Skip to main content

London Voices, 1820–1840

Vocal Performers, Practices, Histories

London, 1820. The British capital is a metropolis that overwhelms dwellers and visitors alike with constant exposure to all kinds of sensory stimulation. Over the next two decades, the city’s tumult will reach new heights: as population expansion places different classes in dangerous proximity and ideas of political and social reform linger in the air, London begins to undergo enormous infrastructure change that will alter it forever.

It is the London of this period that editors Roger Parker and Susan Rutherford pinpoint in this book, which chooses one broad musical category—voice—and engages with it through essays on music of the streets, theaters, opera houses, and concert halls; on the raising of voices in religious and sociopolitical contexts; and on the perception of voice in literary works and scientific experiments with acoustics. Emphasizing human subjects, this focus on voice allows the authors to explore the multifaceted issues that shaped London, from the anxiety surrounding the city’s importance in the musical world at large to the changing vocal imaginations that permeated the epoch. Capturing the breadth of sonic stimulations and cultures available—and sometimes unavoidable—to residents at the time, London Voices, 1820–1840 sheds new light on music in Britain and the richness of London culture during this period.

304 pages | 13 halftones, 5 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2019

History: European History

History of Science

Music: General Music


“‘Hah!’ Finally, a book that makes sense of the city of London through its manifold voices. The cast of characters is motley—from ballad singers to prima donnas—and the repertoire a cosmopolitan mix. Through voices musical, political, metaphorical, anatomical, and mechanical, these essays not only amplify our understanding of nineteenth-century London, they show why voice mattered then as much as it does now.”

Laura Tunbridge, University of Oxford

“This innovative and important collection of essays tracks the politics of the musical ‘voice’ as it travels across classes, spaces, and boundaries in early nineteenth-century London. London Voices,1820–1840 attends to the sounds of song that rose above the clatter and noise of the fastest-growing city in the world. Usefully disturbing the boundaries between elite and popular, this book argues for the power of the idea of ‘voice’ for diverse interest groups and initiatives at a time of political and social upheaval. London Voices, 1820–1840 offers a whole new way of hearing the period.”

Clare Pettitt, King’s College London

“The volume in your hands begins as a riotously evocative guide to a resonant aural world and ends as the most intelligent meditation I know on the historical consolidation of voice as an index of modern political life. There is no more convincing account of the moral and commercial importance of voice. Moving deftly from ballad singers to celebrity divos, from improvising singer-actresses to silver-fork novelists, from singing-class movements to castrati, from ‘organ boys’ to reform-minded music critics, this impressive collection makes the case for voice, showing why its use, representation, and regulation became so definitive of London’s metropolitan order. The sheer proliferation of discourse—the range of voices heard and unheard—turns out to be the point. Read on!”

James Q. Davies, University of California, Berkeley

"Parker and Rutherford have assembled a fine collection of essays, by respected scholars, devoted to voices of London in the broadest sense."


"These are exciting times for musicologists and historians of music, as is cogently demonstrated by Roger Parker and Susan Rutherford’s new edited collection, London Voices, 1820-1840: Vocal performers, practices, histories. By 'means of sound, and particularly by means of ‘voice,'' this volume puts the sonorous, specifically the vocal and musical, at the centre of its historical analysis. . . . What London Voices does so well, is to explore these themes through the voice, especially those musical, providing a model of what musicologists have to contribute to broader social-cultural histories. It is not just that this book mobilizes wider contexts to explore vocal culture, but it shows how 'the voice' played an active role in shaping social, political, and religious history."

Revue de Musicologie

"This wide-ranging collection suggests fruitful new avenues for research."

Victorian Studies

"The present volume seems. . . to offer a picture of unprecedented vivacity and variety. . . . Never before has a collection of essays managed to resound so vividly and yet so clearly, also proving in an irrefutable way the importance of the voice as a historical, moral, commercial, and political object and definer. Hopefully, the interdisciplinary character and breadth of approaches presented in this collection will inspire new projects aiming at exploring not only the sonic history and character of a specific location, but also the complex interplay between soundscape, musical production, and market."

Opera Quarterly

Table of Contents

Introduction: London Voices 1920–1840: A “Luminous Guide”
Roger Parker and Susan Rutherford

1.         How the Ballad Singer Lost Her “Woice”
Oskar Cox Jensen

2.         The Traffic in Voices: The Exchange Value of Italian Opera in Giuseppe Mazzini’s London
Mary Ann Smart          

3.         Interpreting the Italian Voice in London (and Elsewhere)
Claudio Vellutini

4.         The Castrato as Creator: Velluti’s Voice in the London Sheet-Music Market
Sarah Fuchs

5.         “The Essence of Nine Trombones”: Luigi Lablache and Models of Masculinity in 1830s London
Sarah Hibberd

6.         Adelaide Kemble and the Voice as Means
Matildie Thom Wium

7.         On Tongues and Ears: Divine Voices in the Modern Metropolis
James Grande

8.         From Dissent to Community: The Sacred Harmonic Society and Amateur Choral Singing in London
Wiebke Thormählen

9.         Foreign Voices, Performing Frenchness: Jenny Colon and the “French Plays” in London
Kimberly White

10.       “Singer for the Million”: Henry Russell, Popular Song, and the Solo Recital
Susan Rutherford

11.       Vessels of Flame: Letitia Elizabeth Landon and the Improviser’s Voice
Melina Esse

12.       “Silver Fork” Novels and the Place of Voice
Cormac Newark

13.       Voice Boxes
Ellen Lockhart


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press