A History of the Cornish Male Voice Choir:The Relationship between Music, Place and Culture
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This thesis documents and examines the history of Cornish male voice choirs from their origins in the late nineteenth century through to the present day. The evolution of the choirs has hitherto been charted largely through scattered oral testimonies, whereas this work traces the rise, decline and resurgence of the male choral tradition by drawing from a range of primary sources, including newspapers and repertoire in addition to oral history. The thesis is organised chronologically and the main chapters chart the development of Cornish male voice choirs from the Methodist point of origin, to the subsequent expansion of the male choral movement between the wars and thereafter its seeming atrophy. The opening two chapters focus on the background and emergence of the choirs from c.1820 to 1918. The interwar period is covered in three diverse but linked chapters, assessing the socio-economic context, musicological influences and the importance of geographic locality or ‘place’. The impact of the Second World War on the choirs is examined in Chapter Six. The following chapter traces how the choirs remained vibrant in the face of encroaching secularisation during the 1950s and 1960s, and the final chapter assesses the detrimental effects for the choirs of changed musical behaviours and generational issues in the late twentieth century choir. Four key themes which run throughout the chapters are the influence of Methodism, its teachings and choral hymnody; the significance of repertoire and musical directorship; the importance of the male demographic within the local economy; and secularisation and mass popular culture. The connecting thread of the argument for the thesis as a whole is that male voice choirs both reflect and help shape Cornish identity. As will be seen, identity is a fluid, multi-layered concept, but analysis of the changing role and influence of male voice choirs contributes to a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between music, place and culture.
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