After a weekend of heavy discussion on this blog about the Gulf oil spill, energy policy, and the future of man’s survival on earth, it’s time to move onto lighter fare. In other words, it’s time for “Music Monday”! 🙂
Jules Etienne Pasdeloup was an accomplished French conductor who sought to popularize orchestral music and promote the works of both past and current composers. He may not be a household name, but Jules Pasdeloup greatly influenced French musical tastes in the 19th century. In 1861, he founded Concerts Populaire, also known as Orchestre Pasdeloup or Orchestre des Concerts Pasdeloup. It is the oldest symphony orchestra in France. Pasdeloup’s vision was to make orchestra performances accessible to the general public, instead of just the monied upper-classes of Paris. So the Orchestra Pasdeloup offered cheap Sunday afternoon concerts at the Cirque d’hiver. Among the works performed on opening day on October 27th, 1861, were Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Great program!
The enterprise was a great success and the Concerts Populaire became a genuine institution playing a lead role in forming a new audience through making known the Austro-German répertoire and also by influencing the creation of French symphonic works.
Rehearsals were held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Cirque d’hiver. On one of those days in 1878, an artist sat up in the balcony, quietly sketching away, capturing the musicians at practice. That artist was none other than John Singer Sargent. After several preparatory drawings, he completed this marvelous painting that is very pleasing to look at. An interesting composition here, Sargent presents a great visual perspective that depicts the oval-like shape, depth and breadth of the hall’s interior. As only Sargent can, he manages to delineate details (pages of sheet music, violin bows) using loose, nimble brush strokes, relying on lights and darks to capture the overall scene. Sargent was a genius at that. The most developed figures in the whole piece are the costumed spectators in the foreground, leaning on the ledge, leisurely enjoying the orchestra rehearsal. When I look at the painting, I can almost hear the sounds of instruments tuning up, the conductor’s baton tapping on the stand, pages turning, and that wonderful acoustic echo you hear in large performance venues.
This is John Singer Sargent’s Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Cirque d’hiver, 1879-80: