Ernest Newman and the Promise of Method in Biography, Criticism and History

Paul Watt

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When Ernest Newman wrote his first book, Gluck and the Opera (1895), he considered it a pioneering work of musical scholarship. Never before, claimed Newman, had the comparative method been utilized in music research and his biography of Gluck would remedy the situation. But what did Newman mean by the ‘comparative method’ and how was this method, which had been used by a variety of writers in the past, adapted and appropriated by him? In this chapter I examine the intellectual circumstances that informed Newman’s use of, and approach to, a particular kind of musical criticism. I argue that his rationalist ideology, formed in his youth by literary and history scholars, piqued his interest not only in history, but also in biography and criticism that fashioned for Newman an arguably distinctive comparative method. By drawing on some of Newman’s other books and periodical articles of the period I tease out the nuances of his approach to musical studies that involved a complex coalescing of ideas about criticism, biography and history. I illustrate that Newman’s work in the 1890s ushered in a new generation of British criticism not seen since George Hogarth’s Musical History, Biography and Criticism of the 1830s and which was met with some resistance by some of Newman’s contemporaries such as John F. Runciman and George Bernard Shaw.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBritish Musical Criticism and Intellectual Thought, 1850–1950
EditorsJeremy Dibble, Julian Horton
Place of PublicationWoodbridge Suffolk UK
PublisherBoydell & Brewer
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781787442801
ISBN (Print)9781783272877
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018

Publication series

NameMusic in Britain, 1600–2000
PublisherBoydell Press


  • Music criticism
  • Comparative methods
  • biography
  • historiography
  • Nineteenth century

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