Music and the Middle Class: The Social Structure of Concert Life in London, Paris and Vienna

By William Weber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION

The "Biedermeier" period, they once called it in Central Europe. The burgeoning economic and political activity of the middle class after the mid-point of the nineteenth century impressed writers so much that they looked back at the two decades prior to the Revolution of 1848 with undisguised scorn. The plain, unpretentious furniture of the period provided them with a handy pejorative term for describing the supposedly passive temper of the times. But historians now see many tendencies of a very different sort among the middle class dynamic, assertive tendencies which foreshadowed the more open and successful actions of the class after the mid-century. During that time mechanized light industry was initiated in France and Germany and consolidated in Britain; nationalist movements forged many of the intellectual and political tools they were to use later in the century; and the publishing industry emerged in its modern form throughout Europe. The middle class was trying its hand at new things, and even though some of its efforts were fumbling or abortive, they afforded strong evidence of what was to come.

The history of concert life exhibited the intense social energies of the middle class even more dramatically than most such developments. The concert world as we know it now began during the period. The numbers of concerts proliferated throughout Europe, and their customs and design took on characteristically modern forms. With them came a giddying social atmosphere among the middle class and the aristocracy, eager trips to concert halls, ravenous consumption of sheet music and periodicals, passionate support of performers and musical styles, and a shrewd use of all this toward self-advancement. Music fans may have lounged in Biedermeier furniture while talking about these matters, but their behavior certainly did not resemble its stolid tone.

The period of the 30s and 40s is therefore ideal for studying both the development of the concert world and the middle class in general. The two problems are so closely intertwined that this book will treat them with equal seriousness. Analysis of social structure in the two areas involves the same sociological factors social classes, professional groups, taste publics, institutions, men and women, and the family. The term social structure thus does not stand in the title idly, for it provides the key concept through which we will approach our subject.

There is similar logic and feasibility for studying London, Paris, and Vienna together. As the three most important national capitals of the time, they had great similarities in their social

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