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Le concert et son public

 | 
Hans Erich Bödeker
, 
Michael Werner
, 
Patrice Veit

II. Agents et promoteurs

The musician as concert-promoter in London 1780-1850

Simon McVeigh

Texte intégral

  • 1 On concert life in London during this period, see (for the later eighteenth century) McVeigh, S. 1 (...)

1Τwo themes stand out in any analysis of London’s concert life during the decades around 1800: firstly, the gradual shift away from entrepreneurial management in a commercial environment towards institutions reflecting the newly gained professionalisation of music; and secondly, the diversification of concert life into new markets provided by an ever-expanding public1. Yet such an analysis is in danger of imposing over-simplified patterns onto a volatile culture in which the interaction between entrepreneur and institution was complex and ever-shifting. Furthermore, it underestimates both the limitations of London’s still underdeveloped and unarticulated concert structure, and the reluctance of musicians to break away from eighteenth-century attitudes.

  • 2 On subscription series in the later eighteenth century, see McVeigh, S. 1989, “The Professional Co (...)
  • 3 See Ehrlich, C. 1995, First Philharmonic: A History of the Royal Philharmonic Society. Oxford, Cla (...)

2The establishment of a musical institution, its name and reputation implying continuity and solidity, symbolised the maturity of that form of musical activity: typically such institutions were run by committee, with expressed artistic aspirations and an aura of financial probity. One effect was some kind of more formalised (if still loose) regulation of standards, of the artistic product itself, from the point of view of both repertoire and performance (although one of the main elements of professionalisation was still lacking in London, namely the monitoring of training and qualifications). Most evidently, the promotion of major annual concert series underwent just such a transformation. The field was dominated in the late eighteenth century by commercially minded impresarios such as the musicians J.C. Bach and Abel, and later Salomon (albeit working under the tacit artistic control of aristocratic amateurs). An intermediate stage was provided by the Professional Concert (1785-93), in which London’s leading orchestral players co-operated to share the financial risk, with notable (if short-lived) success2. But in 1813 the Philharmonic Society, another collective enterprise by musicians, explicitly turned its back on profit in favour of a high-minded artistic platform: setting themselves up as professional arbiters of taste, they admitted subscribers on similar credentials rather than purely social grounds (thus extending their audience across a broader stratum of the intellectual élite3). Eventually this process was to lead to the permanent symphony orchestra series as the foundation stone of concert life.

  • 4 See Weber, W. 1992, The Rise of Musical Classics in Eighteenth-Century England: A Study in Canon, (...)
  • 5 See Sachs, J. 1984, “The End of the Oratorios”, in Strainchamps, E. and M.R. Maniates (eds), Music (...)

3In the field of oratorio, the transformations were of a different kind. Handel’s Lenten oratorio promotions had been essentially commercial undertakings, an aspect that was maintained and indeed intensified after his death. Though his immediate successors were ambitious oratorio composers themselves, by the nineteenth century the so-called oratorio seasons had turned into profit-making selections from Handel and much else besides, for large popular audiences. The two main institutional counterparts had quite different aims. Though not strictly Handelian, the Concert of Ancient Music, founded in 1776, covered much the same ground in its programmes of selections; but this, by contrast, was an aristocratic society run by directors from the nobility, who brought both serious antiquarian zeal and the same high-minded devotion to artistic ideals that inspired the Philharmonic4. However the society was increasingly viewed as a conservative backwater, eventually coming to an unlamented demise in 1848; the Lenten oratorio seasons had already ended five years earlier5. In effect both were superseded by a second institution, which maintained some of their aims, but under a quite different guise. The Sacred Harmonic Society, an amateur choral society founded in 1832 against a non-conformist background, developed a dual mission: to reach audiences of thousands at cheap prices and at the same time to restore the purity of Handel’s complete oratorios, instead of the selections heard everywhere else.

  • 6 On chamber music in the nineteenth century, see Bashford, C. 1996, “Public Chamber-Music Concerts (...)

4A similar process of institutionalisation affected other less-prominent areas of London’s musical life. The Society of British Musicians (founded in 1834) in essence built on the foundations laid earlier in the century by the various Vocal Concerts promoted by entrepreneurial British singers, via the British Concerts of 1823 – the latter, an early attempt to establish a native school of composition around the prominent glee and cathedral composers who formed the fraternity known as the Concentores Sodales. It is also striking that, only ten years after London’s first entrepreneurial quartet concerts in 1835, two formal chamber-music societies were established in London (the Musical Union and the Beethoven Quartet Society6).

  • 7 One should also be aware that entrepreneurial promotions were sometimes disguised behind the respe (...)

5The question now arises as to the relationship between this transformation and the continuing vitality of individual concert promotion. It is evident that institutions could be founded with many different motivations and agendas. Yet even if there was an element of reaction against previous enterprise, or alternatively a corporate attempt to sustain what could no longer be undertaken by individuals, all depended to some degree on the foundations laid by musician-impresarios, apparently representing the mature establishment of a particular type of concert activity. Each trend in concert promotion, even including mechanisms such as increasing specialisation of concert types, developed in response to the entrepreneurial activities of individual musicians. Through this cycle from entrepreneur to institution, or rather through a series of overlapping cycles, musicians continued to play a major part in concert promotion throughout the period, albeit in different ways and at different times as they perceived new opportunities arising7.

  • 8 Further on the development of the music profession in England, see Rohr, D. 1983, “A Profession of (...)

6Yet at the same time – and this remains a central paradox – they showed a marked reluctance to break away from traditional attitudes towards patronage and the role of the public concert in London’s musical life8. The tacit assumption that musicians, and the profession as a whole, was constantly seeking to exploit ever-expanding market opportunities is not borne out by evidence of a concerted attempt to do so. Though it broadened its social base, the Philharmonic Society was conspicuously reluctant to expand the number of subscribers or move into larger halls; while John Ella’s Musical Union returned to an exclusive upper-crust membership. It is easy to mistake the continuing, often self-imposed, limitations of London’s concert structure. As well as under-developed, it remained unarticulated in its patterns of employment, with as yet limited specialisation by musicians or regulation of demand and fees, for all the incipient regularisation of its structures. Only at the very end of the period did musicians make conscious attempts to change the basis of London’s concert life. For the most part they were content to exploit the myriad inter-connected ways of making a living, based on traditional (if expanding) concepts of patronage, with only tangential tinkering in response to changing social and artistic circumstances.

7It is worth asking, in the first place, the seemingly naive question: why did musicians promote public concerts at all? Certainly in the eighteenth century public concerts were not regarded purely as an end in themselves: nor indeed did musicians necessarily see such concerts as their raison d’être. Thus in Mortimer’s Universal Director of 1763, London’s premier international violinist, Felice Giardini, advertised himself only as a composer and teacher of singing and harpsichord. In the 1790s an even more pre-eminent violinist, Viotti, was rumoured to be wealthy enough not to have to appear in public. The rumour proved ill founded, but it is striking that Clementi was not only able to give up his career as a piano virtuoso in 1790, but that he regarded teaching and piano-manufacturing as a step up the social ladder. Among his piano pupils was London’s premier viola-player, Benjamin Blake, who was able likewise to retire from the concert platform and set up a career as a piano teacher for over twenty-five years.

8It appears therefore that, for many musicians, the public concert was not of itself of foremost importance, either financially or artistically. Instead it was typically viewed as a way of establishing and confirming a reputation in order to secure patronage for private concerts and lucrative teaching to the sons or (more usually) daughters of the wealthy. It is true that London’s public concert life impresses by both its extent and its vitality, compared to that of Vienna, for example; but this burgeoning of activity should not blind us to the essential precariousness of the concert structure and to an apparent reticence on the part of musicians towards its expansion.

9Back in the 1760s J.C. Bach and Abel had been responsible for reforming London’s concert life after a dormant period, with the firm establishment of the recurrent annual subscription series. Yet their first concerts were merely part of a package, provided by Mrs Theresa Cornelys, to attract high society to Carlisle House in Soho Square. The commercial operation of the concerts was deftly disguised by a veneer of the private salon, enabling London’s aristocracy and social élite collectively to enjoy the fashionable new musical imports – while maintaining a strict social exclusivity by requiring subscribers to be entered on ladies’ lists. Once Bach and Abel went independent, notably at the Hanover Square Rooms from 1775, they continued to operate a similarly restrictive entrance policy (with 500 subscribers), minimising the taint of commercialism by omitting to advertise either performers or programmes. The system could not survive the new commercial pressures of the 1780s though, and by 1791 Salomon was happy to exploit the name of Haydn for all it was worth. But he was nevertheless still content to maintain the traditional pattern of a dozen subscription concerts at the exclusively high price of 5 guineas, with no single tickets available: and there were indeed complaints that Haydn and his new symphonies could be heard by nobody in London bar a select few.

10The finances of subscription series in the late eighteenth century bear some examination. Comprehensive accounts unfortunately do not survive, and various deals were probably struck behind the scenes, but it is still possible to hazard some estimates. A full subscription would bring in 2500 guineas, but expenses were always high and they increased alarmingly towards the end of the period: perhaps around 500 for the hall, £1000 for singers and new music, over £700 for the orchestra, besides other expenses such as advertising and music-copying. A profit of (at best) a few hundred pounds was a modest return on such a large risk, a situation clearly comparable with that of the Italian Opera, which was constantly under similar financial threat. As attendance tailed off in the later years of the Bach-Abel concerts, it is not surprising to find Bach in financial difficulties; though it was only in preparation for the 1782 season (which Bach was not to live to see) that the promoters began a new marketing ploy, advertising music by major continental composers. Even Salomon apparently made a loss in his first two seasons with Haydn, his position not helped by the well-known rivalry with the Professional Concert, but perhaps hurt still more significantly by a fashionable private series, the Ladies Concert, being held on the same day of the week.

  • 9 Smart’s detailed accounts are preserved in British Library, Add. MS 41,778, ff. 15-18.

11The principal aim of concert promotion was not profit, therefore, so much as the building of reputations and the forging of contacts in the right circles, with a view to more lucrative private concerts and teaching contracts – which brought easier money, and (at least on the surface) a gratifying social familiarity with the upper classes. The benefit concert was also, to some extent, only a more public manifestation of the same form of patronage. Most benefits were held not by the most needy, nor necessarily the most enterprising, but by the principal performers at the subscription series, a way of rewarding them both for their public service and also for their appearance at private concerts. While tickets were of course on sale publicly, it was nevertheless expected that promoters would personally deliver tickets to their patrons, such that benefits were sometimes referred to as “a tax on the nobility”. Even as late as 1826, the accounts for Weber’s benefit, organised by Sir George Smart at the Argyll Rooms, reveal that Smart and Weber sold 149 tickets to named persons, as against 111 sold via music-shops and 40 at the door9. Undoubtedly benefits could be extremely lucrative for the top musicians, so that they were often specified in contracts (Haydn, for example, negotiating a minimum profit of £200 with Salomon). Yet such high figures depended on the reciprocal co-operation of musicians – many of the orchestra gave their services at the Mozarts’ benefit in 1764, resulting in a profit of some 90 guineas. In less favourable circumstances it was quite possible to make a substantial loss, and it was not uncommon for a musician forlornly to advertise a second concert in a desperate attempt to cover the expenses of a first. Even Weber, whose Freischütz had been the popular sensation of the previous season, misjudged the mood of the public with his benefit cantata, The Festival of Peace: the income amounted to a mere £195, including a donation from Sir George Warrender, and the profit only reached £96, once again because the principal singers and most of the orchestra agreed to waive their fees for the ailing master.

12If the promotion of subscription series was in essence designed to enhance reputations, musicians readily accepted the limitations of London’s concert structure. The potential public for high-prestige concerts remained small, limited by constraints of social pressure and price of admission, as well as clothing and transport. As a consequence, halls remained small: the original Hanover Square room allowed a comfortable subscription of only 500 and retained something of the ambience of an aristocratic ballroom. London in general lacked the civic focus that required the impressive assembly rooms and town halls of provincial cities. At the same time concert life was severely limited by the concentration of the nobility and gentry on London’s spring season: hardly ever did major concerts take place before January, with the bulk of events taking place between March and early June.

  • 10 See McKendrick, N. 1982, “Josiah Wedgwood and the Commerzialization of the Potteries”, in: McKendr (...)
  • 11 Morning Post, 14 December 1786.

13It is striking that musicians made very little attempt to expand their concert market, either by reducing prices for subscription concerts or by seeking audiences outside the fashionable West End. The most obvious business opportunity was in the City, the bourgeois financial and trading centre of London, where new riches and social aspiration would seem to represent a golden combination – an ideal opportunity for musicians to spread a quality product to the wealthy middle classes, in the manner of Wedgwood10. Data here are scarce, and the picture as yet unclear, but it appears that two factors mitigated against entrepreneurial activity in the City: firstly, an absorption of the most important of the bourgeoisie into fashionable society, and thus acceptance at West End concerts; and secondly a tendency in the City towards well-regulated societies run by amateurs, who indeed often formed the performing membership. It is true that there was an increase in concert activity in the City during the eighteenth century, and a rise in standards as a result of professional participation. But there is no indication that this was inspired by musicians themselves. It is sometimes forgotten that, when the Mozarts appeared at the Swan and Hoop Tavern in the summer of 1765, this minor City venue was being used for a low-grade exhibition of musical tricks, not for a transfer of West End concert culture eastwards. Indeed, when the celebrated opera-leader Wilhelm Cramer promoted two benefits in the City, 1786 and 1788, this was regarded as a quite exceptional initiative, which would surely inspire the “Sons of Commerce” to turn their attention to admirable patronage of the arts11. But in fact Cramer made no attempt to follow this up, and the City remained largely the preserve of younger musicians attempting to form a career before transferring to the West End.

14In reality London’s lively concert life in the late eighteenth century was not founded on secure foundations. The decline of interest shown by fashionable society in the late 1790s, combined with the reluctance of musicians to open up new markets, resulted in a partial collapse of the system. It was only through the corporate activity of musicians, forming organisations like the Philharmonic Society, that the orchestral concert series could be sustained in the nineteenth century, and even then only by remorselessly keeping costs down. This the Philharmonic achieved by marketing the organisation as the guardian of the symphonic flame, at first denying salaries to orchestral players and persisting in low fees for soloists (pianists were expected to play merely for honour).

  • 12 Letter of 21 April 1784, quoted in Williams, A.G. 1977, “The Life and Works of John Stanley (1712- (...)
  • 13 The London Stage 5: 235-243.

15Only in one type of venue, in the late eighteenth century, could musicians hope to make significant profits through concert promotion alone. This was the oratorio, which offered a tantalising middle ground between the fashionable world of Italian opera and subscription series, on the one hand, and the English playhouse, on the other. Handel’s regular pattern of eleven Lenten oratorios at Covent Garden was continued by his successors and their rivals (Smith, Stanley, Linley, Arnold, the Arne family). Initially their aim was undoubtedly to succeed Handel as oratorio composers rather than mere pro-promoters: but, as Stanley bemoaned in 1784, “there is little reason to suppose that any other than Mr Handels musick would succeed”12. Nevertheless, the comparatively low fees demanded by English oratorio soloists and playhouse orchestras, combined with potential houses of 2300 or more, albeit at a range of reduced prices, meant that profits could vastly exceed those of subscription concerts. At Drury Lane in 1779, hardly a high point in the history of oratorio, Stanley’s and Linley’s income from ticket sales still amounted to £1843, as against expenses of £128113; and in other years the takings were near a thousand pounds higher. It was a calculation that did not escape J.C. Bach, who however mistook the market for Italian oratorios when he promoted Jommelli and his own Gioas, rè di Guida in 1770-71. Indeed, the problem of repertoire remained: if Handel was beginning to seem hackneyed by the early 1780s, no new composer could rival him, and the entire concept appeared to be doomed.

  • 14 The London Stage 5:1624-1637.

16One way in which musicians did begin to experiment was with genres within the existing concert structure. The revitalisation of Lenten oratorios provides a striking example. Seizing the lead given by the Handel Commemoration at Westminster Abbey in 1784, musicians sought to revive the Lenten tradition by exploiting the popularity of selections, rather than complete oratorios. During the 1790s this prompted a more overtly commercial approach, led primarily by John Ashley at Covent Garden, for whom profit was reputedly the single object. The finances of the rival Drury Lane series certainly back this up: when the house was rebuilt in 1794, it seated 3611, bringing in a remarkable £5789 for the twelve-night oratorio season. Expenses had risen slightly (over £1100 for the performers alone), but the theatre must still have cleared well over £400014. The mercenary Ashleys have been blamed for the degeneration of the oratorio seasons into miscellaneous selections in which English ballads and Italian showpieces jostled with Handel airs and choruses – slighdy unfairly perhaps, in view of their initial faithfulness to Handel’s sacred music and their promotion of new oratorios, such as The Creation. Either way, Ashley’s Lenten seasons and their successors should be regarded as an important contribution to the development of popular concerts, their mixed programmes providing an opportunity for many to hear serious choral music as well as prima donnas like Catalani, at prices ranging from six or seven shillings down to one.

17Other new concert initiatives focussed on different types of vocal music. In 1792 Samuel Harrison and Charles Knyvett set up a completely new type of subscription series, the Vocal Concert, designed around English songs and glees, and at first eschewing highly paid opera stars or even a full orchestra (though both these cost-saving devices were later abandoned). Somewhat to everyone’s surprise, it seems, this proved a success with fashionable ladies, many of them pupils of the performers. It was an unusual example of transfer of genre – in this case of male convivial repertoire and English theatre music into high-priced society subscription concerts. The Vocal Concert thus took its place alongside the prestigious orchestral series, even claiming a certain artistic status for the English school of singing and glee-composition.

18A parallel development was a new and more explicit focus on Italian operatic music, which had always formed part of subscription series programmes. The Opera Concerts of the late 1790s, managed by the King’s Theatre itself, retained the traditional programme format, but the change of emphasis is clear from the name itself. During the following decades, series promoted by Elizabeth Billington and Angelica Catalani unambiguously exploited their reputations as virtuoso prime donne in acrobatic showpieces (Catalani’s quasi-instrumental variations were particularly celebrated) – adding in Italian operatic ensembles and popular English songs for good measure.

  • 15 See Smart’s chronological listings in British Library, Add. MS 41,772 and 42,225 (extracts in Leav (...)

19Yet all of these experiments followed traditional patterns of concert promotion, with weekly series in West End venues often available by expensive subscription only. Of course the social distribution of concert audiences may already have been changing, though it would be premature to make categorical assertions about such changes. There is certainly little about such experiments to suggest that musicians were making a widespread effort to expand either commercial or artistic horizons: rather they suggest a kaleidoscope of varied endeavours in which musicians vied with each other for employment and status. Instructive here is the career of George Smart, son of a double-bass player and an archetypal minor figure who, through industry and determination, became a pillar of London’s musical establishment. But contrary to what one might expect, his eminent status was not closely linked to active concert promotion. It is true that he was entirely responsible for the Drury Lane oratorios from 1813 to 1821, in acrimonious competition with Ashley (in 1816 they agreed to operate on different nights): this presumably accelerated his rise up the professional ladder, and he even took ultimate responsibility for the gigantic 1834 Westminster Abbey festival. But his main genius was for the day-to-day management of concerts for others, from Mrs Billington’s series of 1810 through numerous benefits, private concerts and festivals. His punctilious organisation and skill in hiring musicians were probably more important to his career than his achievement as England’s first conductor15. The table on page 82, extracted from his own meticulous records, makes clear the pattern of his concert employment.

  • 16 British Library, Add. MS 41, 777, ff. 18-19, 13.

20One striking feature of this profile is not only the scarcity of Smart’s own promotions, but also the large number of private concerts he directed at the height of his concert activity in the 1820s. Court concerts paid extra: for a concert at Carlton House in 1825, he raised his fee from to 10 guineas to take advantage of “Royal Munificence”. For an appearance at Prince Leopold’s the previous year, he hinted at a fee of 20 guineas to match that of the principal singers, but in the final reckoning he came away with an extra 5 guineas, coyly listed as “a Present to Myself’16. Small wonder that Smart was content to leave the risks of public concert promotion to the more intrepid.

21It was a highly competitive environment, therefore, but essentially limited in its scope. This is evident, too, in the way benefits also hung on to the old ways of the eighteenth century: indeed, there is even some sense of regression, since, from the late 1800s, it became quite common for commercial benefits to be held in the houses of patrons (another saving, but also a continuing link with a traditional veneer of patronage). An interesting connection with the past is provided by Rossini’s two benefits in 1824. An easy and natural figure in society, he had been much in demand to direct and sing his operatic extracts at private concerts (his fee was rumoured to be 50 guineas).

Concerts conducted by George Smart: selected years (British Library, Add. MS 42,225, ff.136v-151v)

Year

Professors’ concerts

Concerts for charities

Private concerts

Oratorios in London

Festivals and concerts outside London

Royal concerts, etc.

Philharmonic [Society]

[City] Amateur and London subscription Concerts

Masonic dinners, etc.

Other

Total

1805

1

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

1808

6

0

21

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

27

1812

1

0

8*

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

9*

1815

3

3

0

13

1

1

0

0

0

0

21

1818

9

1

6

6

4

0

1

8

3

0

38

1821

20

3

18

7

4

4

2

5

4

2

69

1822

21

4

7

13

12

1

2

5

5

1

71

1823

16

2

16

13

23

1

2

0

4

1

78

1824

13

2

23

12

29

2

2

0

4

0

87

1825

14

3

33

1

0

1

2

0

4

1

59

1826

13

2

16

13

1

0

2

0

4

1

52

1827

17

3

13

0

13

1

3

0

3

2

55

1828

10

5

18

0

7

0

1

0

4

2

47

1831

14

3

11

0

15

7

2

0

4

4

60

1834

21

4

7

8

8

6

1

0

4

1

60

1837

24

4

8

0

2

2

2

0

4

1

47

1841

16

2

3

1

3

0

2

0

4

1

32

1844

2

0

2

0

0

1

2

0

3

1

11

1854

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

1798-1858

462

111

278

139

242

56

49

35

86

36

1494

* 25 “quartet parries” for the Marchioness of Douglas not included in the listing

  • 17 Harmonicon 1824, 2:122-123, Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review 1824, 6: 224, and 1825, 7: 295.

22When his own concerts were announced for Almack’s room, with tickets at an unprecedented three guineas for two concerts, those attending had to be “known to, and approved by, certain Ladies-patronesses”, in striking reminder of the Bach-Abel system. In the end, however, demand proved insufficient: the price was reduced, and it was noted that there were many at the second concert “whom one did not recognise”17.

  • 18 For descriptions of the mixture of company at the concerts of Benedict, Davison and Moscheles, see (...)

23Soon after this, however, musicians inspired two new (and apparently contradictory) developments: on the one hand, the classical chamber-music recital for the discerning connoisseur; and, on the other, an explosion of commercially motivated benefits featuring virtuoso showpieces. In the autumn of 1835, Joseph Dando instituted a series of quartet recitals at the Horn Tavern in the City, soon moving westwards with the violinist, Henry Blagrove, to the Hanover Square rooms; the following year they were joined in competition by the much more famous partnership of Nicolas Mori and Robert Lindley at Willis’s Rooms. The chamber concert (focussing on well-rehearsed quartets, with some leavening of vocal music) might seem merely another genre switch within the existing framework, one that above all reduced expenses to a minimum. But there was a new tone about these concerts: their reverential attitude towards the classics (and an evangelical approach to late Beethoven in particular) mirrored the high artistic aims of the Philharmonic. This new attitude towards listening to music, springing directly from musicians’ own commercial promotions, led directly into the two well-known societies formally constituted in 1845: the Beethoven Quartet Society and John Ella’s Musical Union. The latter was formed by another ambitious minor violinist, who had carefully nurtured connections with aristocratic connoisseurs such as Lord Saltoun. Ella’s very motto, “Honor alit artes”, reflected his commitment to serious listening and intellectual enjoyment; he himself did not perform, but presided as high priest, enforcing silence with an iron rod (programmes carried the injunction “il più grand’ omaggio alla musica, è nel silenzio”). Though others were less fanatical, the same spirit also informed the classical piano recitals of Moscheles (again interspersed with vocal music) and even recitals devoted to serious wind music. Musicians’ concerts from the late 1830s were frequently called “soirees”, “conversazioni”, “séances”, and the like, and often they were presented in short series at their own homes. This not only economised still further, but also made a clear bid for status within the artistic and literary community: musicians were not only setting up their own houses as fit for reception, but they also brought together titled and wealthy amateurs with luminaries of the literary and artistic world, such as Sir Walter Scott and Edwin Landseer18. With the audience seated around the performers, in an agreeably informal way that yet enforced attention, music was now elevated to a position where the work itself (and not just the performance) could be discussed with the same earnestness and intensity that might be lavished on a literary reading:

  • 19 The Britannia 1843, 4: 775, quoted in Bashford 1996, 1:144.

Ushered into well-lighted drawing-rooms, the company take their seats, not in formal state, but as at a private party, and between the parts of the programme descend to take tea and other refreshments, leaving sufficient time to discuss the quality of the pieces just heard19.

  • 20 Walker, A. 1983, Franz Liszt, T.1: The Virtuoso Years, 18111847: 355-357.

24Clearly related, albeit with rather different musical aims, were Liszt’s solo concerts at the Hanover Square Rooms in 1840, celebrated as the first London piano recitals, at which the chairs were laid out informally and the pianist wandered around chatting between the pieces20.

  • 21 McVeigh, S. 1993 [note 1]: 5; Weber, W. 1975 [note 1]: 159; see also Sachs, J. 1990 “London: The P (...)
  • 22 For example, Musical World 1842, 17:165.
  • 23 Ella, J. 1869, Musical Sketches, Abroad, and at Home. London, T. 1:139; Musical World 1836, 1:142.

25If this development could be seen as perpetuating an élite salon culture, albeit one based on connoisseurship rather than blue blood, other changes in the concert structure reflected unmistakable attempts by musicians to open up new markets. As William Weber has demonstrated, the number of concerts in London rose threefold between the 1820s and the 1840s. Much of this rise can be attributed to the proliferation of benefits, which rose in number from 26 in the 1790 season, via 63 in 1827, to 173 in 184621. Increasingly they were becoming divorced from subscription series and conventional modes of patronage. Instead they became one-off commercial extravaganzas, as musicians vied with each other to present the most eye-catching programmes, often on a vast scale – pandering to the taste of a multifarious musical public by mixing English ballads with Rossini and Donizetti arias, brilliant piano fantasias with Beethoven symphonies and Weber overtures. Undertakings like Benedict’s annual “monster concerts”, beginning in 1841, involved a dozen or more singers, including all the top Italian opera stars, and numerous instrumental soloists of the calibre of Vieux-temps and Liszt. These long and brilliant showpieces were naturally attacked by high-minded critics, not only for degrading the art of music, but also for raising audience expectations far beyond what could normally be satisfied22. Ella regarded them as “monstrous nuisances”, the very high expenditure allowing scant chance of profit unless the artists waived their fees – especially, presumably, when they were put on in normal concert rooms seating no more than 800 (by contrast, Mori’s benefit in 1836 was transferred from the King’s Theatre concert room to the Opera House itself, resulting in a conjectured profit of £80023).

26Certainly as ever more minor figures put on their own benefits, the quality of the product on offer suffered markedly. The problems encountered were not always the fault of the promoter, but were more or less endemic to the system. Over-stretched opera singers often pulled out at the last minute, whether through caprice or genuine illness, and if any of the performers were to be expected to appear gratis, their generosity could hardly be abused by expecting them to attend a rehearsal. As early as 1828, the journalist Richard Bacon diagnosed the spreading disease:

  • 24 Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review 1828, 10, 90; see also 1827, 9: 86-90.

Thus instead of regularly digested, regularly conducted, and regularly rehearsed schemes, the public is allured to scrambling performances, where the absence of principals, the changes of the pieces, and the want of any trial of the parts together, but too often are alike disgraceful to the musician, destructive of the art, and disgusting to the real amateur24.

  • 25 Weber, W. 1975 [note 1]: 43.
  • 26 Musical World 1836, 2: 52-54.

27The proliferation of benefits also exacerbated London’s perennial problem of over-supply. A few performers at the very top could be assured of an overflowing house, especially with an unusual attraction, such as Henriette Sontag’s concert début at Moscheles’ benefit in 1828. But by the 1840s even they might be confronted with half-empty halls or forced to “paper” the house with dozens of free tickets25. The situation was far worse for those lower down the ladder, who might find themselves supplementing a handful of loyal students prepared to pay half a guinea with hundreds of friends and relatives paying nothing at all. A note of realism is sounded in a letter to the Musical World, in which a young professional with high hopes describes the finances of a (real or hypothetical?) benefit26. Encouraged by acquaintances to engage only the best opera singers, such as Malibran and Grisi, his expenses amount to some £240: with an audience of 600 paying half a guinea each, he looks forward to a return of around 60 guineas. But in the event, fewer than 100 tickets are sold before the day, and 17 at the door, resulting in losses of over £100, which he says (a recurrent refrain) would have been double but for the generosity of the performers. Benefits continued to function more effectively as a form of advertising than as income-generators.

  • 27 Ella, J. 1869 [note 23], T. 1:137-141; Mangold Diehl, A. 1897, Musical Memories. London: 120.

28The benefit was ultimately doomed as a central plank in London’s concert structure. Its essential problem was its mixed-bag, catch-all nature, which required the expense of the top opera singers and instrumental virtuosi, but could not be sustained by the available market for high-price tickets. As early as 1828, Bacon identified the mixture of company at benefits, especially those with free or reduced-price tickets, as a disincentive for those of more refined social aspirations (including, presumably, his own readership). The system persisted into the 1860s, but with ever-diminishing respect from cognoscenti27. Both a more earnest musical taste, based around canonisation of the classics, and a more clearly ordered concert structure eventually worked against the benefit. On the one hand, the gradual stabilisation of symphony orchestras and a coalescing classical repertoire, with even virtuoso recitals based around classical masterworks, provided a secure foundation for an élite culture. On the other, the rise of cheap promenade concerts, and of new venues, from Crystal Palace to Chappell’s Saturday “Pops”, provided hitherto unknown access to a wider public. As it began to extend in new ways, London’s concert life was becoming more clearly stratified, both socially and (though not necessarily correspondingly) in terms of repertoire.

  • 28 De Courcy, G.I.C. 1957, Paganini: the Genoese. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, T. 2: 42-66.
  • 29 Harmonicon 1831, 9: 190; for speculation about concert receipts, see Ibid., 165.
  • 30 Life of Moscheles, by his Wife. London 1873, T. 1: 257.

29One type of performer could step right outside the benefit system. London quickly became a major centre for the new breed of touring virtuoso, who regarded the capital as merely one stop on marathon concert tours, tours facilitated by rapidly improving transport systems. Typically such a performer would give as many concerts as the market could stand, taking care to move on before attendances declined. The appearance of Paganini in 1831 was not only the most sensational of these, but also the first organised in this manner: a long series of showpiece concerts at the end of the season, promoted not as benefits but as unashamed vehicles for solo display and adulation28. His concerts were held at two venues outside the norm, both designed to maximise audience numbers. Initially he appeared at the Opera House, in partnership with the manager Pierre Laporte (who took one third of the receipts, guaranteed at £290, out of which he had to find the expenses). Critics, carping as usual at the extortionate ticket-prices, calculated that Paganini would receive some £2000 per concert; but in the end the prices were reduced and receipts were apparently more of the order of £1000 per concert. Paganini followed his usual practice of giving as many concerts in a short time as the market would sustain (or perhaps slightly more): fifteen from June to August, increasingly frenetically described as “the last”, “the very last” and “the absolutely last”. Unusually three of his concerts took place in the City at the London Tavern, but at the final one, he offended the middle-class “wise men of the East”, by bringing only a pianist and a few singers instead of a complete orchestra29. As Moscheles commented rather acidly, his performing in the City “was thought unworthy of a great artist; but it was all one to him, for he makes money there”30. Though Paganini did not win over all the cognoscenti and surely outstayed his welcome, on this his most successful London visit he noted receipts totalling £10,212.

30The lifestyle and financial aspirations of the touring virtuoso required a major shift in modes of concert management, towards independent impresarios and artists’ agents, and totally altered the status of the musician as impresario. In London in 1831, Paganini himself seems to have negotiated his own contracts with Laporte.

31For his first provincial tour, however, he engaged a concert manager named Freeman, soon to be succeeded by John Watson, who not only acted as agent and manager, but was also financially involved with the concerts, taking the usual one third of receipts alongside responsibility for the expenses. When Liszt made his unfortunate tour of the provinces in 1840, the financial responsibility had now tipped entirely towards the independent entrepreneur, Louis Lavenu, who paid the pianist 500 guineas a month with disastrous results. The promotion of star performers was, however, soon to become a profitable industry in itself, with impresarios and agents like Henry Jarrett (associated with Mapleson’s operatic ventures) wielding enormous power in the second half of the century.

32If the City was still unusual ground for a major artist like Paganini, it was beginning to open up as a more recognised outlet for lesser musicians. The example of Dando has already been mentioned: he used his 1835 chamber concerts as a way into more prestigious venues, yet he also continued to promote chamber concerts at the Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate, into the 1850s. A further expansion took place in the length of the concert season, as musicians chose to place their chamber series early in the New Year, before the main orchestral and choral season: these earlier concerts were perceived as appealing more to the real musical cognoscenti, before the razzmatazz of the ostentatious benefit concerts in May and June. But an even more significant way in which musicians sought to increase their market was in seeking out the “one-shilling public”. The import of promenade concerts from Paris (a group of London musicians put on the first “Promenade Concerts à la Musard” in 1838, the flamboyant Jullien followed suit in 1841) began an obvious revolution in terms of both the audience and the nature of concert programmes. This development raises major questions about the changing musical public and their developing musical tastes, and about the relationship between London’s later musical institutions, questions that have as yet scarcely been addressed. For all that many considered Jullien a charlatan, it was once again a musician who was responsible for opening up a whole new area of concert enterprise, in this case releasing a market whose existence had scarcely been considered before.

33It is evident that the new musician-promoters were a different breed from those of the eighteenth century. Then the most important impresarios had been musicians of undisputed musical standing – Handel, J.C. Bach, the violinist Giardini. Their musical successors, instrumentalists such as Clementi and Viotti, disdained the promotion of concert series themselves, preferring to leave this either to corporate enterprises like the Professional Concert and the Philharmonic Society, or else to comparatively minor musicians. Even Salomon cannot be counted a major international virtuoso and, without his Haydn connection, he would surely be a forgotten figure today. Other promoters, such as Ashley and Ella, were clearly insignificant as artists in their own right – Ashley a bassoonist and guardsman, Ella a rank-and-file violinist at the Opera and Philharmonic Society. This shift reflected increasing specialisation and demarcation, articulating the employment market yet more clearly. It was to be exaggerated still further as piano-manufacturers, hall-owners and publishers increasingly took the role of impresario away from the musician during the nineteenth century. Already in 1837, Christian Wessel, Chopin’s London publisher, put on a series of soirées to advertise music from his piano list, and later in the century such firms as Beale, Chappell and Boosey occupied a pivotal position in the increasingly complex network that underpinned the business of concert promotion.

Annexes

Résumé/Zusammenfassung

Le musicien, organisateur de concerts à Londres entre 1780 et 1850

On peut retenir deux aspects de la vie musicale à Londres autour de 1800 : d’abord, le passage progressif de l’entreprise commerciale à des institutions, qui reflète la nouvelle professionnalisation de la musique; ensuite, la diversification des concerts au sein de nouveaux marchés fournis par un public en pleine expansion. Toutefois, une telle analyse s’expose au danger de plaquer des schémas réducteurs sur une culture volatile, dans laquelle l’interaction entre l’entrepreneur et l’institution était complexe et changeante. En outre, elle sous-estime les limites de la structure encore sous-développée et inarticulée du concert ainsi que la répugnance des musiciens à rompre avec les comportements du XVIIIe siècle: beaucoup d’entre eux considéraient les concerts publics non pas comme une fin en soi, mais comme un tremplin vers le patronage de concerts privés et vers l’enseignement, ce qui leur faisait accepter le public restreint, la saison courte et l’exiguïté des salles. Ils ne cherchaient pas non plus à attirer le public vers la City, mais firent leurs premières expériences au sein de la structure existante du concert en transformant des oratorios en concerts populaires (lucratifs) et en mettant l’accent sur la musique anglaise et les opéras italiens.

Pourtant, la carrière de George Smart montre clairement sa réticence envers la promotion de concerts. Vers 1830 voient le jour deux nouveautés, apparemment contradictoires: d’une part, l’introduction de la musique de chambre, qui entraîna une attitude de dévotion envers les classiques et qui tenta d’acquérir un statut comparable au sein de la communauté littéraire et artistique; de l’autre, l’ouverture vers de nouveaux marchés, avant tout par la transformation du concert à bénéfice en extravagances commerciales comme les «concerts monstres» de Benedict et les récitals virtuoses de Paganini. La saison des concerts fut étendue et gagna la City; mais surtout, Jullien et d’autres importèrent de Paris les concerts-promenades. Désormais, les imprésarios les plus importants n’étaient plus les musiciens de premier plan, mais les facteurs de pianos, les propriétaires de salles et les éditeurs, qui en assumèrent progressivement le rôle, reflétant ainsi la spécialisation du commerce musical.

Der Musiker als Konzertveranstalter in London zwischen 1780 und 1830

In jeder Analyse des Londoner Konzertlebens um 1800 ragen zwei Thematiken deutlich heraus: Zum einen die allmähliche Entwicklung von der unternehmerischen Gestaltung des Konzertlebens in einem kommerziellen Kontext bin zu Institutionen, die eine neue musikalische Professionalisierung spiegeln. Zum anderen die Vervielfaltigung des Konzertlebens in neue Märkte hinein, die ein sich ständig erweiterndes Musikpublikum institutionalisierte. Eine solche Analyse läuft immer Gefahr, simplifizierende Interpretationsmuster auf eine sich wandelnde Musikkultur anzuwenden, in der die Interaktionen zwischen Konzertveranstalter und Institution komplex waren und sich beständig veränderten. Überdies unterschätzt sie nur allzu leicht die fortdauernden, häufig selbst auferlegten Grenzen des noch immer unterentwickelten und unartikulierten Londoner Konzertlebens und die Abneigung der Musiker, die Praktiken des 18. Jahrhunderts aufzugeben. Viele Musiker sahen die Konzerte durchaus nicht als finanziell und künstlerisch bedeutsame, eigenständige Veranstaltungen an, sondern vielmehr als reputationsförderndes Sprungbrett, um die Patronagefurprivate Konzerte und den Musikunterricht zu erreichen.

Deshalb akzeptierten die Musiker nur allzu gern die Begrenzungen der Publikumsgrösse, die kurze Saison und die kleinen Sale. Und sie machten auch keine ernsthaften Anstrengungen, um das offentliche Konzert in der Londoner City zu etablieren. Sie begannen, mit dieser Gattung innerhalb der uberkommenen Konzertstrukturen vorsichtig zu experimentieren: Sie transformierten die Fastenzeit-Oratorien in populäre (und lukrative) Konzerte und bevorzugten dabei englische Musik sowie opernhafte italienische Stücke. Die Karriere von George Smart mit einer groẞen Zahl von Privatkonzerten belegt eindringlich die allgemeine Zurückhaltung gegenüber der Ausweitung offentlicher Konzerte.

Um 1830 entstanden zwei neuartige (und offensichtlich gegensätzliche) Entwicklungen. Die eine war die Einführung des Kammermusikkonzertes. Sieführte die ehrfurchtsvolle Haltung gegenüber der Klassik ein und stellte den eindeutigen Versuch dar, einen gleichrangigen Status in der künstlerischen und literarischen Gesellschaft zu erobern. Die andere Entwicklung bestand im Versuch, sich neue Märkte zu eröffnen, und zwar zunächst durch die Umwandlung der Wohltätigkeitskonzerte in kommerzielle Ausstattungskonzerte, wie Benedicts «Monsterkonzerte» und die Virtuosenkonzerte Paganinis. In die Konzertsaison wurde nun auch die Londoner City eingeschlossen und sie wurde über die Frühjahrssaison hinaus verlangert. Noch umwalzender war jedoch die Einführungder Pariser Promenadenkonzerte durch Jullien undandere. Die führenden Impresarios waren nun nicht mehr gleichzeitig die respektiertesten Interpreten; ihre Rolle als Konzertveranstalter (und darin spiegelt sich die Spezialisierung des Musikgeschäfts) wurde zunehmend von den Klavierherstellern, den Eigentümern von Sälen und den Verlegern übernommen.

Notes

1 On concert life in London during this period, see (for the later eighteenth century) McVeigh, S. 1993, Concert Life in London from Mozart to Haydn. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press; (for the early nineteenth century) Temperley, N. 1959, “Instrumental Music in England 1800-1850”. Doctoral dissertation, Cambridge University and Weber, W. 1975, Music and the Middle Class. London, Croom Helm.

2 On subscription series in the later eighteenth century, see McVeigh, S. 1989, “The Professional Concert and Rival Subscription Series in London, 1783-1793”, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle 22:1-135.

3 See Ehrlich, C. 1995, First Philharmonic: A History of the Royal Philharmonic Society. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

4 See Weber, W. 1992, The Rise of Musical Classics in Eighteenth-Century England: A Study in Canon, Ritual, and Ideology. Oxford, Clarendon Press: Chapters 5 and 6.

5 See Sachs, J. 1984, “The End of the Oratorios”, in Strainchamps, E. and M.R. Maniates (eds), Music and Civilization: Essays in Homor of Paul Henry Lang. New York, Norton: 168-182.

6 On chamber music in the nineteenth century, see Bashford, C. 1996, “Public Chamber-Music Concerts in London 1835-50: Aspects of History, Repertory and Reception”. Doctoral dissertation, University of London.

7 One should also be aware that entrepreneurial promotions were sometimes disguised behind the respectability of an institutional name.

8 Further on the development of the music profession in England, see Rohr, D. 1983, “A Profession of Artisans: The Careers and Social Status of British Musicians 1750-1850”. Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania; Ehrlich, C. 1985, The Music Profession in Britain since the Eighteenth Century: A Social History. Oxford, Clarendon Press; Beedell, A.V. 1992, The Decline ofthe English Musician 1788-1888. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

9 Smart’s detailed accounts are preserved in British Library, Add. MS 41,778, ff. 15-18.

10 See McKendrick, N. 1982, “Josiah Wedgwood and the Commerzialization of the Potteries”, in: McKendrick, N., Brewer, J. and J.H. Plumb (eds), The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commerzialization of Eighteenth-Century England. London, Europe Publications: 100-145.

11 Morning Post, 14 December 1786.

12 Letter of 21 April 1784, quoted in Williams, A.G. 1977, “The Life and Works of John Stanley (1712-86)”. Doctoral dissertation, University of Reading: 56.

13 The London Stage 5: 235-243.

14 The London Stage 5:1624-1637.

15 See Smart’s chronological listings in British Library, Add. MS 41,772 and 42,225 (extracts in Leaves from the Journals of Sir George Smart. London, 1907); many of Smart’s printed programmes are also preserved in the British Library.

16 British Library, Add. MS 41, 777, ff. 18-19, 13.

17 Harmonicon 1824, 2:122-123, Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review 1824, 6: 224, and 1825, 7: 295.

18 For descriptions of the mixture of company at the concerts of Benedict, Davison and Moscheles, see Weber, W. 1975 [note 1]: 68. Long lists of those attending Davison’s matinees musicales in 1845 are given in Musical World 1845, 20: 265, 301.

19 The Britannia 1843, 4: 775, quoted in Bashford 1996, 1:144.

20 Walker, A. 1983, Franz Liszt, T.1: The Virtuoso Years, 18111847: 355-357.

21 McVeigh, S. 1993 [note 1]: 5; Weber, W. 1975 [note 1]: 159; see also Sachs, J. 1990 “London: The Professionalization of Music”, in: Ringer, A.L. (ed.), The Early Romantic Era: Between Revolutions, 1789 and 1848. London, Macmillan: 201-235, here: 219.

22 For example, Musical World 1842, 17:165.

23 Ella, J. 1869, Musical Sketches, Abroad, and at Home. London, T. 1:139; Musical World 1836, 1:142.

24 Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review 1828, 10, 90; see also 1827, 9: 86-90.

25 Weber, W. 1975 [note 1]: 43.

26 Musical World 1836, 2: 52-54.

27 Ella, J. 1869 [note 23], T. 1:137-141; Mangold Diehl, A. 1897, Musical Memories. London: 120.

28 De Courcy, G.I.C. 1957, Paganini: the Genoese. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, T. 2: 42-66.

29 Harmonicon 1831, 9: 190; for speculation about concert receipts, see Ibid., 165.

30 Life of Moscheles, by his Wife. London 1873, T. 1: 257.

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