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Singing His Praises: Darwin and His Theory in Song and Musical Production

Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis
Vol. 100, No. 3 (September 2009), pp. 590-614
DOI: 10.1086/644632
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Page Count: 25
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Singing His Praises: Darwin and His Theory in Song and Musical Production
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ABSTRACT This essay offers a chronological survey of the range of songs and musical productions inspired by Darwin and his theory since they entered the public sphere some 150 years ago. It draws on an unusual set of historical materials, including illustrated sheet music, lyrics and librettos, wax cylinder recordings, vinyl records, and video recordings located in digital and sound archives and on the Internet. It also offers a characterization of the varied genres and a literary analysis of the forms as a way of understanding the diverse audiences engaging, and indeed “entertaining,” Darwin and the implications of his theory. It argues that the engagement with Darwin and his celebrated theory is far more creative than has been appreciated and recommends that historians of science further explore Darwin and his theory as embodied in a fuller range of cultural expressions. This will lead to an understanding of Darwin's “iconic” status that draws on a fuller range of human sensory experience and that also enables us to appreciate his—and his theory's—enduring power to engage the human imagination.

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