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

By William Weber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE HIGH-STATUS POPULAR-MUSIC PUBLIC

The world of prestigious popular-music concerts developed in London, Paris, and Vienna with considerably more similarity than any other area of concert life during the 1830s and 40s. Its main components were the same in all three cities: an institutional structure of salons and benefit concerts, entrepreneurship of professional musicians, a growing public from the aristocracy and the upper-middle class, and active leadership by key elements of the two classes. The fragmented cultural life of the capitals needed just such a decentralized base for its new concert world, and these events therefore flourished like no others. They provided the cities' two elites a place where they could get to know each other as they never had before, as virtually equal partners at the top of a rapidly changing hierarchy. Within them we can see the first traces of a unified upper class.

Our discussion will begin, however, on a more mundane level. We will first examine the social groups which were the leading actors in the daily experience of concert life: the family, occupational groups, men and women, and professional musicians. We will then look more broadly at what changes their activities brought to class structure. Finally, we will evaluate the significance of differences between the developments in the three cities.

Investigating what the family meant to concert life discloses an important conclusion about each of them. Quite unlike the isolated social unit as which it is often portrayed, the upper-middle class family in all three capitals took powerful roles in public life, and did so particularly in the musical world. Conversely, formal public concerts were not impersonal events as they seem when viewed superficially, for they were intimately linked with the life of the family.

We will not recount all that Arthur Loesser has shown so well about the centrality of music-making in bourgeois homes, but will only sketch out the main functions it served there. 1 For one thing, musical pursuits provided a means for the socialization of children. The watchword of middle-class values was discipline, and musical training helped instill it in young people. For girls especially, learning the piano was virtually a puberty rite, since it was conceived not as a hobby but rather as a social obligation integral to their upbringing. In the second place, music provided activities which members of the family could pursue together, something people were taking more seriously during the early nineteenth century than ever before. An English teenage girl left a glimpse of this life in a

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