Music Professors, Degrees and Curricula

Last week I shared some of my findings and thoughts about the absence of sheet-music at Trinity College Dublin in the early 19th century (see Literary Minstrelsy: the Books Trump the Scores!).  To be fair, there was neither music professor nor music department at Trinity in the Georgian era, so the absence of sheet-music probably barely caused a ripple!

Nonetheless, I provoked a little Twitter-storm of knowledge exchange on the subject of TCD music degrees, and I saved that conversation into a Twitter moment, in order to keep record of the thread: Minstrelsy, Music and Honorary Degrees. (2018-11-21)

Music received from Stationers' Hall 1859-1860
Music received from Stationers’ Hall 1859-1860

I was recommended a chapter contributed  by Lisa Parker to Paul Rodmell’s ‘Music and Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, which I read with interest this morning.  Whilst the history of music education at the University of Dublin really took off after the Georgian era, I find it interesting to look ahead to see how things did ultimately develop.  As I mentioned last week, the earliest listings retained from Stationers’ Hall dated from 1859-60.

Parker’s chapter perhaps helps us understand why it took so long before there was much interest in curating music in the library, so I’ve extracted a timeline which I think you might find informative:-

  • 1612   TCD first awarded a Bachelor in Music degree – MusB
  • 1764   Appointment of the first music professor, Earl of Mornington, Garret Wesley (1735-81) – his role seemed to be in composing suitable pieces for TCD occasions.
  • 1774 Mornington resigned, and wasn’t replaced for 73 years!
  • 1827 John Smith, the man who would become the next professor some years later, received his MusD – a music doctorate.  This didn’t mean he had done the kind of intensive study that doctoral students do today!  There had been no requirement to be residential, no course of teaching and learning, and no thesis.
  • 1844-1846 – Robert Prescott Stewart, who would later become John Smith’s successor – became organist of the chapel, and then also conductor of the university choral society.
  • 1847 John Smith was appointed music professor. Opinion was divided about his expertise.  His only duties entailed assessing ‘submitted exercises’, but there’s also reference to a lecture.  He could teach private students but gave no ‘formal tuition’. There were still no student residency requirements, and only four music degrees (other than honorary ones) were awarded in his 14 years’ professorship.
  • 1851 only now did Smith get his doctoral robes (TWENTY-FOUR YEARS LATER – not impressive! David O’Shea informs me that the gowns were copied from the Oxford style of academic dress, since there weren’t actually gowns for music degrees at TCD prior to this).  Smith got these at the request of the choral society (not the university authorities) – and it looks as though Stewart received HIS robes at the same event, with the latter’s MusB and MusD exercises being performed.
  • 1861 Smith died.
  • 1862 Robert Prescott Stewart became professor, also remaining in the roles of University organist and conductor of the University of Dublin Choral Society His duties involved conducting the exams and presenting candidates at graduation, but he could also deliver public lectures if he wished, and could give private instruction to members of university.  Shortly after his election, introduced literary examinations, and introduced a requirement for music students to matriculate in a variety of arts subjects.  This was influential upon music degree arrangements at Oxford and Cambridge.)  That decade, requirements were tightened up and spelled out, as to what was needed in degree compositions.
  • 1871 Stewart’s duties were revised, and class lectures were required.  These could have been the public lectures he gave between 1871-77.
  • Parker notes that 97 music degrees were awarded to 63 candidates during the period 1862-1894.  It’s noteworthy that music degrees were often not regarded as being as rigorous as other kinds of degrees – and that they tended to be awarded to church musicians.  It would be interesting to see if this was reflected in the library stock, both of scores and texts, although I won’t let myself be distracted just now!

The above information is all from Parker’s chapter, which I’ll reference fully below.  Much of Parker’s chapter is about Stewart’s work on the syllabus, and then Ebeneezer Prout’s, so it’s about an era later than my main focus.  In an effort to remain focused, I skimmed these last pages, but at least I know they’re there if I need them.  (I’ve generally used 1836, the change of copyright and legal deposit legislation, as my cut-off date, but of course, legal deposit was still being made at a smaller number of universities, and Trinity College Dublin was one of them.)

TCD musicologist David O’Shea comments that librarian James Henthorn Todd was involved with music in the library collections around Smith’s time, so I need to refer to Peter Fox’s 2014 monograph about the Library to find out more in this regard.  (The book is sitting at home on my desk, demanding my attention, so this won’t be a hardship at all!)


Peter Fox, Trinity College Library Dublin : a history (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Lisa Parker, ‘The expansion and development of the music degree syllabus at Trinity College Dublin during the nineteenth century’, in Music and institutions in nineteenth-century Britain, ed. Paul Rodmell (Ashgate, 2012), pp.143-160

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