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

By William Weber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE HIGH-STATUS CLASSICAL-MUSIC PUBLIC

Introduction

For most readers, the classical-music world of about 1830 has a distinctly contemporary feel. Its concerts were full of the institutional formality and artistic conservatism people now associate with the present-day "serious" music scene. The minority status of classical occasions, too, and their conflict with popular-music events, suggest much about the make-up of musical life today. Indeed, their sense of being poor second cousins to the larger musical world seems more familiar now than the proud mood surrounding symphony orchestras during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Yet most classical-music concerts still had far to go toward modernization at the start of our period. As was true of so many areas of musical life, institutional forms developed faster than the rules and practices we associate with modernity. The absence of a conductor facing the orchestra at many of these occasions reminds us that concerts as we know them now were slow in coming. Developments within classical-music concerts between 1830 and 1848 did, however, bring them far along this path.

Classical-music life of that time is blessed with highly informative quantitative sources-membership lists, most luckily of all—because the great majority of its concerts had organizational bases. The events therefore tell far more about musical life than their small number might suggest, and can help deepen the conclusions advanced in the last chapter. Since the concert societies in London, Paris, and Vienna had considerably different institutional structures, we will first sketch out the similarities among them and then examine local developments in separate sections.

The new integrated elite public took a formal shape in this area of the concert world such as it did not in benefit concerts. In London the series controlled by the aristocracy (the Concerts of Ancient Music) and the one attended by the upper-middle class (the Philharmonic concerts) both went into decline and were replaced by a new unitary high-status series (the Musical Union). In Paris the Conservatory Concerts brought together all levels of the city's elites in a similar fashion. In Vienna the Philharmonic Orchestra moved toward that kind of institution (such as it became during the 1860s) but before 1848 did not establish itself as firmly or build up as exclusive an audience as its counterparts in the other two capitals.

The dispute between the two taste publics provided the historical context within which these new concerts appeared. Although

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