26/03/2015 00:00

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.

Thank you so much for watching my video blog. Please visit us at www.movingclassics.tv and check out some interesting people profiles, locations and music videos.

  1. #1
    Hans Roelofsen · Reply

    We have already enjoyed organising more than 300 chamber music events in a beautiful old villa not far from Amsterdam. Without ever using the derogatory term ‘salon music’ we used the inexhaustible supply of chamber music and presented it successfully with excellent musicians to anyone interested. The Sonntagmusiken in the house of the Mendelssohns in Berlin were much more than easy listening salon music. Among the guests were University professors, theologians, poets and musicians eager to create a new works for a religious tolerant society where jews would have the same rights as christian denominations. The emancipation of jews (many converted to christianity) was triggered by French equality rules. From 1812 by the edict of emancipation they were allowed to hold positions in the university and Prussian state bureaucracy. In 1822 this edict was already withdrawn. In the salon we celebrate the finest music of great composers in an intimate atmosphere. The Steinway Hall in Munich is a concert hall when we take at look at it using images on the internet. Not the right example for chamber music or the salon. I would suggest not to make concessions to the ‘market’ but to rely on the appetite for quality. Unfortunately in the Netherlands the trend is different, but we have excellent result s with our chamber music concerts in the villa Tindal. http://www.tindal.nl

  2. #2
    Cheryl · Reply

    I would like to know if salon music can be seen as a genre. yes or no. please motivate your answer. can you recommend any sites i can go to for salon music as I have to do research on it.

    • admin
      admin · Reply

      in the 19th century, it is used to be a genre, but not strictly. You can say that all small compositions with a bit of entertaining character used to be called salon music. Like Walzer and Mazurkas of Chopin. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salon_music
      There are no explicitly salon music sites.

  3. #3
    Dan A. JOEL · Reply

    I’ve tried to understand the practical aspects of early 19th musical soirées (probably similar to salons), and could find nothing about that. Specifically:
    (1) Did any guest pay for admission, or was the burden of paying the musicians/composers and other costs– such as the printing & messenger cost of sending notices of dates, times, programs; the cost of refreshments [if any]; extra candles and the like–on the person in whose house, palace, villa the soirée took place?
    (2) Assuming that the guests paid for admission, were the musicians given the money after the performance? by whom? How?
    (3) Do we know if there were lists of people who wanted to attend? What obligations did they have to show up or notify the host that they will be absent?
    (4) What happened to “walk-ins” [if any] assuming the place filled up to capacity?

    I want to include the information in an historic novel, so accuracy and some reliable proof would be more than welcome.

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