From Promenade to the Ballad Concert to the Music Hall
The history of concerts is almost always focused almost upon the most serious kinds of events — the symphony orchestra, the recital, and the chamber music ensemble. Only in passing do you hear about the kinds of concerts that most people really did go to, events that were less formal and less highly educated in taste. That did not mean, however, that people who went to the most serious of concerts didn’t go to ones that were less so. A case in point is William Barclay Squire, a widely published writer on music and the founder of the British Museum’s music collection; he left the library his carefully annotated programmes for the many ballad concerts he attended. All of which raises the big question: what do we mean by ‘serious’?
Concerts originated in taverns, or rather in public houses that had rooms for music-making. During the late 17th century concerts evolved rather like jazz did around 1950, from informal to more formal kinds of events. By 1770 there was a clear difference between the two, even though people did talk and move around in both kinds of events more than we do today. Informal concerts were found most of all in ‘pleasure gardens,’ open-air locales where there was a pavilion for musicians to perform before people either strolling through or stopping to sit. The main such places were in Vauxhall and Ranelagh. Here is a program from the former garden:
Note that there was a good deal of British music here, since we can presume that the glee and the catch were by native composers.
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Page last updated: 30 March 2005