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The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music


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The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, better known as ABRSM, has influenced the musical lives and tastes of millions of people since it conducted its first exams in 1890. This ground-breaking history explores how ABRSM became such a formative influence and looks at some of the consequences resulting from its pre-eminent position in British musical life. Particular emphasis is given to how free ABRSM has been to impose its musical view of things and to what extent its exams respond to the circumstances and musical preferences of its customers. The book's exploration of how ABRSM has negotiated music's changing social, educational and cultural landscape casts fresh light on the challenges facing music education today.
David Wright's comprehensive history of the Board from its origins in 1889 to the present day represents a significant and original investigation. Not only is it the first extended account of ABRSM, but it sets the institution and its work firmly within its historical and cultural context. ABRSM's exams were exported all across the Empire, and this study shows how both exams and examiners made a telling cultural contribution to the idea of the 'British World'. It relates the exams to changing historical perceptions about musical education as well as to attitudes about the value of music as a social and recreational activity. By demonstrating the impact of the Board's commercial success in dominating the grade exam market, the book shows how this has had significant consequences for the organization of British musical training and for the formation and sustaining of a particular sort of British musical culture.

Before his retirement, David Wright was Reader in the Social History of Music at the Royal College of Music, London.


Candid and critical but never harsh, Wright's book was written with the full cooperation of the Board and goes well beyond a standard institutional history, taking us behind committee doors and offering insights into musical life beyond the conservatoire . This book is rich in interpretation and analysis and . is a splendid example of just how interesting and insightful an institutional history can be. NORTH AMERICAN BRITISH MUSIC STUDIES ASSOCIATION, Autumn 2013

An endlessly fascinating book. MUSIC TEACHER

[A] most perceptive, well-organised and concentrated work, revealing the wide scope of the British and Imperial cultural worlds from which the Associated Board emerged in 1889 in response to the admirable Victorian ethos of self-improvement and its thirst for formal qualification. MUSICAL TIMES

The book is rich in detail - anecdotes, statistics, source references, quotations and a detailed bibliography and index - and offers a comprehensive history of the Board together with an examination of its continued significant place in British culture and musical life. THE CROSS-EYED PIANIST BLOG


First Published: 17 Jan 2013
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843837343
10 black and white, 18 line drawing illustrations
Pages: 288
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Boydell Press
BIC Class: AV

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Introduction: the Context for a History
  • 2  Music Exams and Victorian Society
  • 3  Competing for Candidates: TCL, ABRSM and the Society of Arts
  • 4  The ABRSM Idea and the First Exams, 1889-91
  • 5  The Early History, 1892-1920
  • 6  The ABRSM and the 'British World'
  • 7  The Inter-War Years
  • 8  The ABRSM in Wartime
  • 9  The Post-War ABRSM
  • 10  Too Much Success: the 1960s and 1970s
  • 11  The Reconstitution: 1983-5
  • 12  Reconnecting with its Market: the Smith Years, 1983-1992
  • 13  Redefining its Role: the Morris Years, 1993-2009
  • 14  Appendix I: Speech and Drama Exams
  • 15  Appendix II: ABRSM Personalia, 1889-2009