The multifaceted edifice of bourgeois 'popular song' was built upon foundations laid in the eighteenth century: the most important of these were the English opera, the collections of arrangements of'traditional airs' and the Table Entertainments pioneered by Dibdin. The not insignificant part played by nonconformist hymns will be considered elsewhere in this book, as will the influence in mid-century of Afro-American music. Bourgeois song was obviously indebted to aristocratic musical practice and to the cosmopolitan musical character of eighteenth-century London. In the first half of the century rich merchants aped the manners of the upper class. An interest in the art patronized by the aristocracy was a proof of social distinction for the upwardly mobile. Hogarth satirized this behaviour and depicted in Marriage a la Mode, 4 (1745), a merchant's daughter who aspires to upper-class values by listening to a castrato singer and collecting 'decadent' art objects. The court remained the focal point of musical activity during the reign of George II, although the first regular series of public subscription concerts started in 1729 at Hickford's Room in James Street. The nobility inherited a music tradition almost completely bound to either the church liturgy or the court ceremonial, and in the early 1700s they supplemented by importing Italian opera seria.

The flowering of opera in Naples, which occurred slightly later than in Venice, provided the model for imitation in Hanover, London, and Vienna. The most popular of all Italian operas in London, Trionfo di Camilla, Regina de Volsci, was originally written for Naples in 1696 by Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747). It received 111 performances from 1706-28 but always either completely in English or in a mixture of English and Italian. It therefore came to be considered an English opera and had just concluded a successful run in the English Opera Season at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre before The Beggar's Opera opened there in 1728. The enormous success of the latter, a work pointedly intended to appeal to the middle class, demonstrated the potential size of the new audience for a composer who, like Handel, would be willing to make appropriate concessions. Bononcini abstained from pursuing this opportunity, being more inclined towards the private concerts of the aristocracy in Britain and Europe.

The work which established Italian opera in its native tongue in London was Handel's Rinaldo (1711). London was a cosmopolitan town, the home of many Italian musicians, Handel himself, as a German who acquired fame writing [1/2] Italian operas for the English, personally testifies to this cosmopolitan character. Aaron Hill, the director of the theatre in the Haymarket, had concocted a libretto from bits of Tasso and Ariosto and suggested Handel set it to music when he met him in London on his first visit to England. Handel agreed, so it was speedily translated into Italian by Giacomo Rossi.

Handel was successful in providing aristocratic entertainment but his real sympathies lay with the bourgeoisie. Although he received royal patronage, he never held an official court position and was often out of favour with certain members of the aristocracy whose resentment became overt when they organized a rival 'Opera of the Nobility' in 1734. During the 1700s Handel was increasingly aware of the possibility that a large commercial public might be catered for by a new art-form. The public reactions to The Beggar's Opera and Carey and Lampe's burlesque The Dragon of Wantley (1737) showed wide-spread scorn for opera seria which was damaging his box-office receipts. His solution was to blend the music of Italian opera, the German Passion, and the English choral tradition, to create an original and eventually highly successful hybrid, the English oratorio. In Italy the term meant, more or less, a concert performance of a sacred opera during Lent, when the Pope had decreed that opera houses were to be closed. Handel pleased the middle class by using English as the language of his oratorios, and the biblical subject matter was more to their taste than that of the opera. In a period of expanding empire it was easy to identify with God's chosen people and their heaven-sent victories. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the major European countries were engaged in commercial wars for the control of overseas markets. Britain's sea-power was crucial, so it is no surprise to learn that the patriotic song 'Rule, Britannia!' dates from this time (1740). By the end of the Seven Years War (1763) Britain had outstripped her rivals in the building of a colonial empire and had secured both North America and India.

The traditional court composer's commemoration of a victory would be a work like Handel's 'Dettingen Te Deum', written to celebrate the fortunate outcome of the last great charge in British history led by the king himself, at the battle of Dettingen in 1743 (his horse having accidentally bolted in the direction of the enemy). Now, Handel also had an alternative means of response to national conflict and chose to celebrate the victory over the forces of feudalism at Culloden, in an oratorio, Judas Maccabeus (1746). Prince Charlie was the grandson of the dethroned monarch James II, and the focal point of pro-Stuart sympathy among the aristocracy. The true patriot was called upon to reject feudalism in the cause of establishing a middle-class democracy. It is ironic that an old song revitalized for the cause in the 1740s, 'God Save the King', probably originally referred to 'the king over the water' (still suggested by 'Send him victorious', and in an early version the epithet 'true-born'). Handel identified with the aims of middle-class liberals, having for ever turned his back on feudal Germany and become naturalized as English in 1726. Judas Maccabeus caught the bourgeois mood and was to be one of his most regularly performed pieces. The English are represented by the Israelites who are fighting a Roman aristocracy, and the Duke of Cumberland (alias 'the butcher') is undoubtedly intended for comparison with the divinely favoured eponymous hero. [2/3]

It is worth while pondering the kind of freedom for which English soldiers were being asked to sacrifice their lives, if need be. The agrarian revolution had destroyed the ancient village communities, and the system of co-operative husbandry had been replaced by individual farming. Furthermore, the effect of the Enclosure Movement was to dispossess small tenants and cottagers in the interests of capitalist farmers. The result of political reformation meant that people were more and more bound together by self-interest rather than gaining freedom. The liberty being fought for was the freedom to sell one's own labour-power or hire that of others, depending on whether one owned or had been stripped of property After the suppression of the '45 rebellion, the Highland chiefs were, in Dr Johnson's description, changed from 'patriarchal rulers' to 'rapacious landlords' (quoted in Birnie 245). In the later eighteenth century enforced clearances took place in the Highlands to make room for profitable sheep-farming.

The rightness of the Protestant religion is strongly hinted at in the Rev. Morell's libretto (despite the obvious anomaly that the Israelites worship a tribal deity), with the anti-papist slant of the cries of 'down with the polluted altars' and the recommendation to hurl 'priests and pageants' to 'the remotest corner of the world' in order to avoid deception by 'pious lies' The enemy Rome also suggests Catholicism and its association with the Jacobite cause. Performers in oratorio, of course, were not under the same suspicion of popery as those in Italian opera.

The religious revival which took place in the later eighteenth century was important to the emerging industrial bourgeoisie. Methodism began to acquire respectability, and the middle class in industrial areas took advantage of the organizing experience to be gained from Methodist meetings which relied upon lay leadership and devolution of responsibility. Success in industry was also more likely to result from the sort of skills that were emphasized in Dissenting schools. The subject of nonconformism and its influence on bourgeois song is treated later.

Before the industrial revolution, middle-class town-dwellers were merchants, artisans, or shopkeepers. Social change was set in motion by the cotton industry, and the inventions of Arkwright and Crompton which, together with Watt's steam-engine, created the factory system. Because of steam power the British coal deposits were of immense significance, and scores of mines were opened. The mining of copper and iron was needed, too, for the production of the machinery itself. Arkwright was a typical example of the new industrial hero: he was a Preston barber in 1768, a mill owner in 1771, and thereafter he was continually adding to his accumulation of capital the royalties he received from machinery built to his patents (whether or not the invention he had patented was actually one of his own). When British industrial production figures began to climb, war was once more to prove a decisive factor in crushing foreign competition and securing captive markets (1793-1815).

A transformation in political and intellectual life is indicated by the birth of classical economics: Adam Smith attacked mercantilism and advocated free trade in Book IV of The Wealth of Nations (1776) and, according to Engels, reduced politics, parties, religion, in short everything to economic categories' (Birnie 245). In music the effects of bourgeois democratic ideas were seen in a deliberate [3/4] popularization and simplification of style. Even a composer like Haydn, who had spent most of his life in employment at the Esterhazy court, working within the traditions of aristocratic musical entertainment, reveals his republican sympathies by deliberately accommodating himself to this 'democratic' tendency in his London Symphonies of 1791-5 (e.g. the slow movement of the Surprise Symphony, No. 94). He also wrote twelve canzonets to English words, one of which, 'My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair', became a firm favourite in the drawingroom repertoire. Haydn was much influenced by the music of Handel which he heard, and the kind of simple descriptive effects that can be traced from a work like Handel's Israel in Egypt to Haydn's The Creation were again a beloved feature of bourgeois song.

The middle class did not reach a position of political dominance overnight, but significant milestones were 1832, when the Reform Bill was passed, the boom in railway investment (essential for the development of capital-goods industries like iron and coal) which helped to shake off the 1842 depression, and the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The importance of the Reform agitation was the new polarize '"in of class antagonism between labourers and capitalists (rather than labourc ind aristocracy) which followed. E. P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class sees Chartism as the inevitable result,3, and so, incidentally, did Disraeli:

In treating the House of the Third Estate as the House of the People, and not as the House of a privileged class, the Ministry and Parliament of 1831 virtually conceded the principal of Universal Suffrage . . its immediate and inevitable result was Chartism. [Coningsby chapter 7]

The importance of riding out the 1842 depression was that afterwards Britain was no longer dependent on one main industrialized sector, and the ensuing boom years were a contributing factor in setting English unrest apart from that on the continent in 1848. The importance of the repeal of the Corn Laws was that it gave a victory to the industrial bourgeoisie over the landed aristocracy, leaving the latter economically and politically weaker.


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Last modified 11 June 2012