Classical Music and Salon Culture
Anna's 4th TV-Blog gives an inside view of the traditional "Salon culture" and shows possibilities how to transfer it in a modern way.
There is an European tradition of salons and a current trend to revive salons.
Looking through the music programs, two words would appear every now and then, and sound intriguing and French. Salon and Soirees.
The word “salon” comes from Italian word “sala” and means a reception hall of big Italian mansions.
The tradition of Salons comes from 17th century Paris, Salon means the gathering of intellectual and literary circles to exchange some ideas, give and receive criticism, read or play one own works and hear the works and ideas of others.
it was a philosopher of the Enlightenment Denis Diderot and his essays about the art “Salons” who used the word Salon as we understand it today for the first time.
Till the end of the 19th century salons blossomed in upper-class society in the whole Europe. They were organized by Salonniere (as the name implies, there were women, educated and rich patronesses).
The Salons would be held regularly on a specific date. So a lady of the society would hold her "day", which meant that her salon was opened for visitors in the afternoon once a week, or twice a month. The visitor gave his visit card to the maître d'hôtel, and he was accepted or not. Only people having been introduced before could of course enter the salon. Once guests were accepted, they could arrive anytime without special invitation.
The salonnières were expected to run and moderate the conversation, define the rules of the etiquette and decide upon its content and form, and thus shape salon’s character. So the salons were all individualized, some were more popular than others. Surely the salonnieres would fight for talented artists to present to the invitees.
The heart of any salon was music. Salon culture gave birth to the so called salon music: music compositions with entertaining character, very pleasing to ears, fairly short, with emotional expression. Piano as an instrument was an integral part of the Salon. Genres like Vocal and chamber music were better fit for intimate salons. In the past salons were major centers for contemporary music, salonniere would even commission new pieces. It makes me think of Fauré, Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc, great names that were pushed into the creation of masterpieces through salons.
Why does the dream of Salon continue to live? Surely we idealize Salons and its culture but on the other hand, salons are still important to today’s society: The spirit and wit of lively conversations, possibility to meet amazing artists and talk to them, music experience, and intellectual exchange of ideas, interesting discussions and the atmosphere of open dialogue, the feeling of belonging, sense of exclusivity.
On a personal note, I wanted to share my experiences of 5 years of music salons. I took a definition of salon by Jürgen Habermas: Salon as “theater of exchange”: my salons are events held partly to amuse and partly to refine the literary and musical taste and increase the knowledge of the participants. So every salon is devoted to interesting personalities like Johannes Brahms, Friedrich Nietzsche, Madame Pompadour, Henry Miller to name just a few. Readings, reciting, theater dialogues and musical presentations have dynamic relation to each other within this context. On the 16th of April we have our 10th Salon devoted to William Shakespeare and I will be happy to welcome you in my salons.
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