The Enraged Musician

When in Bristol visit Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. It’s at the top of Park Street and connected to the Wills Memorial Building.

On my recent visit two things caught my attention. There was a Bansky piece, a remnant of the Great Bansky Exhibition of 2009, and a William Hogarth exhibition running from 16th May to 31st August.

It’s only fairly recently that I have taken an interest in how art work, just like musical work, can be viewed as a social-historical document, that is, a representation of lived culture at a particular time and in a particular place.

In visiting the Hogarth exhibition I expected plenty of this but I didn’t expect to see an engraving entitled ‘the enraged musician’.

So what is this all about? [1]

There’s a lot going on, a thorough cacophony. And don’t miss the squawking parrot.

Hogarth’s message is political. The enraged musician is an Italian émigré representing Italian musical hegemony of the time. The musician is being subjected to some rough British music-making. What a racket – and by the way, the sweet singing of the milkmaid seems to be a casualty too.

A social music historian will have a lot to say about all this.

However, it does remind us that the struggle for culture is not new.

That ‘British Music’ can mean a lot of different things.

That ‘music can be bad for you’. [2]

That the tradition of ‘rough music’ might be worth investigating.

That an image could be used as a talking point to develop an interesting music-making project.

That the new GCSE Areas of Study will be limited in scope and unlikely to have any interest in music’s social-political meanings. [3]

And is the chimney sweep in Hogarth’s engraving calling for a kazoo to be thrown up?



[2] See Philpott, C. (2012) ‘The justification for music in the curriculum.’ In (eds) Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce, Debates in Music Education, Routledge: London.

[3] And despite this encouragement from the rubric: ‘GCSE music specifications must encourage students to engage critically and creatively with a wide range of music and musical contexts, develop an understanding of the place of music in different cultures and contexts and reflect on how music is used in the expression of personal and collective identities.’

Interpretation of the term ‘critical’ is critical. See


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