Friday, June 20th, 2014...2:22 pm

Jullien, Jullien, Jullien!

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When I used to think of “classical” music performances in the 19th century, I imagined sedate concerts in hushed concert halls as we enjoy today. Then I got a crash course in reality by working in music libraries.

2004TW-909 (2) Concert Plate

Some venues presented concerts in the format with which we’re familiar today, but more often than not, concerts were actually presented in venues (both European and American) more closely resembling the Boston Pops appearing at Symphony Hall today. So I was delighted to run across the chromolithographs in this music album published in 1847, documenting some of Jullien’s magnificent performances. Rows of auditorium seats would be removed to create space for listeners to wander and chat, as well as dance, with some areas like the stage and the boxes in the image above, for sitting. The fare on these concerts was a mix of popular dance music of the day (as preserved in this volume) with the occasional movement from a Beethoven symphony, or Mozart piano concerto, interspersed. Check out the concert grand piano right at the front of the orchestra enclosure, clearly in use.

2004TW-909 (2) Bal Masque Plate

The image above, from one of Jullien’s masked balls at Covent Garden, shows an 1847 version of the enduringly popular opera ball, all surmounted by the tasteful coat of arms of England under Queen Victoria. (Clearly there would be none of the usual masked hanky-panky here.) Again, you’ll see the audience milling about or dancing, with some sitting in the boxes chatting. The orchestra is now up on the stage, out of the way of the dancing. Jullien was a master of self-promotion, and these unusually early chromolithographs must have served his purpose well. Hard to believe that some of our most revered classical music heritage was popularized through just this kind of presentation, but among others, Theodore Thomas got many of his ideas for presenting new music from playing in Jullien’s orchestra in his youth. Before he founded the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1891, Thomas took those ideas on tour across America and inspired countless musicians and music lovers from coast to coast. His Central Park Garden Concerts in New York, as well as his Summer Night Concerts in Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, reached hundreds of thousands of people who just came to dance and eat. No wonder this format endures at the Boston Pops: next time you’re enjoying some John Williams at Symphony Hall, spare a happy thought to the proud classical tradition you’re supporting!

[Thanks to Andrea Cawelti, Ward Music Cataloger, for contributing this post.]

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