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

By William Weber | Go to book overview
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The history of low-status concerts during the 1830s and 1840s shows the modernization of musical life in even broader terms than the history of elite concerts. During the previous centuries members of lower levels of the middle class maintained many kinds of musical pursuits domestic music-making, tavern singing, instrumental ensembles, and church choirs. But these activities had only the most limited kinds of formal organization and had virtually no commercial orientation. They comprised no closely-bound musical world and were related less to each other than to the social spheres in which they were based. And they had only the most distant links with the musical life of the nobility and the upper-middle class.

During the first half of the nineteenth century these musical traditions underwent a drastic transformation. Public concerts were established which charged low enough prices to enable even some people from the prosperous artisanry to attend at least a few events each year. While the concerts had a different character from that of high-status concerts, they employed similar commercial techniques. Although many of them did not last more than a few years, they established a wholly new public in the concert world.

The development of concerts for the low-status public had three major resources. One was its enormous potential public. Pre-existing social locales made it easy to attract this public, for just as high-status concerts grew out of salons, so events for the lesser audience evolved from cafés, taverns, parks, dance halls, cultural societies, and churches. A second resource was the strong amateur musical activity within the lower levels of the middle class. Even though people of modest income could not afford many concert tickets or investments in musical instruments, they had strong motivation for musical training and were willing to put what little they could afford into the less expensive kinds of musical activity. 1 The third resource aided exploitation of the other two: the rising income and standard of living among this public. While the change was not nearly as great as among the wealthy middle class, it was still significant, partly owing to more efficient use of income. 2

Yet there were also strong limitations upon the use of these resources. Obviously, people of modest income could not afford to buy tickets regularly, and sales were therefore erratic and difficult to predict. Most musicians and businessmen were unwilling to face these uncertainties, particularly since the burgeoning new elite


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


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