eighteenth-century performance practice in England, and an examination of the style(s) contained therein.. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Guildhall School of Music & Drama / City, University of London)


This thesis aims to establish three things: the relevance of mechanical musical instruments, specifically barrel-organs and organ clocks, as sources for the performance style of music from eighteenth-century England; what stylistic information can be gleaned from the study of these instruments; and how this relates to other primary source material concerning performance style of the period. The principal focus is on two sources: Charles Clay's organ clocks, made in London in the 1730s, and the manuscript musical scores connected to them; and a barrel-organ made towards the end of the century by Henry Holland. The question of relevance is addressed, initially, through an investigation into what connections may have existed between known composers/performers and manufacturers of mechanical musical instruments, and whether these instruments merited the attention of great musical artists. This is undertaken through a comparison of the ornamentation styles found in scores for mechanical instruments, with those known to have been produced by composers, specifically Handel in this instance. The fidelity with which the barrel-pinners followed the instructions for decoration found within the arrangements is then established, by the comparison of scores with detailed transcriptions from mechanical sources. Thereafter, comparisons are made between stylistic features of the earlier and later instruments, investigating whether there is any continuity of style over the course of the eighteenth century. The most prominent feature of the style is the ornamentation which is analysed in detail and compared to primary written sources relating to the use of embellishments. Placing and realisation of ornaments is examined, by means of detailed notated transcriptions made by ear using digital software to alter the tempo of the music. These transcriptions are compared to written verbal and notated descriptions of ornament realisation and instructions regarding how/where they are to be used. The mechanical musical instruments in question, from both extremes of the period, display a profusion of small scale ornaments, similar to those expounded in many French treatises but not generally used as widely in English/German repertoire in the modern era. The placing of these graces carries implications for their function, and leads to questions surrounding the use of ritardando and tempo indications, as well as wider performative questions such as the use of heterophony, and the decoration of lower/middle parts. The level of detail and nuance to which the makers aspired, and which was made possible by technological developments of the period, is extremely high. However, the style is playable by human performers, and it has been possible to place similar notated styles convincingly alongside transcriptions of this material in a performance context.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Interdisciplinary Centres > Creativity in Professional Practice
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