A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Bachelor of Music

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BACHELOR OF MUSIC. 'Bachelor,' a word whose derivation has been much disputed, is the title of the inferior degree conferred in various faculties by the Universities of this country. In Music, as in Divinity and Medicine, the degrees given are those of Bachelor and Doctor. There is no degree of Master, as in 'Arts.' The letters M.D. and M.B. being appropriated to degrees in Medicine, the abbreviations Mus. D. and Mus. B. are employed to distinguish those in Music. The degree of Bachelor must, in the ordinary course, precede that of Doctor; it is permitted, however, in cases of great merit, and especially where the candidate has obtained a high reputation in the art before offering himself for the degree, to pass at once to the degree of Doctor of Music without having previously taken that of Bachelor.

'Music' was one of the so-called seven arts taught in the monastic schools which arose in Western Europe under Charlemagne and his successors. The Universities, an expansion of these schools, inherited their curriculum; and during the Middle Ages the 'Ars Musica' was studied, like certain other branches of knowledge, in the books of Boethius, a Roman author of the 6th century, whose writings furnished the Dark Ages with some poor shreds of the science of the ancient world. The study of Boethius was a pedantic repetition of mathematical forms and proportions, in keeping with the spirit of scholasticism, and calculated to retard rather than advance the progress of the art. Although it was a common thing for the scholar in the Middle Ages to play upon an instrument or two (see e.g. Chaucer's Clerk of Oxenford in the 'Prologue'), it is probable that no practical acquaintance with music was originally required for a degree, but that the scholar had only to read in public a certain number of 'exercises' or discourses upon Boethius, a ceremony which held the place of examination in the Middle Ages. We cannot, however, speak with certainty; for the earliest mention of graduates in music, viz. Thomas Seynt Just and Henry Habyngton at Cambridge, dates no further back than 1463. Forty years later a more or less elaborate composition appears to be regularly demanded of candidates for a degree. In 1506 Richard Ede was desired to compose 'a Mass with an Antiphona,' to be solemnly sung before the University of Oxford on the day of his admission to the degree of Bachelor; and in 1518 John Charde was desired 'to put into the hands of the Proctors' a mass and antiphona which he had already composed, and to compose another mass of five parts on 'Kyrie rex splendens.' The statutes given to the University of Oxford by Laud in 1636 enact that every candidate for the degree of Bachelor of Music shall compose a piece for five voices with instrumental accompaniments, and have it publicly performed in the 'Music School'; and though the words in which the degree was conferred still contained a permission 'to lecture in every book of Boethius,' it would seem that music was more seriously and successfully cultivated at Oxford during the 17th century than it has been before or since. The torpor into which the English Universities fell during the 18th century affected the value of their musical diplomas. Compositions were indeed still required of candidates for degrees; but the absence of a bonâ fide examination rendered the degree of little value as a test of personal merit. The reforming spirit of our own day has however extended itself in this direction, and the following rules, depending in part upon the statutes of the Universities, in part upon regulations drawn up by the present professors in pursuance of the statutes, are now in force as to the degree of Bachelor of Music.

At Oxford the candidate must (1) pass a preliminary examination (partly in writing, partly vívâ voce) in Harmony and Counterpoint in not more than four parts. He has then (2) to present to the Professor of Music a vocal composition containing pure five-part harmony and good fugal counterpoint, with accompaniment for at least a quintett stringed band, of such length as to occupy from twenty to forty minutes if it were performed, no public performance however being required. (3) A second examination follows after the interval of half a year, embracing Harmony, Counterpoint in five parts, Canon, Imitation, Fugue, Form in Composition, Musical History, and a critical knowledge of the full scores of certain standard compositions. If the candidate is not already a member of the University, he must become so before entering the first examination; but he is not required to have resided or kept terms. The fees amount in all to about £18.

The Cambridge regulations are nearly to the same effect. There is, however, only one examination; and, in addition to the subjects given above, a knowledge of the quality, pitch, and compass of various instruments is required. The rules of Trinity College, Dublin, state that the degree of Bachelor of Music in that college is intended to show 'that a sound practical knowledge of music has been attained, sufficient to manage and conduct a choir, or to officiate in cathedral or church service.' The number of persons annually taking the degree of Mus. Bac. at Oxford has increased considerably during the last ten years; in 1866 the number was three, in 1874 eleven. There does not seem to have been a similar increase at Cambridge. The degree of Mus. Bac. does not exist in foreign Universities.

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