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Domestic music making in late eighteenth-century elite Chesapeake society : the "elegant selections" of Shirley Plantation

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Author: Glosson, Sarah Gentry
Committee Members: Wulf, Karin; McGovern, Charles; Preston, Katherine
Issued Date: 2009
Subjects: Music--Virginia--18th century--History and criticism
Sheet music--History and criticism
Shirley Plantation (Va.)
Virginia--Social life and customs
Carter family
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10288/18903
Description: In late eighteenth-century Chesapeake society, music making in the home was not simply a leisure activity; it was a social endeavor through which the middle and upper classes were able to express and experience their gentility, and thereby display their taste, status, and wealth. As a prominent family of the Chesapeake, the Carters of Shirley Plantation used music as a way of representing - and engaging with - their status within society. The eighteenth-century sheet music collection of Shirley Plantation provides crucial evidence of the style and genre of music being consumed in the home of an elite family. Yet this collection also reveals aspects of the practice and function of domestic music making among late eighteenth-century Chesapeake elites when considered within the context of the physical environment in which the music was consumed, as well as in conjunction with contemporary letters, diaries, and documents from Shirley and other Virginia plantations. In this thesis I describe the relevant history of Shirley Plantation and the unusual musical instrument that is thought to have been in the house in the late eighteenth century, an organized harpsichord. I supply a description of the sheet music in general, offer specific examples from the collection to illustrate the music's style and relevance, and suggest how some of this music may have been performed. I discuss the parlor as a semi-public space for the performance of music as well as the performance of identity and status, and thereby suggest how musical performance functioned in the lives of late eighteenth-century elites. I argue that the parlor, a semi-public space, was a stage on which cultural identity was constituted, defined, and redefined. The music the Carters consumed during the Early Republic reveals an adherence to fashion expected of a family of elite status, yet certain selections also stand out as significant choices that can illuminate the Carters' conception of their world. The inclusion of an early anti-slavery work, lnkle and Yarico (1787), and songs from the 1790s that sympathize with the plight of the French royal family, indicate an engagement with the tensions inherent in the elite lifestyle within the Early Republic. The Carters' choice of sheet music - and the performance of that music in the Shirley parlor - suggests the family's tastes, but more significantly offers a nuanced and complex view of the role of music making in elite society.
Degree: Masters of Arts in American Studies


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