Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Alan Walker




George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), though primarily recognized today as one of the twentieth century's foremost dramatists, is also known as a music critic. It is only from the late 1880s and early 1890s that his musical criticism is generally remembered. Shaw's first writings, for the Hornsey Hornet, from 1876-77, have remained all but unknown over the past century. Their republication in Dan H. Laurence's Shaw's Music: The Complete Musical Criticism of Bernard Shaw (1981), along with the first publication of many of Shaw's letters from this period, by Stanley Weintraub in Collected Letters 1874-1897 (1986), present much fresh material. I, myself, include in this thesis a number of hitherto unpublished reviews that Bernard Shaw wrote for the Hornsey Hornet, which did not find their way into Dan Lawrence's compendium. Chapter One, Musical Roots: "Dublin 1856-76," deals with George Bernard ("Sonny") Shaw's musical environment in Ireland. The focus, though primarily on his immediate family, deviates slightly to capture the image of the enigmatic John Vandeleur Lee. Without this musical instigator it is doubtful whether any of the Shavian musical jottings would have emerged. The second chapter, ''The Hornet's Sting: London 1876-77," begins with a look at how Bernard Shaw stumbled into musical criticism. A survey of his critical columns from that year provides a rather comprehensive list of his musical beliefs. The topics range from orchestras to soloists to purple prose to composers and arrangers. The third chapter, 'The Vocal Critic and his Demise," shows how Shaw continued with his self-education, with a little help from his friends. Shaw emerged, even in these early writings, as an extremely knowledgeable and capable vocal critic. By the fall of 1877 the complications of being a "ghost" critic caught up to Shaw and London lost, at least for a number of years, one of its most volatile journalists. In Chapter Four, 'The Shavian Musico-Critical Legacy," Shaw's Hornsey Hornet contributions are weighed according to how Shaw viewed them, and how they compare with the efforts of other Victorian critics. As well, some possible reasons for the perpetuation of Shaw's musical criticisms in posterity are investigated. Finally, in the Appendix, information derived from Bernard Shaw's Hornsey Hornet reviews (the date of presentations, the major work reviewed, the performing group and venue, and the artists involved) are assembled in chart form.

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