Peter Gammond's Essay

As a working writer and journalist for most of my life I find myself torn when I say how delighted I am at having been asked to write an introductory piece for Mervyn Slatter’s groundbreaking study of a remarkable body of musical publications that came out under the title of ‘Musical Bouquet’ during the last half of the 19th century. I say ‘torn’ because it always goes against the professional grain to embark on a commission (if I can so describe Mervyn’s friendly request) for a piece to start off a book that may never actually be published and, if it is published, may be lucky to sell three or four copies – after giving away another forty-seven to musical institutions. In other words, I expect no material reward beyond the immense pleasure of being involved.

Any literary endeavour is made easier if the world knows at least something of what a book is written about – thus creating some demand before pen is put to paper – to use an out-of-date phrase. Sadly, you are unlikely to find very much written information about the ‘Musical Bouquet’. It is difficult to understand why, for it is a rich source of valuable obscure information. I can be proud to say that I am almost certainly a rarity among musicologists in having written anything at all about the series. Those who have leafed through my labour of love, ‘The Oxford Companion to Popular Music’ (1991), and perhaps spent a little time in the ‘M’ area and discovering, amongst the vital entries that begin with the word ‘musical’, my brief and lightly informed piece on ‘Musical Bouquet’ – may well count themselves as well-informed on the subject and see myself if not ‘the’ then at least ‘one of’ the leading authorities. Moving, for the moment, from the area of speculation to the harder world of fact, let me explain how my interest in the series began. Always a collector of musical and theatrical ephemera, I spent much of my childhood and youth in British towns and cities (Chester, Manchester and Liverpool among them) with an eager eye open for the pleasantly scruffy establishments then simply known as secondhand shops. This was before the time when they liked to call themselves antique shops and felt justified in charging much higher prices. A good start could be made, in my case, in the premises run by Joe Allman on the fringes of my hometown of Northwich. Joe was a slowmoving, jovial figure who priced thing by memory, asking seven shillings for an item worth six – so that he could subsequently afford to knock it down to five. In Joe’s shop, and those of a similar nature in most sizeable towns, there were inevitably a few volumes of sheetmusic, lovingly bound by and for their fond owner in imitation leather, with their initials imprinted in gold on the front, and these were the principal targets in my regular raids. Of course, I was mainly looking for the attractively coloured items with lithographed covers by such popular artists as Alfred Concanen. As I gloated over my purchases when I got them home, I would nearly always discover a few items from the ‘Musical Bouquet’ library and although, at first, they were of secondary interest, my collecting instinct was aroused when I noticed that all the ‘Musical Bouquet’ items were numbered.

The early numbers were, in fact, the commonest. By the time I had acquired No.167, or thereabouts, I was beginning to feel that there was a serious challenge afoot. I could easily have become daunted when I got into the five hundreds and even more so when the five thousand point was passed. I am not able to claim that I acquired very number from 1 to 5,000 because the majority of them never turned up. But I was hooked enough to gradually acquire quite a few hundred copies. Any inclination to feel proud of this was dashed by the ultimate discovery that the series had sounded its last notes way beyond the 9,000 mark – No9160…being the last item catalogued. ….[and found of this marathon publishing endeavour – plus lots of ‘specials’ which will be discovered in the pages of this tract.]

I might have gone over the top, collecting-wise, if I had not met with Mervyn Slatter, who was the kind of chap bonkers enough to think of researching the lot and kind enough to share his momentous knowledge with me- and the rest of the world in good time. He, I like to think, was pleased to find another person almost as mad as he was and who had, at least, put a few selective facts about ‘Musical Bouquet’ in an OUP book. It was natural that we should collaborate at some stage and specially pleasant for me to have so much of the work, for once, done by somebody else.

Our first focus of interest had to be the late-Victorian publisher who was mainly responsible for the existence of the series, having taken over the ‘Musical Bouquet’ from Mr. James Bingley c.1855 and thereafter supervised the bulk of its history. Since writing my piece in the Companion, a flaw in my assumptions has now been discovered. I assumed that Charles Sheard, who was born in 1826, had continued at the helm until the business was bought by Darewski in 1917, which would have made him pretty ancient, but not impossibly so. In fact we find that Charles Sheard died in 1873 and the business was seamlessly taken over by his son, Charles Sheard. It had always been very much a family affair with Charles originally inheriting the inclinations from his grandfather. The Sheard strain is still involved and interested today with a grandson giving useful help on the compilation of this history. The Sheard family history and involvement is neatly capsulated in the section beginning on p. …..

My own interest is really concerned with the music that was published in the ‘Musical Bouquet’ series and finding how it fitted in to the general History of Music, both Popular and Classical at a very vital point in cultural history. Having a strong lowbrow streak in my musical tastes, inherited from the brass band dominance of my home pastures, I have never found a liking for ragtime and jazz and earlier manifestations of popular music-asking at all at odds with a passion for so-called classical music; whereas many people still like to keep a musical class barrier in position – though now by no means as rigidly as was once the case. Most people like some music and it was simply the economics of life that began to allow the world’s music lovers to have what they liked rather than what they ought to like. It all happened quite rapidly in the mid-19th century with the year 1850 a nicely memorable point, more or less. Sheard would have been greatly helped in his endeavours by the fact that a parlour piano could at the time be bought for five guineas or so. The proud possession of a piano called for a ready supply of music to be played on it or with it. Away from the home, one could increasingly find cheap entertainment in the pleasure gardens and indoor halls (the music halls attached to many public houses, for instance); the Minstrel shows; the ballad concerts – all these were there to be exploited by Mr. Sheard and his music machine from 1855 onwards – exactly the right moment in time. We still have to discover more about the distribution of so much paper, but we need only remember that there was a new means of transportation available with the rapidly expanding services of the railways available from the 1840’s onwards. Again, just at the right time.

A look through his catalogue will reveal the musical thinking that guided Sheard’s choice of musical fare. Firstly, let us say some 30% of his output, provided the parlour musician with the sort of fare they favoured at that time – strongly Italian and operatic with the strains of Bellini, Donizetti and the like providing pleasantly undemanding melody and inspiring a large repertoire of drawing-room ballads in a similar watered-down style. Classical interests stretched as far as Beethoven at his most melodic, Mozart and lighter masters. Sheard was probably aware that much of the classical music of the early 19th century found its inspiration in folk and national music and proffered generous helpings of these. Secondly, (perhaps another 30%) cashed in on the tremendous interest in polite ballroom dancing, background to the social writings of Jane Austen and others, so that the ‘Musical Bouquet’ catalogue is packed with lancers, quadrilles and waltzes, some based on well-known pieces, some original – right from No1. All these varieties of music would be heard at the Sunday evening soirées and Promenade Concerts, flourishing in the 1850s-90s.

Finally we start to dip a toe into the popularly slanted music that was to lead to the great revolutions in style of the early 20lth century. Immensely popular then were the black-faced minstrel shows with their plantation melodies and Stephen Foster strains – the polite moves towards ragtime and jazz. One of the big revolutions came with the sudden rise around 1850 of music-alls and a repertoire of music purpose written for broad popular tastes. Sheard did not enter this market until the latter part of ‘Musical Bouquet’ history, but by the end, it was his main fare and the bouquets followed into the brightly coloured world of lithographic printing. So, there is a fully illustrated history of popular musical tastes to be found in the sheets of the Musical Bouquet. Beyond the 6,800 or so numbered issues, Sheard widened his efforts by publishing many albums of music – yearly compendiums of popular issues; collections of the various categories; minstrel songs; music hall songs, spirituals and the songs of William Russell whose drawing-room entertainments epitomised the spirit of the series. All this material was regularly catalogued and we have been fortunate to find rare survivals of such ephemera.

And not only is there this vast body of middle-brow to low-brow, classical to popular music, just as many people would have discovered it, but, for the more specialist taste, the work of many artists and designers of the period pointfully revealed.

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