Is Classical Music the Pop music of the Past...

Updated: Jan 12

We complement this post with a teaser of Srdan Kozlica's Rach 3. This Saturday 26.11.2016. Make sure you got your tickets ready.

At WKMT we make our lives around classical music. Some days ago we started a thread on ABRSM forum:

Classical Piano Lessons: Are they the best way to learn general Piano

We got a fabulous amount of serious answers to our proposal. This one by "Hildegard" was exceptionally well written:


Sylvette, on 09 Nov 2016 - 11:59, said:

Much of what we regard as 'classical' music was the pop music of its day.

"I'm afraid that really isn't true, although it is a common misconception. There has been a separate strand of popular music since at least the middle ages, although little was written down before the 17th century. Ordinary people could not possibly have afforded to go to concerts before the mid-19th century - they made their own music on the few occasions when they had the time to do so. This is what we now call folk music and is what could be regarded as the popular music of the day.

Until the early-18th century, classical music (with a small 'c') was written primarily for consumption by relatively sophisticated aristocrats. The audience broadened to include the new bourgeosie during the course of the century, but even by 1808 it is estimated that only 2.5% of Vienna's population of 250,000 would have gone to a Beethoven concert - a ticket was two gulden, which was more than an entire week's wage for a labourer. Classical music was still the province of the aristocracy and the cultured, well-off merchant classes.

It was only after the industrial revolution that workers had the odd half-day off during which they might go to concerts, but they were more likely to go to pubs and ale houses where they would hear the popular music of the day. By the 1850s, pubs that were successful music venues were starting to build small halls (music hallls, in fact) to attract larger audiences. A popular repertoire of music hall songs quickly became well known. In contrast, even by 1862, a ticket for an orchestral concert at the Crystal Palace was one guinea (just over one pound) - two weeks' entire wages for an agricultural worker at the time.

Popular (or rather folk) music is mentioned in Shakespeare ane other sources, some pop songs and dances of the day formed the basis for variations by art music composers (the Elizabethan virginalists) and by the late 17th century, the first collections of pop tunes appeared (Playford's Dancing Master and similar publications).

By the late 19th century, most popular music was published (and was soon to be recorded) thereby becoming more commercial, and it is therefore possible to trace its separate development more clearly from then on, but in earlier times popular music was what we now regard as folk songs and folk dances - quite separate from the art music of the time. It developed relatively slowly until the 19th century simply because most working people laboured around the clock for nearly 7 days a week, and had very little time for leisure pursuits and no money for concerts. Music would have been limited to what they could produce themselves for festivals such as May Day and Christmas, and for special occasions such as weddings - this would have been folk music, not classical music.

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