A Grand Performance: Examining the Significance of the Music Festival Held in Sydney University’s Great Hall in 1859


  • Anne Coote


Thanks to Paul Lancaster’s informative account published last year in the Sydney Alumni Magazine, we already know a great deal about the arrangements made for the music festival which celebrated the opening of Sydney University’s Great Hall in 1859. My paper focuses on the significance of this event, by placing it in the context of contemporary criticism of the University, of contemporary musical culture, and of paternalist ideas about the importance of fostering high culture in New South Wales. This leads to some consideration of the festival’s significance in the light of developing national feeling and of ideas about the kind of colonial nation New South Wales ought to be. The Great Hall celebration also had implications for communal feeling within the University itself, and I close by exploring briefly the reaction of the undergraduates to the festival experience. The Sydney University Music Festival of 1859 was indeed a grand performance, but much more than musical talent was on display. Dr Anne Coote has a PhD in History from the University of New England and is a regular attendee at the History of University of Life seminars.