From the Library — A Victorian Entertainment

Today in From the Library, we bring you a pro­gramme of Vic­to­ri­an music (with a cer­tain amount of mate­r­i­al extend­ing into the Edwar­dian era), intend­ed to recre­ate the atmos­phere of the time, fea­tur­ing both high-class enter­tain­ments and those that the peo­ple at large could afford to enjoy.

On the one hand, we will hear the music of the Strauss fam­i­ly and their con­tem­po­raries. The Waltz had become the big hit in the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tu­ry, along with the Pol­ka, Mazur­ka and Schot­tis­che, and the peri­od 1840–60 was an era of excite­ment and live­li­ness in the ball­room. How­ev­er, as the years wore on, many of these dances began to lose favour, and by the lat­ter part of the cen­tu­ry the ball­room itself had begun to decline in pop­u­lar­i­ty and the Waltz was the pri­ma­ry dance that remained, along with the two-step. Steps were for­mu­la­rised by pro­fes­sion­al organ­i­sa­tions of danc­ing mas­ters in an effort to main­tain stan­dards – but this made them even less inter­est­ing to the gen­er­al pub­lic, and by 1900 the pop­u­la­tion at large was ready for some­thing new and dif­fer­ent. The next dance craze was to come from Amer­i­ca, and not from Europe, and was to result from the potent com­bi­na­tion of African and Euro­pean styles that emerged in the Unit­ed States.

Anoth­er pop­u­lar enter­tain­ment in the Vic­to­ri­an peri­od was the bal­lad, often per­formed at fam­i­ly soirées at home from sheet music, with one mem­ber of the fam­i­ly singing as anoth­er accom­pa­nied them on the piano; or alter­na­tive­ly in the music halls per­formed by pro­fes­sion­als. These bal­lads remained pop­u­lar right into the Edwar­dian era and up to the First World War.

You would also encounter mechan­i­cal musi­cal instru­ments in the age before the gramo­phone and the phono­graph. These could be heard in par­lours, pubs and cafés and in the street, and one thing they had in com­mon was the use of a drum or disc, with pins or holes in it that trig­gered var­i­ous instru­ments, from the tines of a musi­cal-box-like device to per­cus­sion and oth­er sounds – indeed, the Polyphon, the mighty triple-disc Sym­pho­nion and its con­tem­po­raries were essen­tial­ly immense­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed, large, musi­cal box­es.

In the street, the bar­rel piano (often con­fused with the bar­rel organ, a very dif­fer­ent beast), fore­run­ner of the play­er piano, could be heard. Hand-cranked and portable, the music was trig­gered by a drum or bar­rel with pins, each gen­er­al­ly con­tain­ing short arrange­ments of sev­er­al pop­u­lar songs, and it was a favourite with Lon­don’s street musi­cians in the Vic­to­ri­an era.

In today’s pro­gramme you will hear all these strands of Vic­to­ri­an musi­cal life: from Strauss waltzes to Gilbert & Sul­li­van’s pop­u­lar light operas; from roman­tic and sen­ti­men­tal bal­lads to their ren­der­ings on mechan­i­cal instru­ments. Today’s pro­gramme, unlike some we have pre­sent­ed in this vein in the past, fea­tures sole­ly mod­ern record­ings.

• From the Library is pro­duced by Radio Riel in con­junc­tion with the Cale­don Library in Sec­ond Life. Today’s pro­gramme was pro­duced by Elrik Mer­lin.

For more infor­ma­tion on the Cale­don Library, cur­rent exhibits and the work of Sec­ond Life ref­er­ence libraries in gen­er­al, please vis­it the Cale­don Library Web site, or one of their loca­tions in-world.

You can lis­ten now at — the ide­al URL for you to use in your home par­cel media address in-world — or sim­ply vis­it any Cale­don Library branch in-world and press Play on your embed­ded music play­er. (If you want to lis­ten off-world, eg in Winamp or iTunes, and the above address does­n’t work for you, click here.)

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One Response to “From the Library — A Victorian Entertainment”

  1. kimrennin says:

    There will be Vic­to­ri­an inspired enter­tain­ment put on through­out Sat­ur­day and Sun­day after­noon. It is a fam­i­ly friend­ly week­end full of mirth and mer­ri­ment. You’ll see a tra­di­tion­al melo­dra­ma and a new musi­cal based on the lives of the pio­neers writ­ten and per­formed by our youth and played on the McCow­an log house stage. Music from Gilbert and Sul­li­van and group sing-alongs will take place in the Cor­nell house par­lor.

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