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Militarisation, Industrialisation and the growth of the Symphony Orchestra in the Nineteenth Century

Pace, I. (2010). Militarisation, Industrialisation and the growth of the Symphony Orchestra in the Nineteenth Century. Paper presented at the The Symphony Orchestra as Cultural Phenomenon, 01-07-2010 - 03-07-2010, Institute of Musical Research, London, UK.


The Marxist writer Hans G Helms presented, in his article 'Zu den ökonomischen Bedingungen der neuen Musik', a theoretical model for the growth of the 19th century orchestra, by which the large-scale militarisation of European society during the period of the Napoleonic Wars provided a template for industrialisation, with the factory owner taking the role of the general, the workers that of ordinary soldiers. This model, according to Helms, was then adopted for the symphony orchestra, which grew in size and accorded a new type of quasi-dictatorial role for the conductor, culminating in the massive orchestral concerts organised by Berlioz in Paris in 1844 as part of the Exhibition of Industrial Products, in literal co-operation with the makers of musical 'machinery' such as Adolphe Sax. He also draws attention to the slower growth of the symphony orchestra in German-speaking lands due to the continuing prevalence of a form of society structured around many feudal principalities rather than fully developed industrial bourgeois society, at least prior to unification. In this paper, I present a sympathetic but critical examination of Helms's model, drawing upon other of my own recent research into the orchestra in the 19th century. Measuring Helms's model against a brief selection of documentary evidence of a few select examples, I argue that whilst the orchestra under Beethoven and Berlioz in particular does in large measure accord with his paradigms, the wider phenomenon was more diffuse, and in particular the more democratic ideals which informed the foundation of the Vienna Philharmonic and to some extent also the Berlin Philharmonic require a more flexible and nuanced model.

Publication Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
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