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date: 05 August 2020

Grove, Sir Georgefree

  • C.L. Graves
  • , revised by Percy M. Young

(b Clapham, London, Aug 13, 1820; d Sydenham, May 28, 1900). English engineer, writer on music, educationist and editor of the first edition of this dictionary. He was the eighth child of Thomas Grove, who was a fishmonger and venison dealer in Charing Cross. His mother was a woman of some culture, a lover of music and a proficient amateur.

After five years in a preparatory school in Stockwell he entered a newly established grammar school in Clapham, whose headmaster, Charles Pritchard, inspired by the progressive principles of King’s College, London, was a notable scholar. His educational programme, based on classics, divinity, mathematics and natural philosophy, was strictly tested by annual examination. His pupils were also encouraged to develop interests in literature and music. Out of school Grove was learning music at home, at Holy Trinity, Clapham – where he heard the organist, John Blackburn, play the works of Bach – and at concerts of the Sacred Harmonic Society, notable for the oratorios of Handel.

In 1836 he was articled to Alexander Gordon, a civil engineer in Fludyer Street, Westminster. In February 1839 he was admitted graduate of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a year later he went to Glasgow to work in the pattern and fitting shops of the firm of Robert Napier. Towards the end of 1841 he was sent out by Gordon to act as resident engineer during the building of a cast-iron lighthouse on Morant Point, Jamaica, and, after returning briefly to England, went in a similar capacity to Gibb’s Hill in Bermuda, where he remained until August 1846. (On 22 March 1842 a son, George Grove Blackwell – of whom Grove was the father – had been born to Elizabeth Blackwell in the Union Workhouse, Stratford-on-Avon.) He next was on the staff of the Chester and Holyhead Railway under C.H. Wild, after which, as assistant to Edwin Clarke (chief engineer to Robert Stevenson), he worked on the Britannia Bridge across the Menai Straits. During this period he lived some time in Chester, acquainting himself with the cathedral music and also with Welsh folksong.

In 1850 he was introduced to John Scott Russell, a civil engineer who was a brilliant exponent of original ideas in shipbuilding and a Fellow of the Royal Society. Since 1845 Russell had been secretary of the Society of Arts and was one of the first to promote the idea of a trade exhibition. In Grove, already conspicuous by his wide interests, he appreciated a man of ideas who was also realistic in the conduct of affairs. Russell resigned his office of secretary to be succeeded by Grove, who was accordingly brought into close contact with the promoters of the Great Exhibition of 1851. In that year he married Harriet, sister of George Granville Bradley, a schoolfellow of Grove and future dean of Westminster.

In 1852 the Groves moved to Sydenham. Association with James Fergusson, designer of the Assyrian house in the exhibition, and Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, a canon of Canterbury, turned Grove’s attention to biblical research and collaboration with William Smith. Smith, seven years older than Grove, was a lexicographer, whose magnum opus was a dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities published in 1842. Between 1860 and 1863 his principal undertaking was a Bible dictionary, for which Grove acted as assistant editor. For his work he was generously praised in Smith’s preface. The measure of Grove’s energy and zeal for research is demonstrated by his numerous contributions – some, such as ‘Elijah’, being equivalent almost to book-length. It was this work, which occupied the bulk of his leisure for nearly seven years, that led him to develop the idea of a music dictionary. It also involved two visits to the Holy Land (1858 and 1861) and led to the establishment in 1865 of the Palestine Exploration Fund, in which – according to Dean Stanley at Cambridge, 8 May 1867 – Grove was ‘the head and front of the whole proceeding’.

Grove found time for his musical studies, too, attending concerts, buying scores and from 1854 taking an active part in the organization of the performances at the Crystal Palace. His famous analytical programmes grew out of a suggestion of August Manns, who had become chief conductor of the orchestra in 1855, that Grove should contribute a few words in elucidation of a centenary programme of Mozart’s music on Saturday 26 January 1856; the attention of the public was also drawn to a portrait of Mozart in the Exhibition Gallery of the palace. In 1857 and 1859 Centennial Festivals in honour of Handel took place in the Crystal Palace. The mammoth nature of these performances was acceptable as a token of national pride for many years to come. For Grove, however, the greatest master was not Handel but Beethoven. For the centenary of Beethoven’s birth the concert of 17 December 1870 was supplemented with portraits, photographic reproductions of manuscripts, and other relics.

The analyses of the Beethoven symphonies were expanded into the volume published in 1896; but Grove rarely allowed any of these commentaries, of which he wrote hundreds, to appear twice in the same form. His research at home or abroad, his conversations with musicians and his general reading were constantly drawn upon to supply fresh and illuminative material whether in the shape of musical or literary parallels, details of construction or anecdotal reminiscences. Grove frankly admitted that he had forerunners in Thomson, the professor of music at Edinburgh in 1840, in John Ella, John Hullah and Henry Wylde; but he brought to bear on his task an infectious enthusiasm as well as a breadth of culture which lent his commentaries a peculiar charm and value.

Grove’s intimate association with Sullivan dated from 1862, while his long friendship with Clara Schumann and his devoted championship of her husband’s compositions began in 1863. In 1867 he made his memorable journey to Vienna in company with Sullivan (described in his appendix to the English translation of Kreissle von Hellborn’s life of Schubert), which resulted in the discovery of the partbooks of the whole of the music for Rosamunde. There also he laid the foundation of his long friendship with C.F. Pohl, and met Brahms. In May 1868 he succeeded David Masson as editor of Macmillan’s Magazine, a post he retained for 15 years. The extensive coverage of musical matters under his editorship both reflected his particular interests and was designed to test the market for books on music.

In 1860 Grove had contributed to The Times the first detailed account of the Oberammergau Passion play to appear in the English press, and in 1869 he wrote from Italy some remarkable letters to The Times and the Spectator on the alleged miracle of St Januarius at Naples; until a few years before his death he was a constant contributor on many subjects. He was in the meantime accumulating illustrative material on the symphonies of Beethoven and Mendelssohn and steeping himself in the music of Schumann and Schubert. In September 1873 he announced to his friends that he had resigned the secretaryship of the Crystal Palace in order to edit the Dictionary of Music and Musicians for Macmillan. He was, however, offered a seat on the board of the firm and continued to edit the programmes of the Saturday Concerts. On 29 June 1875 the honorary degree of DCL was conferred by the University of Durham on ‘George Grove, the eminent civil engineer, and the present editor of Macmillan’s Magazine, for the great services rendered to literature by his writings’; the speech by Professor Farrar, who presented him for the degree, stressed his contributions to biblical research and geography, but took no account of his services to music. His many-sidedness was happily hit off a few months later by Robert Browning in a private letter, in which he called him ‘Grove the Orientalist, the Schubertian, the Literate in ordinary and extra-ordinary’. In 1876 he found time, amid his work on the dictionary, to write an admirable geography primer for Macmillan, published in January 1877. That year he met Wagner and, together with William Pole and William Siemens – both engineers – entertained him to lunch at the Athenaeum. He was impressed by Wagner, but he remained in imperfect sympathy with the spirit of the music drama (the Victorian in him, writing on Tristan und Isolde, pronounced that ‘the Love Scene – Act 2 – is too realistic’).

In autumn 1878 Grove paid a memorable visit to America with Dean Stanley, meeting Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Emerson, Daniel Gilman and other leaders of thought, visiting most of the great eastern cities and getting a glimpse of the South and Canada. The year 1879 was chiefly devoted to accumulating materials for his monograph on Mendelssohn, and in the autumn he visited Berlin and Leipzig to obtain first-hand information from Mendelssohn’s family and friends. The first volume of the dictionary, containing parts i–vi, had been published in 1879, and the part containing the article on Mendelssohn appeared in February 1880. (The dictionary was issued in four volumes containing 25 parts. Its growth in process of compilation is indicated by the fact that the first completed volume bore the words ‘In two volumes’ on its title-page and the second bore the words ‘In three volumes’.) In July of the same year Grove was the recipient of a testimonial of 1000 guineas and an address emphasizing his signal services rendered to biblical history and geography, as well as to music and music literature. The list of subscribers contained the names of the archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dean Stanley, Millais, Leighton, Frederic Harrison, Arthur Balfour, James Paget and a host of other distinguished men. Archbishop Tait presided; Dean Stanley and Sir Arthur Sullivan eulogized Grove’s services to biblical research and music respectively. The gathering was a remarkable testimony to Grove’s versatility, for, as Dean Stanley said, it came almost as a revelation to those who had associated him chiefly with biblical research or literature to find him appropriated by musicians and vice versa.

From this time onwards, however, his energies were steadily concentrated on the service of music. He was already hard at work on his article on Schubert, and in the autumn of 1880 paid a visit to Vienna to gather materials and study the manuscripts in the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. There he renewed his acquaintance with Brahms and was greatly assisted in his researches by his devoted friend C.F. Pohl. Schubert proved his chief interest and anodyne in 1881, a year saddened for him by the death of Dean Stanley; and in the autumn his theory of the lost ‘Gastein’ Symphony took shape, and his views were embodied in a communication to The Athenaeum (19 November 1881, p.675). The theory, which has since been shown to be without foundation, involved as its corollary the renumbering of the ‘Great’ C major Symphony as no.10, a course invariably followed in the programme books of the Crystal Palace concerts.

Meanwhile the movement for the establishment of the Royal College of Music was rapidly maturing. A scheme was mooted at a meeting held in Marlborough House in 1878 to effect an amalgamation with the Royal Academy of Music and the National Training School of Music, but the negotiations fell through, as far as the RAM was concerned. The Training School, on the other hand, willingly fell in with the proposal, and in 1880 a draft charter was completed; a special feature of the proposed institution was the raising of a fund to provide for the maintenance as well as the education of certain students. The Prince of Wales accepted the presidency of the council and the dukes of Coburg (then Edinburgh) and Albany and Prince Christian took an active part. In July 1881 Grove was invited to join the council and executive committee of the proposed college, and in March 1882, at the request of the Prince of Wales, he undertook the post of organizing financial secretary initially for a period of six months. He threw himself into this campaign with the utmost energy, making speeches, delivering addresses, drafting circulars and visiting provincial centres. As a result of these efforts a large sum of money was raised, and the promoters were able to found 50 scholarships for tuition, several of which included maintenance. During summer 1882 the directorship was offered to and accepted by Grove, who at once set to work to select and organize his staff, inducing Jenny Lind to emerge from retirement and enlisting the aid of Parry, Parratt, Stanford, Pauer, Franklin Taylor, J.F. Barnett, Frederick Bridge and others. The RCM was opened by the Prince of Wales on 7 May 1883 at a ceremony attended by Gladstone, then Prime Minister, in the building previously occupied by the National Training School of Music and presented to the Prince of Wales for the purposes of the RCM by Sir Charles Freake. Four days earlier Gladstone had offered the new director a knighthood in acknowledgment of his services to music in England, and in announcing Grove’s decoration the Prince of Wales alluded to him as one who, ‘eminent in general literature, has specially devoted himself to the preparation and publication of a dictionary of music, and has earned our gratitude by the skill and success with which he has worked in the difficult task of organizing the Royal College’.

Grove came to academic life, as director of the RCM, at a late stage of his career and his manner was paternal. Frequently he referred to his students as his children. Sternly moral, he kept a watchful eye on those – staff as well as students – who disobeyed the canons of acceptable morality. He regularly entertained female students at his Sydenham home on Sunday afternoons, but a lack of sympathy for athletics and field sports inhibited him in his relations with male students. He did all he could to widen the intellectual range of his students; he constantly urged them to read the best poetry, recommended, lent or gave them books and insisted on the vital importance of cultivating some intellectual interest as a resource in later life. His drawbacks were chiefly due to the defects of his qualities. He was too enthusiastic always to consult his dignity, he was apt to be irritated by trifles, impatient of philistinism and inclined to confound thoughtless levity with disloyalty. He was unable to conceal a preference for instrumentalists over singers. ‘Singers’, he once wrote, ‘as a rule (of course there are exceptions) are thoughtless, empty, uneducated persons’, in spite of his appointment of Jenny Lind as first professor of singing. But in spite of these shortcomings, throughout his 11 years’ tenure of office he exercised a notable and salutary influence on the best of the students.

From the time she came to the college in 1883 Edith Oldham, from Dublin, entered into a special relationship with Grove, which lasted until the end of his life. In a sequence of long and passionate letters across the remaining years, he admitted to her his innermost thoughts and feelings, and to much of the workings of the establishment. Of all of this, of which the rest of the world seemed ignorant, Lady Grove was well aware. In writing to Edith Oldham after Grove’s death, she was generous and understanding. Edith Oldham returned to Dublin, where she played a notable part in Irish musical education.

Grove’s interest in music outside his immediate official duties was manifested in a variety of ways – by frequent contributions to the press, by attendance at concerts and festivals and by writing prefaces and analytical programmes. He had been specially designated by Stanley to write his memoirs, but because of other work could do no more than supervise R.E. Prothero’s biography. But he found time to contribute his interesting ‘History of a Phrase’ to the Musical World in 1887, and in autumn 1889 carried out a thorough exploration of the villages in the environs of Vienna that Beethoven frequented in the summers of the later years of his life. In spring 1891 he took an active part in resisting the proposed measure for the registration of teachers, which he considered would injuriously affect the operations of the RCM. In the autumn of the same year he initiated the scheme, carried out by Breitkopf & Härtel (The Times, 15 September), for issuing a facsimile edition of the autograph scores of Beethoven’s symphonies. To the special Beethoven number of the Musical Times (15 December 1892) he contributed an interesting paper on ‘The Birds in the Pastoral Symphony’.

In 1894 the new building for the RCM was opened. Not the least of Grove’s achievements was to persuade Samson Fox, a wealthy Leeds engineer, to bear the whole cost. But overwork and advancing years took their toll, and in October 1894 Grove announced his retirement from the college. In March 1896 he published his valuable and illuminating work Beethoven and his Nine Symphonies. The Scottish Musical Record for June 1896 contains a sketch of his old friend Clara Schumann, and his contributions to the press continued until April 1898. As long as health remained he showed the liveliest interest in the welfare of his old pupils and attended the meetings of the RCM council. Early in 1899 his strength began to fail, and he died on 28 May 1900, in the house at Sydenham in which he had lived for nearly 40 years.

Grove’s achievements are all the more remarkable when it is borne in mind that he was strictly neither a scholar, a linguist nor a musician. These limitations he was never afraid to acknowledge (see, for example, the preface to his book on Beethoven’s symphonies), and he freely availed himself of the best expert aid to supplement his own shortcomings. As one of his pupils (probably Charles Wood) said of him: ‘He taught one to think of him as pre-eminently an amateur, and I am inclined to think that this pre-eminence, together with his human kindness, formed his best qualification for a great professional post’. Though he was ‘no executant’, he never missed any opportunity of hearing good music; his memory was retentive, and he could find his way well enough about the full score of a work with which he was familiar. As a critic he was hampered by his temperament; he hated comparisons, ‘would rather love than condemn any day in the week’, and was little concerned with niceties of technique in performance. But as a musicologist he was in a class of his own. His interests, particularly towards the end of his life, were confined to the period after Bach and he regarded the music of Purcell as ‘curious’, but in his research into Mendelssohn, Schubert and Beethoven he examined details that previous scholars would have ignored, and he set new standards in meticulous analysis.

Grove was in nearly every way a typical ‘great Victorian’, with a zest for self-education, a conviction that the achievements of the 19th century could hardly be surpassed, a belief that most objectives were attainable through hard work, a high sense of morality that caused him great personal problems, and a desire for respectability. In addition to the distinctions and honours already mentioned, he received a CB in 1894, the Duke of Coburg decorated him with the Cross of the Order of Merit, and the University of Glasgow conferred on him the honorary degree of LLD. On his retirement his pupils of the RCM presented him with a bust of himself by Alfred Gilbert, which he subsequently gave to the college, and the teaching staff presented him with his portrait by Charles Furse. Other portraits of him were painted by Henry Philips, H.A. Olivier and Felix Moscheles. A George Grove Memorial Scholarship was founded at the RCM.


  • The Fine Arts: their Nature and Relations (London, 1853) [trans. of F.P.G. Guizot: Etudes sur les beaux arts en général, Paris, 1852]
  • Appx to The Life of Franz Schubert (London, 1869) [trans. of H. Kreissle von Hellborn: Franz Schubert, Vienna, 1865]
  • ed.: A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London, 1879–89) [incl. many articles by Grove; ‘Beethoven, Ludwig van’, ‘Mendelssohn’ and ‘Schubert, Franz Peter’ repr. in Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, ed. E. Blom (London, 1951)]
  • ‘History of a Phrase’, Musical World, 65 (1887) [in 20 pts]
  • Beethoven and his Nine Symphonies (London, 1896, 3/1898/R)
  • Prefaces to numerous books, incl. S. Hensel: The Mendelssohn Family (Eng. trans., London, 1881, and New York, 1882/R); O. Jahn: The Life of Mozart (Eng. trans., London, 1882); W.S. Rockstro: The Life of George Frederick Handel (London, 1883); [J. Bennett:] A Short History of Cheap Music (London, 1887); A. Fay: Music – Study in Germany (London, 1888); The Early Letters of Schumann (Eng. trans., London, 1888); F.G. Edwards: The History of Mendelssohn’s Oratorio ‘Elijah’ (London, 1896/R)


  • G.B. Shaw: ‘Sir George Grove’, Saturday Review (14 Nov 1896); repr. in G.B. Shaw: Our Theatres in the Nineties, ii (London, 1932), 242
  • F.G. Edwards: ‘Sir George Grove, C.B.’, MT, 38 (1897), 657–64
  • Obituary, The Engineer (1900), June, 567
  • Obituary, F.G. Edwards, MT, 41 (1900), 459–61
  • C.L. Graves: The Life and Letters of Sir George Grove, C.B. (London, 1903/R)
  • C.V. Stanford: Pages from an Unwritten Diary (London, 1914), 219
  • W.H.G. Flood: ‘Sir George Grove: a Centenary Appreciation’, MT, 61 (1920), 603
  • C.L. Graves: ‘George Grove: a Centenary Study’, ML, 1 (1920), 330–33
  • C.V. Stanford: Interludes: Records and Reflections (London, 1922)
  • D.F. Tovey and G. Parratt: Walter Parratt, Master of the Music (London, 1941)
  • P.M. Young: George Grove 1820–1900 (London, 1980)
  • H.C. Colles and J. Cruft: The Royal College of Music: a Centenary Record, 1883–1983 (London, 1982)
  • A. Parry: ‘The Grove Years, 1868–1883: a “New Look” for Macmillan’s Magazine?’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 19 (1986), 149–57
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