Classical Music in Boston from 1700-1900

Created by: Katelynn Matragrano
Time Period: 19th Century, Colonial, Early National
Topic: Culture

When picking a topic for my research project on Boston, music was my first choice. Starting off with the topic of popular music in the 1900’s, I found it incredibly difficult to extract any evidence. Thinking along the idea of that, I switched my topic to Classical music in the 1700’s to 1800’s. I instantly found more information, as well as became more invested in my research. I did find it hard, however, to keep the idea of popular music and classical music intertwined because classical music wasn’t the norm for the general public, but more so the elite class of Boston. This changed my research a little bit, but for the most part it didn’t really influence my analysis of classical music in Boston.

Here’s my thesis and the basis for my research: Classical music blossomed in Boston, which led to its advancements throughout the country. Starting in the early 1700s and leading up to 1900, the basis for American music grew into what it currently is because of the innovations and progressive nature of the performing arts in the city.

To briefly delve into my research, I’m going to talk about one of the choral societies that was prominent in Boston during the 1800’s. The Handel and Haydn society, established in 1815 and debuting on Christmas Day in that year, is America’s oldest continuously performing arts organization. The organization uses instruments and techniques of the time of the composers, contributing to the musicality and authenticity of the time. In 1818, the society had the privilege of being the first to have a complete performance of Handel’s Messiah as published. This was a huge leap for American music as it proved that they were serious about performing at a high quality level that was professional, much like that of music in Europe. The choir was prominently men, only 10 of the 100 were women, which reflected the society of the time and its male dominated structure. A report from the time stated that, “They (Handel and Haydn Society) pledge themselves to improving the performance of sacred music, and ‘introducing into more general use the works of Handel and Haydn and other eminent composers.’ ” (Boston Globe). Even from its beginning, the society sought to popularize the music of the prominent European style of entertainment for those in America, first in the elite class and then trickling down into the general population.

 

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