The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Music

By Jim Samson | Go to book overview
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Choral culture and the regeneration of the

Most historical accounts of European choral movements in the nineteenth century note a certain loss of intensity and idealistic purpose after the revolutions of 1848. Central to the constellation of possible reasons may be the expansion and liberalisation of economies leading to greater mass production and an increasing division of labour. With an enormous growth in musical consumption and participation in massed singing a dilution in the idealistic zeal displayed by the first amateur choral groups was all but inevitable. The changes in musical production were equally predictable with an increasing distinction between the amateur and the professional that may have resulted in some decline in the musical capabilities of the former.1 Dahlhaus relates the withering of the seemingly holistic combination of conviviality, educative purpose and bourgeois self-display to the increasing polarisation of the public and private spheres; audiences became an anonymous, cosmopolitan public who no longer fully shared the social brotherhood of the amateur singers.2 Steady economic growth contributed to a sense of hedonism rather than idealism in some places, such as Napoleon III's France, but also to more authoritarian, centralising regimes. It was not unknown for choral establishments to be subject to police observation and many inevitably swapped their idealism for a more reactionary stance.3 On the other hand, the very fact that some musical institutions provoked official surveillance suggests that they must have retained some of their radical elements.

Even more palpable than the political transformations was the new scientific climate. The latter half of the century saw not only enormous technological advances in the wake of industrialisation and an increasingly dispassionate empiricism, but also a concomitant positivistic attitude in the arts that spawned numerous collected editions and catalogues of composers' works. This inevitably interacted with an invigorated historicist sense that either

L. Botstein, 'Listening through Reading: Musical Literacy and the Concert Audience', 19th Century Music, 16 (1992–3), pp. 129–45.
C. Dahlhaus, Nineteenth -Century Music, trans. J. B. Robinson (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989), p. 174.
J. Deathridge, 'Germany: The “Special Path'”, in J. Samson (ed.), The Late Romantic Era (Englewood Cliffs, 1991), pp. 57–9.


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