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Title:Playing With Pianos: Print Media, Mechanization, Gender, and Change in Victorian America
Author(s):Hennessy, Catherine M.
Advisor(s):Bashford, Christina
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):player piano
music commodity
print media
Ladies' Home Journal
Saturday Evening Post
Abstract:The rise of mechanical music around the turn of the century occurred in the midst of simultaneous explosions in national print media, advertising industries, mass production, and middle-class consumption. During this time, print advertisements for mechanical pianos and phonographs appeared alongside ads for such familiar commodities as sheet music and acoustic instruments. These ads, the messaging they contain, and their placement within particular print publications offer a window into the changing face of music commodities in an increasingly mechanized America. Within this time of transition, I choose to focus primarily on ads for acoustic pianos and mechanical pianos, two classes of the same instrument on opposing sides of the manual/mechanical divide. Although significant work has been completed on early advertising trends and print media, the intersection of these developments with music commodities remains largely unexplored. Surveying ads during the span of 1914−1916 from the widely-circulated Ladies’ Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post—two periodicals with a shared publisher (Curtis Company) and distinct target audiences—I examine how inherited notions of the Victorian, female-gendered acoustic piano appear in ads and discourses surrounding the mechanical piano during its mid-1910s “player piano” stage. As background, I investigate the confluence of editors, periodical ideologies, general content and ad placement utilizing Curtis Company sources, biographies, and twentieth-century scholarship surrounding the two publications and the piano industry at large. These findings, combined with ad analysis and the compelling near-singularity of ad placement for each piano type in one or the other periodical, point to a distinct set of social meanings attached to each piano type. The resulting contextualized side-by-side analysis casts an ambiguous light on similarities between the piano types while encouraging the identification of areas of unmistakable difference, challenging current scholarship on both America’s transition to mechanical music and the mechanical piano itself.
Issue Date:2011-08-26
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Catherine M. Hennessy
Date Available in IDEALS:2012-05-02
Date Deposited:2011-08

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