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George Grove. Oil on canvas by Henry Wyndham Phillips, 1861.

Sir George GROVE (1820-1900)

August 2020

GROVE, Sir George (b. Clapham, London, 13 August 1820; d. Sydenham, 28 May 1900)

George Grove was a pre-eminent maker and promoter of British musical culture.  As Secretary of the Crystal Palace Company from 1852, he encouraged innovatory orchestral concerts at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham and wrote programme notes for hundreds of works performed there over four decades.  Through his ground-breaking encyclopedia, The Dictionary of Music and Musicians, issued by Macmillan in alphabetical parts (1878-89), he stimulated a publishing phenomenon as well as new public interest in music, engaging experts and general readers alike on two continents.  And through his advocacy and inaugural directorship of the Royal College of Music, opened in 1883, Grove oversaw professional training for British young people who would excel as composers and performers across the UK and abroad.

In all these projects, as in others connected with civil engineering (West Indies), exhibition management (Hyde Park), archaeological and biblical research (Palestine), or book and periodical editing (central London), Grove drew on his lively curiosity and flair for bringing talented people together, motivating them to higher accomplishment.

The bicentenary of Grove’s birth falls this month, reminding us of his great legacy and broad-minded approach to every challenge.  The same date, 13 August, would have been the 82nd birthday of MOMH’s founding curator Oliver Davies (1938-2020), who did so much to rescue and preserve the nation’s musical heritage by his dedicated collecting, teaching, performing and encouragement of others.

It was Oliver’s happy idea that this month’s main image should be MOMH’s newly acquired portrait of Grove.  Dating from 1861, it is the earliest known image of him anywhere.  Warm and characterful, it was painted by Henry Wyndham Phillips (1820-68), who famously depicted the Royal Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 (V&A), as well as John Scott Russell, G.F. Watts and Owen Jones among other great Victorian lights.  Phillips and his wife Susan were close neighbours of George and Harriet Grove at this period — a time marked by Grove’s eager research and writing for Dr William Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, as well as by his start of note-writing for the Crystal Palace concerts.  Grove must have sensed a new direction opening before him:  the portrait captures a literary intellectual, intent on his quest for new knowledge and holding an open book, his elbow resting on a sheaf of papers.

Nearly forty years later, in June 1900, Grove would be memorialised in many quarters, not least in The Sphere, eventually known as ‘The Empire’s Illustrated Weekly’.  From private painting to globally reproduced photograph, Grove’s image at every place and time registers the importance of music itself and Britain’s place in its international history.

© Leanne Langley 2020  


The late Sir George Grove.

Following the death of our Curator, Oliver Davies, there will not be an Exhibition of the Month for September, but one is planned for October.