19th Century Venues and Performances. This lecture by Terry B. Ewell presents an overview of 19th century venues and performance practices with particular attention given to the 1889 Paris World's Fair. Lecture 5 created for “Music, Technology, and Culture,” a course at Towson University. BDP #271.

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In the prior videos you learned about instruments in the 19th century. In this video we will explore spaces in which those instruments performed and the cultures surrounding those performances.

In 19th century Europe and even America, music was performed in multiple venues. Some music was performed in private spaces: homes. Other music, however, was performed in larger public spaces such as churches, opera houses, or concert halls.

The most intimate of the performance spaces were in people’s homes, often in a room specially set apart for music and entertainment. “Chamber music” was a type of music developed in the 18th century for the entertainment of nobility or the wealthy. Sometimes this was also called “salon music” because of the room, salon, where the music would be performed. This music might be performed during a meal or as entertainment by itself for a small audience. Only those invited to the occasion would be able to attend these concerts. They were very privileged affairs.

Young women and men of wealthy families might be trained as avocational musicians so that they could entertain the family. This also increased their value as marriage partners.

The apparel worn on these occasions was usually quite formal. For this reason, the tradition continues for performers to wear tuxedos, such as the one I am wearing, or tails. Tails for men require a white vest, a white tie, and tails themselves that were long and black., and have the tails here at the bottom.

You might recall the formal apparel in the clip from the movie Amadeus. Also look closely at the costumes worn by the wealthy British classes in the video clip from Pride and Prejudice.

Italy and France set the standards for public performance spaces in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Churches were the most common spaces in which music was performed. Admission to churches was free and consequently this was the only place that peasants heard fine music by instrumentalists and vocalists. The premier public space for music was in churches. At weekly gatherings there more people who heard music by organ, choir, and other instruments than in any other place at the time. The other public places in Europe and the USA at the time were opera houses and concert halls. Churches offered free music for those in attendance, but most opera houses and concert halls would have charged money.
Now, let’s look at the music presented at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889. This lecture and the next is indebted to the research of Annegret Fauser in her book Musical Encounters at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair.

All of the music presented at the Paris World’s Fair was available for the public for a fee. If one was seeking the most exciting musical performance, there was only one place to go: to the opera. First and foremost, it was opera that gained the most public attention. A ticket to the opera provided spectacles of staging, costumes, drama, music, and occasionally even dance. You will be looking at a scene from Verdi’s Aida in this course. This opera was stages on the third day of the World’s Fair. Here we see the entry for Aida.

Of all the music performed at the Paris World’s Fair, it was opera that was the most popular. From May 1st to the end of the World’s Fair on November 10th one opera and sometimes even two or three were performed each day or evening. Later in the next video we will examine applications of technology at the Fair. Notice that it was the opera, not other musical events, that was always featured in live telephone broadcasts. The public was fascinated with opera.

Opera in those days was performed in the largest venues, most often at night. As a result, the opera houses needed elaborate lighting systems. There was little use of electricity at that time in the 1800s for lighting. Most of the street lamps and lighting in the theaters were supplied by gas. However, brighter lights were needed for the stage. These brighter lights were call limelights, which consisted of oxyhydrogen flames directed at cylinders of quicklime. Let’s watch this video that explains the chemical processes that produce the bright light.

Here I have this piece of quicklime. I hold it with these tongs. Now I will heat it with this welding torch. I will use the safety glasses. Look at the intense brightness. We almost can’t see the rest of the scene, only the glowing stone. This kind of light known as limelight was used by the end of the 19th century. By the way, there is a film by Charles Chaplin was called limelight because of that type of lighting was used in theatres and music halls. Without looking directly into the light, in the heat of the limelight… see you soon.

It wasn’t until a decade later that electrical lighting was common in concert halls and stages. Remember that in the 19th century it was materials, mechanisms, and even chemistry that were the primary means of innovation. What 20th century innovators did with electricity, 19th century innovators did with chemistry.

Now there were many other musical events at the Fair, which represent well the musical scene in 19th century Europe. Concerts for the general public were given and their music often was comprised of popular instrumental selections. This potpourri style of programing was fairly typical for concerts at that time. This differs from programing today by symphony orchestras that typically feature an overture and concerto in the first half of a concert and then after intermission a full symphony. Here the programming more often than not features shorter works or just a movement of a symphony.

At the Paris 1889 World’s Fair music from different nations was showcased: French, Belgium, Russian, even from the USA. These featured composers from those nations and were exhibits of national pride. You can also see in this actual program, here you have an entire concerto and a suite, but it has other songs and soloists here. The Russian program is interesting because it includes choir as well as dancers.
Chamber music was also featured in the World’s Fair. This music was for smaller groups such as with piano and other instruments. You can see piano, violin, and cello. Here is violin and piano; oboe and piano; viola de gambe—that is an older version of the cello. So you have some instrumental music. This (the ***) would have been an intermission. This was a fairly long concert with a number of different selections.
Organ concerts were popular. You can see the number of guest organists that attended that world fair.

The most unusual feature of the World’s Fair was the inclusion of music from Africa and Asia. In particular, the presentations of the gamelan created great interest. This music from Indonesia and Vietnam featured the instruments with dancers. The famous French Composer Debussy is known to have spent much time listening to this music at this World’s Fair and it greatly influenced some of his music.
If you have been to a performance of an orchestra, choir, or band in an enclosed concert hall or auditorium, much of that experience is due to 19th century traditions developed in Europe. Perhaps you recognized many features discussed in this video. Please take the time now to view the videos excerpts I have selected that portray music performances in the 18th and 19th centuries. Try to imagine that you are at the events and what it would be like to experience music at that time.

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