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.