The ubiquitous din of Paris’s street hawkers, known as the cris de Paris or the “cries of Paris,” has captured the Parisian imagination since the Middle Ages. During the 1850s and 1860s, however, urban demolition severely disturbed the everyday rhythms of street commerce. The proliferation of books, poetry, and musical works featuring the cris de Paris circa 1860 reveals that many in the Parisian literary community feared the eventual disappearance of the city’s iconic sights and sounds. These nostalgia discourses transpired into broader criticism of Georges-Eugène Haussmann and the discriminatory mode of urbanism that he practiced. Haussmannization irrevocably altered the Parisian soundscape by displacing, policing, and thus silencing the working-class communities that made their living with their voices. As an ideological device, nostalgia offered a counternarrative to Second Empire ideas of progress by suggesting that urbanization would vanquish any remaining image of what came to be known as le vieux Paris. An analysis of Jean-Georges Kastner’s symphonic cantata Les cris de Paris (1857) shows how representations of the urban soundscape articulated a distinctly Parisian notion of modernity: a skirmish between a utopian “capital of the nineteenth century” and a romanticized Old City.
Listening to the Old City: Street Cries and Urbanization in Paris, ca. 1860
Jacek Blaszkiewicz is assistant professor of music history at Wayne State University. He received his PhD from the Eastman School of Music in 2018, where his research was supported by an Alvin Johnson AMS 50 Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship. His book project traces musical responses to urbanization in nineteenth-century Paris.
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Jacek Blaszkiewicz; Listening to the Old City: Street Cries and Urbanization in Paris, ca. 1860. Journal of Musicology 11 May 2020; 37 (2): 123–157. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2020.37.2.123
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