In 1876 American writer Justin McCarthy observed, “We have now in London pre-Raphaelite painters, pre-Raphaelite poets, pre-Raphaelite novelists, pre-Raphaelite young ladies, pre-Raphaelite hair, eyes, complexion, dress, decorations, window curtains, chairs, tables, knives forks and coal-scuttles. We have pre-Raphaelite anatomy, we have pre-Raphaelite music.”
It seems the Victorians have truly begun to infiltrate the contemporary music world. From classical to cutting-edge, there are several musical ensembles performing today that are named for notable characters from the Victorian era.
Take, for example, the Rossetti String Quartet. Currently in-residence in Kansas, the quartet - two violins, viola and cello - have been praised as a “vital force among chamber music ensembles,” renowned for its sensual sound and extensive range of colors. In their promotional material, they explain the name this way: “Co-founded in 1996, the Rossetti String Quartet is named after 19th century Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose artistic ideals about the use of color, poetry, and naturalism are embodied in the Quartet’s musicianship.” They have performed internationally, and a review in the Washington Post declared “The Rossetti’s tone had a sensual finish, and its phrasing practically palpitated with ardor and mystery.” Not unlike the artist-poet himself, one might say.
Then in England we have another classical group, The Ruskin Ensemble, founded in Sheffield and named after the eminent critic John Ruskin (no explanation offered). They are known for their themed programs, sometimes performing in period dress, and have appeared at the Brighton Fringe Festival.
Now we come to the most recent entry, Pre-Raphaelites. No “The”; just “Pre-Raphaelites.” Listed in music sites as Indie/Pop/Rock, Pre-Raphaelites’ instrumentation features a glockenspiel and ukelele among the more common guitars and drums.
One last musical reference: writer/lecturer Dinah Roe was surprised to discover a reference to D. G. Rossetti in a 1976 issue of Playboy Magazine. When interviewer Cameron Crowe asked David Bowie about the inspiration for the eye-catching English cover art for The Man Who Sold the World (1971), David Bowie replied: ‘Funnily enough, and you’ll never believe me, it was a parody of Gabriel Rossetti. Slightly askew, obviously.’
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