From the Library — A Victorian Entertainment

in Daily Programme

by Elrik Merlin on Tuesday, 29 July, 2008

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.)


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

kimrennin November 3, 2008 at 21:52

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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