Christopher Page – Gresham College Lectures – Guitars in Romantic England

GRESHAM COLLEGE  is London’s oldest Higher Education Institution; it was founded in 1597, and since then has been providing free public lectures. In September 2014 Professor Christopher Page was appointed Gresham Professor of Music.

During his first year in the role, he will give a series of six lectures on ‘Men, Women and Guitars in Romantic England’. The approach of the Gresham Professors to provide a new perspective on a subject, and so Christopher Page has chosen the guitar to examine everyday life in England in the nineteenth century. Thus his lectures give details of the position of the guitar in nineteenth-century society, the response of important literary figures of the time to the guitar, such as Charles Dickens and the poets John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

THE NEXT TWO LECTURES will be: ‘Harmony in the Lowest Home: The Guitar and the Labouring Poor’ on Thursday 19 February 2015; and ‘The Guitar and “the Fair Sex”’ on Thursday 23 April 2015 at the church of St. Sepulchre Without Newgate, Holborn Viaduct, EC1A 2DQ, central London.

Gresham College wants as many people as possible to listen to their lectures and so after each lecture has been given, they provide all the information from that lecture on their website: you can download a transcription of the lecture; you can download the notes which were handed out during the lecture; and most importantly you can watch the lectures online.

The first lecture in the six-part series, ‘The “Romantic” Guitar’, was given on Thursday 9 October 2014 at St. Sepulchre Without Newgate. Christopher Page does play the guitar (his main instrument is a guitar made in 1825) but for his lecture series, he has invited guest musicians to perform during the lecture. In this first lecture the guest performers were both Dutch musicians: Jelma van Amersfoort, a musician and scholar specialising in historical plucked instruments, and the soprano Valeria Mignaco who specialises in classical and baroque singing. Here is the link for viewing the lecture and also for downloading a copy of the lecture: Click

On Thursday 20 November 2014, Christopher Page gave his second lecture, ‘Being a Guitarist in the Time of Byron and Shelley’, where he discussed the everyday life of learning the guitar in England at that time. He talked about the possibilities for playing in salons and the idea of working professionally as a musician. Christopher Page is a historian and so all his lectures include his research of the newspapers and magazines of the time, where he has looked at the advertisements for buying and selling guitars, guitar music and concerts advertised, which help to give a fuller view of the life of the guitar during this period. His guest musicians for this lecture was the German guitarist and lutenist, Ulrich Wedemeier (, who played three pieces by Sor and a Fantasia by John Abraham Nuske. Click.

The third lecture, ‘The Guitar, the Steamship and the Picnic: England on the Move’ on Thursday 11 December 2014; to play or download: click.

The Guitar and the Romantic Vision of the Medieval World’ was the title of the fourth lecture, held on Thursday 8 January 2015; to play or download: click.

Christopher Page is presently writing a book, The Guitar in Romantic England, which will be published by Yale University Press. He believes that a lot of the chapters of the book will correspond with this series of Gresham Lectures which he is giving.

His book The Guitar in Tudor England: A Social and Musical History has just been published by Cambridge University Press. There, not only can one read much of the history of gitterns and citterns (among other early plucked instruments), but there is also the great pleasure of seeing historic documents such as ‘An Instruction to the Gitterne’, Thomas Whythorne: The Autobiography of a Tudor Guitarist, and The Probate Inventory of Dennys Bucke (1584).

Christopher Page is Professor of Medieval Music and Literature, a Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge. He is an internationally renowned performer and writer, as well as being an experienced presenter for BBC Radio. 

© Thérèse Wassily Saba 2015

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