Aristos orchestrated rise of the concert

January 27, 1995

Late 18th-century London was a mecca for performing musicians and composers. The child prodigy Mozart travelled with his father and wrote his first symphonies there, and Haydn premiered his "London" series of symphonies.

Until recently, the rise of the public concert in London has been attributed to the middle-class commercialisation of leisure. New research by Simon McVeigh, lecturer in music at Goldsmiths College London, suggests that wealthy aristocrats were responsible for organising the great professional concerts.

In the annual lecture to the British Society of 18th-Century Studies, Dr McVeigh contrasted the amateurish performances organised by the metropolitan bourgeoisie with the stylish, expensive, professional ones arranged by the leisured classes.

He identified Teresa Cornelys --opera-singer, courtesan and friend of Casanova -- as the "self-appointed society queen" who hosted concerts by Johann Christian Bach at her mansion in Soho Square and who played a crucial role making the concert de rigeur for the famous and fashionable.

Cornelys's "palace of pleasure, regarded by many as the focus of aristocratic immorality or at best a marriage market, was therefore the fount of modern concert life".

Exclusivity was engineered by artificially high prices, etiquette of dress, a system of "ladies' lists" of suitable concert-goers and restrictions on availability. In 1790, the great singer Pacchierotti was not allowed to perform outside the Pantheon, and Haydn's new symphonies were not immediately published in London, to maintain their novelty value.

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