Music of the Gilded Age

This week­end sees the US release of Baz Luhrman­n’s 3D film adap­ta­tion of F Scott Fitzger­ald’s The Great Gats­by, and to mark the occa­sion, we’re pre­sent­ing a week­end of music from the peri­od depict­ed in the sto­ry and movies set dur­ing the era (although it should be not­ed that the sound­track from Luhrman­n’s film does not fea­ture music of the peri­od). Though it begins in the 1920s, the sto­ry reach­es back in time to events set before the First World War.

Both the Gild­ed Age and La Belle Époque — one term from from the Unit­ed States, the oth­er from Europe — refer to essen­tial­ly the same peri­od, cor­re­spond­ing to the late Vic­to­ri­an and the Edwar­dian peri­ods in the UK.

The peri­od is bound­ed by the First World War at the end, and some­where around the mid-1870s for the start.

The term “Gild­ed Age” (alleged­ly coined by Mark Twain) is actu­al­ly slight­ly pejo­ra­tive. Gild­ing is a light cov­er­ing of gold and it’s also osten­ta­tious – but a “gild­ed age” is not a “gold­en age”. And the term La Belle Époque was coined after the peri­od – look­ing back at the peace­ful, pros­per­ous past from the dark days of the Great War.

Today we’ll hear music of the Gild­ed Age from both sides of the Atlantic, includ­ing bal­lads (I have includ­ed some of Stephen Fos­ter’s won­der­ful songs, which were well known dur­ing the peri­od – and indeed still are today), dance music and some light clas­si­cal pieces includ­ing items from Gottschalk in the US and Satie in France; and you’ll hear the first-ever film score, com­posed by Saint-Saëns.

The ZBS Radio Hour is cur­rent­ly on hia­tus.

Today’s pro­gramme is pre­sent­ed by Elrik Mer­lin. You can lis­ten to the pro­gramme now at, or sim­ply click here to start your play­er, if your brows­er is con­fig­ured to do so. Lis­ten­ers in the Unit­ed States are encour­aged to tune in using this link:

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