Towards a Biography of Lucy Broadwood (1858-1929): Problems and Perspectives
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Lucy E. Broadwood was one of the leading folksong collectors in England during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the founders of the (English) Folk-Song Society, she subsequently played a major role in the organization from its creation in 1898 until her death in 1929, at which time she was serving as the Society’s President. Given her importance as a song-collector, scholar, editor and administrator, it is hardly surprising that Broadwood has attracted some interest among ethnomusicologists and folklorists. Dorothy De Val and Lewis Jones have both published brief articles surveying aspects of her career, while David Gregory has provided a detailed account of her early work as a folksong collector during the 1890s. He has also written about her involvement with the foundation and early years of the Folk-Song Society (to 1903). To date, however, no scholar has explored in any detail Broadwood’s contribution to the Edwardian phase of the first English Folksong Revival and no one has yet attempted to write a book-length biography of this woman who made such an important contribution to English cultural life. Writing a biography of Broadwood poses some challenges. While her contribution to the first English folksong revival is what she is most remembered for nowadays, she was in fact a musician and intellectual of wide-ranging interests and social connections. At first glance these sometimes appear paradoxical or contradictory. Although fiercely loyal to the Broadwood extended family, she cultivated a wide range of other social acquaintances (from peers and painters to maidservants and artisans) and formed intimate friendships with several singers, instrumentalists and composers. They included singer James Campbell McInnes, composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger, and musicians Fanny Davies and Juliette Folville. As a concert singer and pianist Broadwood was heavily involved with both the activities of the Peoples Concert Music Society and the Early English Music Revival, performing a variety of songs by contemporary English composers while editing several of Purcell’s music dramas. A sometime secretary of the Quest society and disciple of G.R.S. Mead, she was involved with Theosophy and she followed closely contemporary scholarship on Gnosticism, the origins of religion, and the historical Jesus. Although fascinated with the para-normal and a believer in (and practitioner of) thought-transference, she was of a skeptical and empirical disposition, ready to challenge the conventional wisdom of her age yet sharply critical of ideas she regarded as cranky or merely speculative. For example, although convinced that the orthodox view of the authorship of the Shakespeare plays erroneous, she nonetheless subjected the rival Baconian thesis to intense scrutiny. As an independent woman (she never married) she supported the suffragist movement but was also a member of the Primrose League, voted for the Conservative/Unionist coalition, and was intensely interested in Freemasonry (a semi-secret society which, as a female, she could not join). The challenge facing Broadwood’s biographer is not only to unravel and document these (and other) strands of her life but to understand and explain how they interrelated. How, for example, did her study of Freemasonry inform her folk-music scholarship? What relationship did she see between the music of Purcell and traditional English folksong? How could she combine her love of Irish music with her passionate hostility to Irish home-rulers and separatists? In what way did she believe folksong was an essential foundation for a renaissance of English art music? This paper aims to sketch the main themes in a putative biography of Lucy Broadwood and to offer some preliminary answers to questions such as these. It is based on both published primary sources and unpublished archival sources (including Broadwood’s diaries and correspondence) at the Surrey History Centre (Woking) and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (London).