Dickens and Music

2nd May to 20th December 2012

Charles Dickens relished the thrill of live performance, be it music, drama or dance. The Academy’s exhibition Dickens and Music delved into Dickens’s connections to the Victorian musical world, from opera to street ballads. The novelist’s social and geographical connections to the Academy itself were also explored.

Dickens’s ties to the Royal Academy of Music and its Marylebone setting were at the heart of the display, illustrated by items from the Academy’s renowned collections. His sister Fanny was a student of the early Academy on two occasions, drawing both siblings into the society of young, gifted musicians. The Academy’s exhibition presented a unique opportunity to read an original unpublished letter penned by Charles Dickens and to see Fanny’s youthful attempts at musical composition.

Dickens was even inspired to write an opera libretto, ‘The Village Coquettes’, to music composed by one of Fanny’s fellow students at the Academy, John Hullah. Perhaps wisely, Dickens stuck to prose after this! One of his Christmas stories formed the basis of Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s opera ‘The Cricket on the Hearth’, the manuscript excerpts of which were on display in the exhibition.

Musical re-imaginings of Dickens’ great works of fiction also featured prominently. From their first publication to the present day, the exhibition showed how his stories are endlessly transposed into popular song, opera, drama and even modern-day West End musicals.

John Orlando Parry’s famous painting ‘A London Street Scene’ also formed part of the exhibition, allowing people to discover hidden references to Dickens amongst the jigsaw-puzzle of 1830s posters.

In his early 30s Dickens regularly stepped over the threshold of the Regency-era Nash building that houses the Academy’s museum now, to visit his great friend William Charles Macready at home. This link provided a suitably hallowed space into which Dickens and Music unfolded.

Watch Wanted: A Governess, one of the Dickensian songs sung by Academy musical theatre students for Dickensian Delights, an exhibition event.

‘This delightful little exhibition forms part of the ‘Dickens 2012’ commemoration of the writer’s bicentenary, and brings to life another fascinating aspect of his life’ – onestoparts.com

‘This small but comprehensive and illuminating exhibition is well worth a visit.‘ - The Dickensian, summer 2012

Celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens - www.dickens2012.org

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