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

By William Weber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE CULTURAL EXPLOSION: AN OVERVIEW

The sudden increase in the phenomenon of concerts in London, Paris, and Vienna during the 1830s and '40s amounted to a real cultural explosion. This chapter will first discuss their growth, their principal types, and the cultural divisions they manifested. It will then look into the prices charged for admission to see what this suggests about the class structure within concert life. The chapter is, then, an overview of how the concert became an institution of major importance.

Nothing demonstrates the explosion of concert life better than the increase in the number of concerts during the period (see Table 3). The detailed reporting of presentations in newspapers and magazines in all three cities allows an accurate enumeration of the concerts presented in the two seasons (September through August) of 1826-1827 and 1845-18 The figures include only formal public concerts. Performances held in private homes have been added only if they were formally announced in the press or were presented as a regular series open to the public. Informal concerts held in parks or dance halls are excluded here but will be considered in rough numerical form in Chapter V.

The figures are impressive. Between the two seasons concerts increased in London from 125 to 381 (305 per cent), in Paris from 78 to 383 (491 per cent), and in Vienna from 111 to 163 (47 per cent). And that was not all. The number in London was greater than is shown here, for the concerts held in the many new suburbs of the metropolis often did not appear in the newspapers. In addition, the rate of increase in Vienna is somewhat misleading. Since concerts began growing in the Austrian capital so much earlier than elsewhere, their cumulative increase between 1813 and 1848 must have been threefold. The ratios of concerts to population indeed indicate the growing similarities among the three capitals (see Table 4). Defined as one concert per 100,000 persons, the proportions in the earlier season were eight in London, eleven in Paris, and twenty-eight in Vienna. By the later season Paris and Vienna stood much closer with ratios of 37 and 39 respectively; London lay below them at 22, though the suburban concerts would no doubt narrow the gap somewhat.

No other cultural area experienced so remarkable a history during the first half of the century. While the opera generated interest through its popular composers ( Rossini and the rest), no new musical theaters were established in any of the capitals. The dramatic theater had neither such popular new personalities nor an increase in its institutions. The closest parallel to the expansion of concert life was in the growth of the publishing industry, for the steam press was making possible much

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