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Street SongsWriters and urban songs and cries, 1800-1925$
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Daniel Karlin

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198792352

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198792352.001.0001

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Orpheus in the city

Orpheus in the city

Chapter:
(p.13) 1 Orpheus in the city
Source:
Street Songs
Author(s):

Daniel Karlin

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198792352.003.0002

Chapter 1 begins with a primal myth transposed to the city. William Wordsworth’s ‘Power of Music’ represents street music as an unqualified blessing: in proclaiming his fiddler ‘An Orpheus!’, the poet summons the miraculous and sacred power of music and song, but any allusion to Orpheus is shadowed by his tragic fate. Wordsworth’s poem recalls, by inversion, William Hogarth’s famous print, ‘The Enrag’d Musician’ (1741), in which a mob of urban noise-makers (including rival and degraded forms of street music and song) advance on the ‘classical’ violinist, himself a bathetic version of divine harmony. Hogarth’s urban ‘soundscape’ reappears in James Clarence Mangan’s poem ‘Khidder’ (1845), which likewise brings the fate of Orpheus, rather than his power, into focus. The violence with which street singers are faced is evident in George Gissing’s The Nether World (1889), whose title indicates that Orpheus will descend in vain into the hell of the city.

Keywords:   Orpheus, William Wordsworth, Power of Music, William Hogarth, The Enrag’d Musician, James Clarence Mangan, Khidder, George Gissing, The Nether World, urban noise

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