People's musical tastes


Oct 4, 2004
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Hi!
What did people listen those days? Of course it depended on your social "environment", or did it?
I have this feeling, that Tchaikowsky,Sibelius and Chopin ( at least their smaller pieces )were those days Hit`s.
O, tastes were so much better back then! The difference between light and serious music was much more vague. And there were those wealthy middle class ladies and young girls who all played the piano... Oh, gone with the wind.
Tuomas Nikkanen
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Music is my thing and I'll post an essay about this when I've checked it.

There was a considerable interest in serious music among the working class. My mother, born in 1903 in the Australian countryside, knew quite a lot of opera. Her favourite singers were Renata Tebaldi and Jussi Bjoerling. Good taste for a railway worker's daughter!
 
May 1, 2004
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I'm sure the pop music of 1912 were light operetta (The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus, etc.) and rag - whatever the Titanic's band was playing.
Of course opera was popular too. Caruso was a big star and not just to the high-brows. Sam Goldwyn and oh, gravy! What was Meyer's first name? You know - the MGM Meyer! They grew up with it - two poor Jewish immigrant kids. All that action and emoting.
We ought to roll out the local newspaper on microfilm and compare listings, eh?
 
Oct 4, 2004
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Operetta of course! How silly of me not to remember such thing to exist...I have heard that the " Valse Triste" by Sibelius was very popular those days. It´s interesting that Sibelius wasn´t that popular in central europe ( here in Finland he is of course our national icon)as in United States where he was considered something comparable to Beethoven! He made one trip to New York and to Norfolk in 1914 on "Kaiser Wilhelm II". In New York he lodged in " Essex" and dined at "Delmonicon" with his host Carl Stoeckel.
On his journey back to europe on " President Grant" the ship received a telegram about the shots in Sarajevo: the Great War had begun.
T.Nikkanen
 

Dave Gittins

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MUSIC OF 1912.

I could go on all night about the music of 1912, music being my thing. Here's a summary.

In the field of serious music, Brahms, Tschaikovsky, Dvorak, Grieg and Verdi were all well within living memory and their music was regularly played. Some composers familiar to us today had not yet made a mark. These include Mahler, Ives and Janacek. The period was one of rapid change. Listeners had barely got used to Debussy and Richard Strauss when Stravinsky and Schoenberg attacked the whole system of tonality. Stravinsky produced his bitonal Petrushka in 1911 and in 1912 Schoenberg's atonal Pierrot Lunaire left most listeners bewildered. Alongside these revolutionaries, Elgar had completed most of his major works and Vaughan Williams had produced his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and A Sea Symphony.

Opera was hugely popular and its stars were among the more respectable inhabitants of the theatre. The public's taste was more sentimental that it is today. The most popular opera was Faust, which is now often regarded as a sweet nothing. Almost all of Puccini's operas were performed, with mixed receptions.

A feature of the period was what is now called 'crossover'. Classically trained performers were often heard in popular light music, sometimes with comic effect, as in Caruso's slightly later recording of Over There. Titanic's band provides another example. Its members could switch from the symphony orchestra to ragtime at the drop of a baton.

Notably absent from the concert hall was the torrent of third-rate baroque music to which we are subjected today. Scholars had not then unearthed the umptieth concerto by Vivaldi and his contemporaries. When baroque works were performed, large forces of modern instruments and singers were used. Messiah, for instance, was often given in Mozart's orchestration, or, worse still, an augmented version of it.

Light stage works included Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operettas, still popular after the deaths of their authors. Viennese operetta was popular, notably Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow of 1905. Their performances were greatly outnumbered by newer, simpler works by the likes of Lionel Monckton (The Arcadians) and Victor Herbert (Naughty Marietta). A huge number of operettas in English were staged in Edwardian times, but few are remembered. Sullivan and Lehar had the last laugh.

Dance music was in demand. Old favourites, such as the music of the Strauss family, were widely played, generally in transcriptions for small bands. Music from stage works was often tortured into rhythms suitable for dancing. Even Wagner's Siegfried was not immune to this. Contemporary composers of light music, such as Archibald Joyce, contributed pleasant trifles and the Latin music of Ernesto Nazareth was reaching Europe. Jazz had not yet been developed, but ragtime was widely played and danced to. In some quarters, dancing and its music were seen as morally questionable. The tango in particular was widely attacked from the pulpit.

The music halls provided light entertainment for the masses. This might be sentimental, patriotic or comic. The early recordings of Australia's Peter Dawson provide ample examples of the first two styles. Harry Champion and Marie Lloyd added saucy comic songs to the mix. Much of this material can be had on CD today.

Practically all music reached the listeners via live performance. Early recordings were expensive. A disc by a star performer, such as Caruso, sold for about one pound, which was lot to pay for about six minutes of tinny low fidelity. Outside the concert hall, music was generally heard in the form of arrangements for whatever forces could be raised. Skilled amateurs played symphonies and other instrumental works arranged for piano, often for four hands. Brass bands and palm court orchestras likewise played arrangements of all kinds of music. It might be noted that practically every piece in the White Star song book is an arrangement, even if the original work was for voice.

It's a fair bet that the average person of 1912 could sing better than our contemporaries. Most people attended church regularly and learned the basics of singing in the congregation, or in the choir. At home, many were parlour singers, with a repertoire of ballads, sometimes of hilarious sentimentality.

The wealthy could take advantage of pianos and organs that played automatically, using paper rolls. Some of these rolls were made by famous pianists of the time and the finest reproducing pianos could recreate the nuances of their playing.

Musically, the Edwardian age was rich. The age of dumbing down and the targeting of teenyboppers had yet to come. Listeners were credited with being adults with a modicum of intelligence and good taste. This was not without reason. Neville Cardus and D H Lawrence wrote movingly of the love of music found among the working class, especially the tough coal miners of central and northwestern Britain. Music provide an escape from their drab existence and a cheap upright piano often took pride of place among their modest possessions. Institutions like the Huddersfield Choral Society and the hundreds of workingmen's brass bands were not created by accident.
 
Jan 28, 2003
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Great post, Dave.

There are quite a few sites where you can hear some of the more popular music of the day. Here are one or two on parlour music, and you can download the sheet music if you have Scorch or Sibelius, and you feel like trilling away in harmony. When I was a child, my father used to play (piano - badly) some of the songs his mother played to him. The sentimentality Dave referred to is quite extraordinary, but often very social in origin, involving drunken fathers in the pub, dying children, abandoned fallen women etc. My father used to reduce me to tears as a small girl, singing The Miner's Dying Child. Impoverished, over-worked and harassed miner's wife, mother of many, watches over her dying youngest. Infant's last words are,
"When I get to Heaven, mother, will I be in the way?"
Cue torrents. Mind you, I was always being told I was in the way myself. My father, the sadist, just used to laugh at me, and launch into Home Sweet Home, telling me that it was written by a starving and freezing tramp dying of TB. I'm absolutely sure it certainly was not, but I believed it at the time.
http://parlorsongs.com/index.asp
http://www.collectionscanada.ca/whats-new/007/013007-207-e.html
http://www.ohek.co.uk/links/lyricsites1.htm
The last one links to all sorts of music sites with midi files, and a very good one there for listening to piano music of the time is Perfessor Bill Edwards - he is extraordinarily generous in putting his great early song and ragtime playing on the Web for free (piano not midi).

The next is a site for hearing Gilbert & Sullivan music - it's only midi of course, and has no singing, but you can get an idea of the tunefulness of it and how people would have wanted to sing it in their own homes. Lyrics are available - and they are always rather good in G & S. Some great political / establishment satire.
http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/midi/html/midi_home.html#gas

One of the most famous miner's bands in the UK is the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, who always seem to win everything, and - although the mine closed in 1992 - still have ex-miners as the majority of the band I think.
http://www.grimethorpeband.com/

Also popular in the US at the time was barbershop singing, and here is a site where you can listen to "The Light of the Silvery Moon" as originally recorded at the beginning of the 20th Century, amongst other things.
http://www.barbershop.org/web/groups/public/documents/pages/pub_jukebox.hcst

Don't know so much about early 20th century taste in classical music. Always assumed their taste would be late 18th / 19th century - rather like mine. And I don't like Vivaldi either.... and speaking of atonal music, I once endured 3 hours of Hoddinot. The scars ...!
 

Dave Gittins

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I see the Huddersfield Choral Society has issued a CD of Messiah performed as it might have been in Edwardian times. It uses the big choir and the Mozart orchestration.

http://www.huddersfieldchoral.com

Home, Sweet Home is from an early 19th century opera called Clari by Sir Henry Bishop}. Its popularity extended well into the 20th century. I'm pretty sure Dame Joan Sutherland recorded it.

There are some modern recording of Edwardian and Victorian ballads by Benjamin Luxon and others. Give me a Ticket to Heaven is one of the tear-jerkers to be heard.
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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"Music from stage works was often tortured into rhythms suitable for dancing. Even Wagner's Siegfried was not immune to this"

How the hell do you hoof it to the forging scene?

"Home, Sweet Home" as a poem, is attributed to an American, John Howard Payne. He was an actor born in 1792. In 1823 he produced an opera in London (Clari, The Maid of Milan) in which this song was first sung. The music is attributed to Bishop. As luck would have it, Payne afterwards was fated to live a wandering life and died in 1832.

I seem to recall the song was recorded by Dame Clara Butt.

Noel
 
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Scott R. Andrews

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Dave,

When speaking of popular forms of musical entertainment in 1912, don't forget about the organ recital. I made mention of this form of entertainment in the following thread: https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5670/66318.html?1054822763 . Prior to the period between the wars, when both phonographs and recordings started to fall in price to the point where they were no longer considered unaffordable luxuries for even the middle classes, many people received their first exposure to symphonic music when hearing the performance of organ transcriptions of these works. Many larger towns had either a town hall or a municipal auditorium which contained a large pipe organ, upon which public recitals were given -- sometimes weekly, and very often free of charge in order that even the least well-off of a town's citizens could avail themselves of a little cultured entertainment. The organs built in this period were of a romantic timbre, and possessed both a great wealth of color and dynamic flexibility, nearly equal in many respects to a symphony orchestra.

Organ recitals in those days were very little like what one tends to hear today. If you were to hear any Bach at all, chances were more likely that it would be something like a transcription of "Air on the G string", or the "Sinfonia to Cantata No. 29" rather than the "Toccata & Fugue in D minor". You were far more likely to hear the music of Handel, Liszt or Wagner, or transcriptions of popular contemporary works by Debussy, Sibelius or Elgar.

Regards,
Scott Andrews
 

Dave Gittins

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Very true, Scott!

There seems to have been a minor revival of that sort of thing. Quite recently somebody recorded the Enigma Variations on the organ. Personally, I thought it was pretty awful.

I'm not sure if we still have weekly recitals in our town hall. We certainly did not many years ago. By then the program was likely to feature works originally written for organ. Our old Victorian romantic organ has been replaced by one more suited to the baroque.

The Adelaide Festival Theatre has a big modern organ that is mobile, on the principle of a hovercraft. It lives in the wings and is driven onto the stage as needed.
 
V

Vikki Aris

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Enigma Variations... now that only screams ballet to me!
happy.gif


Speaking of ballet - this was also popular at the time, in its own right and not just as part of the opera experience. This was the era of Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, with stars such as Nijinsky and Pavlova being big names.
Stravinsky is the composer coming most readily to mind for ballet music of the time.

Mmm, Gilbert & Sullivan... it does make me laugh. Rather innocent by today's standards, but people don't know what they're missing. Koko's wooing of Katisha... tee hee.
 

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