Sounding Hymns

Sounding Hymns
Many hymns composed in the nineteenth century were not sung; rather, they were spoken out loud. In some congregations any form of music-making, especially singing, was considered immoral, and the recitation of hymns provided a way around these moral codes. With the publication of hundreds of pamphlets, treatises and books on poetry recitation, elocution, the physiology of the voice, and hints on public speaking, reciters of hymns had a plethora of resources to drawn on to produce an aesthetically satisfying tone and rhetorical affect. These recordings, are of hymns composed by Malcolm Quin (1854–1945) for his positivist Church in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne established from 1878 to 1905. PI: Paul Watt (Monash University). This site is not yet live.

Sounding the Salon

Sounding the Salon
Through historically-informed musical performance, photographs and archival texts, this digital resource explores the Victorian salon as an alternative musical space outside conservatories and large public venues. We aim better to understand the history of the rise of sociability in relation to art forms (creation, distribution, intertextuality), the impact of musical performance on people’s lives and other art forms, and the influence of marginal identities (women, queer, Jewish). Recovering this history involves studying how people related to each other, to and through sound. Because salons were an early manifestation of networking now experienced in social media, this scholarship ultimately presents a new way of conceptualizing the growth of modernity. Co-PIs: Sophie Fuller (Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance [London]) and Phyllis Weliver (Saint Louis University). Co-I: Christina Bashford (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). This site is not yet live.

Sounding Swinburne

Sounding Swinburne consolidates ongoing research into a large, highly-significant body of Victorian and Edwardian music that was inspired by Swinburne’s verse. Demonstrating not only an extraordinary enthusiasm for Swinburne’s poems as music, the material (consisting of scores, which are currently being cataloged) also shows a cross-fertilization of content, style, and aesthetics that has implications not only for an analysis of Swinburne’s reception history, but also for the study of nineteenth-century and Modernist views on the relationship between poetry and song. The site illustrates the catalog with images, videos and literary sources (diaries, letters, etc.). In future, it will also curate academic papers on Swinburne and popular song (on such figures as Theo Marzials, Maude ValĂ©rie White, James Molloy, etc), and on Swinburne’s artistic relationship with nineteenth-century and later composers, such as Wagner, Granville Bantock, Vaughan Williams, William Walton, and others. PI: Michael Craske with Catherine Maxwell (Queen Mary University of London).

Sounding Childhood

Children "should be seen and not heard" thought the Victorians even though the concept of childhood is predicated on sound: the delights of children's play, recreational songs, religious pieces, and hymns. Despite numerous archival artifacts that record these sonic expressions, sound has thus far been neglected int he burgeoning field of childhood studies. Focusing on children’s religious music, social music, and songs and sounds of play, this resource features reproductions of Victorian song texts and musical scores, scholarly commentary, and recordings of children’s songs, including performances recorded in historic settings. PI: Alisa Clapp-Itnyre (Indiana University East).

Sounding Tennyson

Sounding Tennyson is a digital resource that presents sonic and textual versions of Tennyson’s poetry. Its materials include the first recordings and publications of Emily Tennyson’s piano/vocal settings of “Break, Break, Break,” which preserve aspects of her husband’s recitation. The recordings were made in the drawing room at the Tennysons’ restored home, Farringford, using Queen Victoria’s piano. The digital application shows images of the score and plays the songs, with each measure marked in time with the music. Users can also compare multiple musical and textual drafts, and read commentary. In future, the site will expand to present all twenty-four Emily Tennyson musical settings of her husband’s poems, as well as additional items. PI: Phyllis Weliver (Saint Louis University). Co-I: Ewan Jones (University of Cambridge). Besides being part of Sounding VictorianSounding Tennyson is part of The Tennysons Archive, the first digital archival grouping of Tennyson items. The Tennysons Archive also includes the Tennyson resource hosted by the Cambridge Digital Library.

This group of digital projects use sound as an experiential way of conceptually thinking through archives that document lived experiences of literature and music in nineteenth-century Britain.

Member Projects

  • Sounding Tennyson (PI, Phyllis Weliver; Co-I, Ewan Jones)
  • Sounding Childhood (PI, Alisa Clapp-Itnyre)
  • Sounding Swinburne (PIs Michael Craske with Catherine Maxwell)
  • Sounding the Salon (Co-PIs, Phyllis Weliver and Sophie Fuller; Co-I, Christina Bashford).


This consortium of scholar-led projects is bigger than a single grant and comprises individual projects that share iterative tools for the purpose of investigating aesthetic sound in Victorian Britain. It begins with proof of concept sites that are being further developed. Already, one member project uses the industry standard for machine-readable music (Music Encoding Initiative) and is the first project worldwide to add sound to an International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF). With time, the member projects will all be brought into alignment. Bringing the constitutive projects of Sounding Victorian together allows for concordance searching, while each discrete collection also retains an individual focus. Our common goal is to make more accessible this sonorous material by bringing together items found in scattered archives and/or experienced in historic locations; by providing short, scholarly essays to situate the material; and by building digital tools that help students, scholars and the public to engage in the material, whether or not they read music. Project Directors Phyllis Weliver (Saint Louis University) and Sophie Fuller (Trinity Laban Conservatoire).


Music in nineteenth-century Britain played a vital role in Victorian life—from courtship rituals to vibrant concert seasons and factory bands—but there is still a common misperception of Britain as unmusical. Music’s frequent exclusion from intellectual histories and cultural studies has had profound consequences for our understanding of Victorian life and aesthetics. The omission among non-musicologists seems to spring from today’s comparative music illiteracy, which can make music seem like an exclusionary zone (with its own language). The Sounding Victorian consortium finds in digital resources the means to present musical material and arguments to a range of users, from those who are not musically fluent (we provide a box that moves in time to the music) to the professional academic looking for archival material and scholarly discourse.

Sounding Victorian, a group of freely-available digital projects, uses sound as an experiential way of conceptually thinking through archives that document aesthetic sound (music and literature) in nineteenth-century Britain. To us, music and literature are “works” (the poem on the page, a musical composition) and an “event” (poetic recitation, music as performance). We include traditional archival items – manuscripts (musical, literary, life-writing), annotations, and rare published material – as well as performing a type of research through the recreation of historic processes (e.g., recording musical repertoire in original performance spaces on historic instrument played with historic techniques). The title, “Sounding,” thus comprises elements of verbal and non-verbal articulation, musicality, and soundscape. This richly sonorous material with its contextualizing scholarship separates our group from indexing projects such as Charles
McGuire’s splendid Musical Festivals Database. Sounding Victorian and Johanna Swafford’s excellent Songs of the Victorians are also complementary but differentiated sites, the latter being a digital repository and analysis of published song-settings of Victorian poems. These parlor and art-song settings were among the most famous of the period. Our approach begins with and mostly focuses on the rare and the archival, and where relevant carries through to published music.

Advisory Board

· DennisDenisoff, McFarlin Professor of English, University of Tulsa

· KatharineEllis, Stanley Hugh Badock Chair in Music, University of Bristol (as of 2017/18, she becomes 1684 Professor of Music, University of Cambridge)

· FrancisO’Gorman, Saintsbury Professor of English Literature, University of Edinburgh

· PerryRoland, Metadata Librarian for Research and Scholarship, Music Library, University of Virginia; Developer of Music Encoding Initiative (MEI).