Sunday, April 6, 2008

Victorian Music Halls of London

Music Halls of London
Eagle Tavern 1830 London

The rise and spread of music halls in 19th-century London helped to establish a revolutionary style of popular music. Part of the reason for the rapid growth of music halls was that the British Copyright Act of 1842 protected the reproduction and performance of music and gave an enormous stimulus to the music market, affecting writers, performers, and publishers. The tavern concert room became increasingly bigger and more independent until purpose-built halls arose.

Music halls offered songs with hooks or catchy choruses, and downgraded the verses; these features were inherited by Tin Pan Alley, dance bands, show songs, and the "easy listening" repertoire. The songs could not be easily absorbed into the educational curriculum because they were too clearly identified as the entertainment of an uncultured mass public; hence, educators condemned them as rubbish. The conviction behind Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy for example, was that only culture (that is, high culture) could save society from anarchy. Culture, for Arnold, is not a broad term: he spares no time on the music hall. The working class was thought to need rational amusement such as choirs.

The supposed working-class authenticity of the music-hall experience has been much debated. A prime example of conflating the real and the imaginary in the 1890s was the portrayal on stage and in song of the Cockney or, more familiarly, costers who were itinerant street traders who usually sold fruit or vegetables from a donkey-drawn barrow (the name was derived from costard, a type of apple). From the 1840s to the 1890s the representation of the Cockney goes through three successive phases: it begins with parody, moves to the character-type, and ends with the imagined real.

There is, from the late 1870s onward, a concern to encourage imperialist enthusiasm among the working class in Britain. The tenor of imperialist songs changes as a consequence. The avoidance of florid metaphor and, instead, the use of vernacular speech, contrasts markedly with earlier songs. The music halls espoused the values of the upper-working-class or lower middle-class male, rather than those of the lowest social rank.

1891 Cover for "Mischief," which Marie Lloyd sang in 1891.
The halls frequently gave rise to fears concerning public morality. London audiences, however, defended their moral values when the law was used in a repressive manner, turning up in large numbers at the halls, at law courts and licensing sessions, and writing letters and petitions. Sometimes, the problems involved prostitution in or around the halls; at other times, it might be the lewd content of a song or dance. The most difficult thing for moral guardians to control was the physicality of certain performers, the most notorious being Marie Lloyd, who used gestures, winks, and knowing smiles to lend suggestiveness to the most "innocent" of songs.

In the 1890s, middle-class attitudes became more favorable to music hall, swayed by the managers'efforts to ensure respectability. The managers had noted the success of respectable vaudeville in New York in attracting a family audience into theaters. At the same time, we must recognize that efforts to increase the social mix of music-hall audiences in the later nineteenth century were helped to a great extent by the widespread enthusiasm for imperialism. It is surely more than coincidence that, from the 1890s on, the music halls under the ownership of Edward Moss all bore the name "Empire."

Presenting: "The Soundelier"

Now, you may be wondering what on earth is that thing hanging from the ceiling? Well, it happens to be an ornate Victorian chandelier repurposed as a 21st century speaker holder, known as "The Soundelier." After careful inspection and once one is able to get past the sheer ridiculousness of this object, it becomes apparent how creative this piece actually is.
What was once a heavily detailed, crystal encrusted chandelier has been transformed into a shining example of what "Victorian Cool" is all about.  To me, "Victorian Cool" is about breathing new life into existing Victorian creations, infusing creativity and modernity into something that could otherwise appear dated or irrelevant.

"The Soundelier" does exactly this and becomes a shining example of "Victorian Cool."

Sinister Storytelling, Part II

Dame Darcy is a contemporary illustrator who, like Edward Gorey, has a signature Victorianesque style. She is the author of Meatcake, a grim graphic novel that follows an eccentric cast of characters through a Victorian-inspired world. Recently, she has also beautifully illustrated an edition of Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre, from which the image on the left is taken. Her inspirations are Sir John Tenniel, the Brothers Grimm, and underground Victorian

Victorian Accessories

While browsing on, I noticed a great deal of Victorian-inspired household accessories available for purchase. What was most interesting about this discovery was the way these Victorian-esque pieces were remade in a way that was both modern and unique, while still being of obvious Victorian influence. The most intriguing modern aspects of these accessories were their materials and colours used.
The creativity that went into using unlikely materials for these products is astounding and breathes new life into these otherwise fairly traditional pieces. The bright white "snowflake" jewelry pedestal is made out of sheet metal and cast iron, with the pink stacked food or jewelry holder being made out of delicate hand-crafted glass and the teal picture frame made out of glass and resin. These modern materials applied to traditional Victorian forms create an interesting and creative piece that mixes the old with the new.
Another interesting aspect of these pieces is their use of colour. Traditionally, these colours would have certainly not have been used, with the exception of maybe the white. Even so, the white is such a high gloss surface that it would be hard to picture it in a Victorian dressing room. The vibrant pink, deep teal, and bright white all work in infusing a sense of modernity and style into these pieces. Infusing these bright hues into these period objects makes for a modern and inspiring work. Once again, these examples of traditional Victorian accessories recreated in modern colours and materials further stresses the idea that Victorian is alive everywhere we look in new and exciting ways.
Further examples of "Victorian Cool" accessories can be found at

Moulin Rouge: From Cabaret to Hollywood

The Moulin Rouge was originally designed as a cabaret to be viewed by men and women of the upper-middle class. It was created by Jospeh Oller in 1889, just as the Victorian empire was coming to an end. Moulin Rouge incorporated elements of circus, music, dance-hall, and theatre. The building where the cabaret was first performed is located in Paris, France, and is recognized by the large red windmill on the roof. The cabaret originally starred French celebrities such as Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand and Jean Gabin. To the Victorians, the Moulin Rouge was seen as a symbol of French culture, with substantial Bohemian influence.

The cabaret has been a continued success since the end of the nineteenth century, starring modern celebrities such as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli and Elton John. In 1950, Pierre La Mure wrote a novel based on the life of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the main character in the original Moulin Rouge cabaret. His novel was such a great success that in 1952, it was recreated into a film, which was written and directed by John Huston. The film starred Jose Ferrer as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Zsa Zsa Gabor as Jane Avril, and Suzanne Flon as Myriamme Hayam. Huston tried to make the movie as much like the original French cabaret as possible by using vibrant colour, costume, and music to recreate the dance hall theme set in the late nineteenth century. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won Best Colour Art Direction and Set Decoration and Best Colour Costume Design. It also had many other international nominations and won two more international awards.

In 2001, Moulin Rouge was again recreated into a more modern, musical film. It was written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, and directed by Baz Luhrmann. It starred Nicole Kidman as Satine, Edwin McGregor as Christian and John Leguizamo as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The new film-musical was seen as a popular and fresh version of the original Moulin Rouge cabaret, with many of the same elements that were integrated into the previous theatrical productions. It had a slightly different story line, focusing more on a love story, rather than the life of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, like Huston’s 1952 film. Luhrmann, however, wanted to ensure that the unique cabaret style was preserved, thus making the movie into a musical with emphasis on original French theatre characteristics such as the use of colourful costumes and the incorporation of a modern dance-hall theme. This version of Moulin Rouge was a great Hollywood success, attaining eight Academy Award nominations, while bringing home two wins: Best Art Direction and Set Decoration and Best Costume Design. All versions of Moulin Rouge have succeeded in encompassing the original French cabaret style, and each have done so well by contributing new twists of modern talent each time it is remade.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Victorian Architecture

The Victorian Era established a unique and ornate building style that is still popular to this day, being constantly recreated around the world in different shapes and forms. Characterized by its bright colors, "gingerbread" woodwork, and unique floor plans and facades, Victorian architecture has a very distinct style that has been popular and heavily used since its conception. A great example of this is seen in the photo provided.
This beautiful red and orange building is a bed and breakfast found in Texas which has recently been restored to its original splendor. The "Tarlton House" was originally built during the start of the 1900's, demonstrating an early 20th century interpretation of the classical Victorian architecture of the recent past. The forms are very reminiscent of traditional Victorian houses, with very few creative liberties being taken, creating a house that looks as if it could have been built in Victorian England.

Fast forward to the beginning of the 21st century and another interpretation has been combined with the previous one, though this one is executed in a different way. The detail work found on this house has been diligently restored, with new additions added in order to remain true to the characteristics of the Victorian style. Additionally, a new color scheme was created in keeping with the popular colors found in the architecture of the Victorian era, yet applied in a way that gives a sense of modernity and freshness. During this restoration, not only was the original workmanship enhanced, but modern technology and facilities were also included.
Having included modern advancements with old world styling creates the most recent interpretation of the Victorian house: combining the beauty of Victorian architecture with the function of modern advancements in technology. This trend of marrying the old with the new continues to yet again demonstrate the staying power and popularity of the style of Victorian architecture.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Sinister Storytelling

These illustrations are from Edward Gorey's miniature book The Gashlycrumb Tinies. First published in 1963, the book has since been through several editions. Both the macabre subject matter and the illustration style are distinctly Victorian. Punch, a weekly satirical magazine of the period, often featured pen and ink drawings (like the example at bottom of Jack the Ripper by John Tennier), which were inspirations for Gorey. The book is an alphabetical catalogue of children & how they meet their demise, with a dark and gritty illustration style. Gorey classifies his writing as "literary nonsense", close to the sensibilities of Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Preferable Priest!

This is the youtube capture of the song "A Little Priest" from the original theatrical production of Sweeney Todd. In my opinion this is incredibly superior to the new film version.
The acting quality here is larger, and somehow more believable even though it is more obviously theatrical. Perhaps because both George Hearn and (the magnificent) Angela Lansbury understand the full story and seem to have enjoyed making it a lot more. They have an enormous amount of fun with the scene, which is a full four minutes longer than Burton's film version and does away with the pretensions of a sinister atmosphere, using it only when required instead of hamming it up at every possible opportunity.
The extension of this scene is not wasted space, rather it is used to fully play out the comedy of the scene, for example with the addition of the characters playing with words. Lansbury provides Hearn with a starting word, for example "tinker" to which Hearn replies with a rhyme, "something pinker!" They play with this for a few moments until he is completely stumped by the word "locksmith".
The actors clearly understand the comedy of the scene and how the audience will react to it, and this feels a lot more natural to me than forcing the scene to seem sinister and dark with no real reason other than that is how Burton wanted it. Shame on you Tim! I thought you knew better than this...

A Little Priest

Here is the new film version of the song "A Little Priest" from Sondheim's grisly musical, Sweeney Todd. I wanted to include both this version and the original theatrical version of the song because, in comparing them, it is (to me) glaringly obvious which is the better version.
Here Bonham Carter and Depp sing a macabre song about killing various types of people and turning them into pies. They hypothesise on the different tastes that different types of people would have, for example the idea that Royal Marine would taste of wherever it's been!
While this film version is clearly trying to make a point of how grotesque the story is, it seems a waste not to play up the obvious comedy in this scene. The idea of killing people to bring more business to your shop is horrendous, but to then sing about it and draw it out for so long just makes it hilarious. I think it is a great shame that this version did not play up the comedy, as it makes it seem as though Helena's character really has no idea what she's singing about and is just saying her lines in a robotic fashion. And she has no sympathy from me! Do it properly, or don't do it at all!

Tim Burton's Magical Mystery Tour

From his humble (and somewhat surprising) beginnings as a Disney animator, the legend of Tim Burton has grown into a force which currently seems unstoppable. He is best known for his work with actor Johnny Depp and composer Danny Elfman. Although Elfman had worked with Burton a few times by this point, Edward Scissorhands was the first film that the Burton, Depp, Elfman triad worked on together.
Burton’s highly distinctive style was well developed by this stage, and the bizarre, fantasy world of Edward Scissorhands was the perfect showcase for it. It is best described as a crazy mix of childhood fantasy, gothic, Victorian chic, with a pinch of art nouveau, a cloud of steampunk, and a splash of irony all thrown together in the bizarre cauldron that is Tim Burton’s mind!
The story follows a mad professor’s creation, Edward, as he enters the everyday world and attempts to understand and cope with it.
From the very beginning of the film we see these styles mesh, as Dianne Wiest’s character views a highly gothic castle in her car mirror. The spired turrets, the angular design, the fact that it is situated on top of a large black rock, all these things add to the gloomy gothic atmosphere lurking over the castle. When we view the inside, the gothic imagery continues, as seen by this beautiful staircase. Again there is darkness everywhere, high arched windows, and everything is covered in cobwebs and dust. The house is clearly a darkly gothic place.
Looking now at Edward’s creator, it is interesting to note that he is Vincent Price, an actor very well known for his roles in gothic horror movies. Although old here, he maintains an aura of glamour and mystery that a modern viewer must appreciate. The background of this picture shows huge cogs which, along with Edward’s outfit, produce a distinctly steampunk feel. Steampunk is a style frequently set in a fantasy or science-fiction world, but a world run by steam a la the Victorians. Continuing with this, here we see the mad professor character’s machinery. While this is highly representative of Burton’s style, there is also a distinct feel of steampunk here. Finally we should take a quick look at the costuming of the film. Although most of it is based on Burton’s 1950’s fantasy world, Edward’s costume is clearly Victorian influenced, as is Kim’s (Winona Ryder’s character) The long flowing dress, simple, demure cut, boned bodice and extreme, fiddly buttoning are all very reminiscent of the Victorian era.
Although completely crazy and bizarre, Burton's films are incredibly well-loved by millions of people. Long may he continue to create visually beautiful films with such a glorious mish-mash of styles!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Legacy of William Morris, Beloved

William Morris, member of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood and leader of the Arts & Crafts movement in Victorian-era England, is popular still in the 21st Century. 
Morris was the designer of furniture, wallpaper, typography and stained glass; he also revived the art of tapestry-making. His elegant, nature-inspired wallpaper graced the walls of Victorian parlors - and still prettifies walls today. Reproductions of his furniture designs and tapestries are also still available from companies like Stickley Furniture, Sanderson & Sons, and Liberty of London.

Among Morris' influences was John Ruskin's book "The Nature of Gothic"; his inspirations are Medieval, and his representations of nature are almost utopian.

These images are of prints of Morris' wallpaper designs, all available to order online.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Contemporary Victorian Style

As I was searching the internet, I came across this video on YouTube which illustrates a modern view of Victorian fashion. Enjoy! - Erika

The Corset: Painful Yet Provocative

Fashion has changed considerably since the Victorian era in England, however there are many styles that have remained or have been modified for our current society. This time period was marked by defined curves and an hourglass figure. The most scandalous of these fashion articles were undergarments, and in particular, the corset. This Victorian fashion item was amoung the first of its kind and incorporated materials such as lace and silk, while sometimes also including stunning embroidery. Corsets came in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes, but seem to be all used for the same purpose: to confine the body, while making it more sexually desirable.

The corset can also be seen as an example related to the class system because they were most often worn by middle and upper class women. Corsets also materially set apart women since women of the working class who could not afford corsets were seen as loose or immoral. The confining and painful characteristics associated with wearing a corset can be symbolic to the roles that women tended to play during this time. Women were considered to be inferior to men and seemed to dress in this manner for male sexual desire.

While the Victorian corset disfigured the female body, it also highlighted its feminine features and ended up becoming an eroticized item of lingerie. Although women wore corsets for sexual attention, they gave the female body an unrealistic view of sexuality. Women’s undergarments were also known to excite curiosity about what is hidden beneath, and therefore increase male interest.

In recent years, Roy Raymond, the founder of Victoria’s Secret, recognized the idea of the corset as an eroticized item of lingerie. He found it hard to shop for lingerie at department stores for his wife and decided to open a store that resembled the drawers and closets of a traditional Victorian woman’s dressing room. There are many types of lingerie available at stores all over the globe. They not only carry modern corsets, but also have expanded their selection to include underwear, brassieres, sleepwear and swimsuits. Victoria’s Secret is now one of the world’s largest lingerie suppliers and continues the trend of supplying elegant and fashionable undergarments for ladies.

The reasons women chose to wear corsets have changed slightly since the Victorian era. The previous restrictive style has been updated to suit all of women’s undergarment needs, whether it is for at work, going out for dinner, or lazing around the house. However, corsets still give a somewhat unrealistic view of the female body and sexuality, but this look can sometimes be perceived to be more attractive than simply letting loose. Gender roles that once were associated with women wearing corsets in the nineteenth century do not apply in the same way today. Presently, corsets are seen to be more of an accessory rather than a necessity, and although they are only accessories, women of all social and economic statuses are encouraged to wear them. This notion makes present day corsets a great example of Victorian culture that we see in our everyday lives.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The New Man is Victorian

While high fashion has always had a flirtation with Victorian forms and silhouettes, this has mainly been confined to ladieswear (think: comeback of the corset). The Fall/Winter 2008 collection at Attachment is about a Victorian look for men, complete with neckties, waistcoats, and newsboy caps. What is interesting here is the mixing of class sensibilities: we have caps like those of street urchins, and silks, brocades and pocketwatches befitting a middle or upper class gentleman. Some of the cuts on the longer jackets are reminiscent of coattails and cutaways, and even the runway location puts one in a Dickensian mood. Here is the modern-day Dorian Gray.

Eternal Sonata

A follow-up to January 24th's post about Chopin: to again relate this to contemporary culture, I'd like to note the release of an RPG entitled "Eternal Sonata", based on a dream recorded by Chopin. Though this game is set in Paris, it is an example of modern-day interest in and adaptation of this time period.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Victorian Christmas


When previewing the above you will note that the Christmas music that most Christians today listen to, participate in and enjoy, originated during Queen Victoria’s reign and earlier. The music of the masses enjoyed then is equally enjoyed today by many people. Some of the most favorite Victorian carols include The Wexford Carol, a long-time favorite Greensleeves, The Wassail Song, Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella, and finally, Wherefore This Great Joy.
All these familiar songs play an important role in the Christmases of today, for many nationalities and people of many religions.

This particular site provides examples of how these songs were played in days gone by, and tell a bit about the types of instruments used to play them. Today, these songs are performed by large symphonies, and recorded for prosperity so that everyone, from every walk of life, can enjoy music they consider their own, no matter how old they actually are.

Equally important and enjoyed during the Christmas season would be the music of Tchaikovsky, such as what is found at URL: URL:

The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71, was composed by Pyotr Illych Tchaikovsky in 1891 – 1892 near the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and first performed as a ballet on December 18, 1982 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Though Queen Victoria may never have had the pleasure of watching the Royal Ballet perform to this, or hear the Royal Symphony perform Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, due to the vision of her late husband in constructing the Crystal Palace that brought cultural events to his beloved England; the British people in the early 20th Century could appreciate the splendour of such a music and perhaps be caught up in the glamour and wishful thinking that both the ballet and symphony created.

Since the Nutcracker Suite is such a classical piece, it appeals to all genders. Granted it tends to be somewhat romantic, but women are not the only human creatures who are capable of being romantic; afterall, it was a man who composed the music. Because of the classical lineage of such a piece, today, we can hear and see The Nutcracker in such animated films as “Fantasia”, where favourite tunes such as Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Dance of the Reed Flutes and Waltz of the Flowers can be enjoyed by all viewers and listeners. The classical animated film, “Sleeping Beauty” also contains songs from The Nutcracker Suite, signifying that this historical cultural music can not only be appreciated by an adult audience, but can also be inspirational to very young viewers, who by the gaiety of the music alone, and the performance of the ballerinas, have inspired hundreds of young people to take up dance, and learn to play an instrument that can be used to play the music themselves. Classical music is not just for the rich; it can be owned now by everyone; people can listen to it on their CDs in the comfort of their own homes, knowing that the Victorian era of the great performances such as this, can be heard over and over again, with or without any other audience, other than oneself.

The second URL provides hint of the music contained in The Nutcracker Suite that is suitable for all audiences and should be listened to and appreciated as a piece of fine history that never died.

Victorian army Fort Burgoyne, Dover

Victorian army Fort Burgoyne, Dover

This particular piece was chosen in support of “Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. When listening to this intense music, one can visualize the enormity of the British Forces approaching their target. With the crescendos echoing throughout the piece, the listener can envision the spectacular assault, be witnesses of men, who by following orders are forced into a situation in which, many will not return, but it is their duty to perform this rite to protect the integrity of England’s colonial holdings – South Africa, is the objective of this march; a battle against the massive Zulu forces. The reverberating sounds emanating from the march symbolize their resolve to win the battle, which they did. British forces weren’t to be thwarted in any way; each man made the army what it was to its’ opponents – extremely formidable and not to be taken lightly.

The history of the fort itself was designed to protect the North Spur area of Dover Castle, which was perceived as a weak spot in their defences and the most likely approach for an invading army. Its construction began in 1861, and was completed by 1868, for a total cost of £88,000.

The polygonal fort is surrounded by a 35 foot wide dry ditch with a double caponier giving flanking fire along the ditch from the northern point. In the centre of the fort is the parade ground surrounded on three sides by bomb proof barracks. Originally it had been armed with 29 guns on the ramparts but by the early 1900's these guns had disappeared only to be replaced by 3 machine guns. The two World Wars saw further changes, with concrete and brick structures being added.

This short video presents Fort Burgoyne, in Dover, as it was in the day of Queen Victoria. Today, abandoned and unused, it stands as a symbol of the mighty force of the British Army in the day of Queen Victoria. Though not utilized in today’s world, it is regarded by tourists and British subjects alike, as formidable fort of the Victorian era, that housed Queen Victoria's army, an army that preserved the British way of life.

The following URL:, provides historical information regarding Fort Burgoyne, which will enable the reader to appreciate more its historical value.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chopin - Polonaise "Heroic" in A flat, Op. 53

Louise Barnes wants to share a video with you

watch video
Video Description
HOROWITZ AT THE WHITE HOUSE (Feb. 26 1978)Pt.8/10Chopin Polonaise "Heroic" in A flat Op.53You can download whole video here.
Personal Message
Chopin Polonaise "Heroic" -

My reason for choosing this video is because Heroic Polonaise was composed by Frederic Chopin composed in the year 1842, during Queen Victoria's reign, and designed as a piece for a solo pianist. It's composition was one of his masterpieces, and is by far one of his most popular compositions. In as far as considering Victorian Cool, this composition is still played as a current favorite of the classical pianoforte repertoire. Like any exceptionally gifted composer, anyone who played this piece then, and today, must obviously have exceptional pianistic skills.

Although the piece is labeled as a polonaise, it has little to do with the typical polonaise style. It has been said that Chopin had composed the piece having a free and powerful Poland in mind, which may have lead him to label it as a Polonaise. Another possibility is that the Heroic Polonaise is closely related to his Polonaise in A major, Op. 40, No. 1, also known as the Military Polonaise. The introduction section of the Heroic is obviously inspired by the Military, which, unlike the Heroic, was a true polonaise.