Discussions of promenade concerts, at least in the United Kingdom, tend to run along one of two lines: either the format is emblematic of attempts to popularize classical music or (in the famous case of the Last Night of the BBC Proms) it is symptomatic of a contested cultural nationalism. An alternative line of inquiry is to consider promenade concerts as part of the built environment. Until 2010 the fountain at the Royal Albert Hall was a mainstay of musical promenading; it had been so for over a century and a half. Such fountains, often accompanied by potted plants and Arcadian décor, were said to cool the concert hall and freshen the air, especially when their sprinkles were supplemented with blocks of imported ice. They occupied a prominent place in a concert architecture that encouraged mobility and informality, drawing on a long tradition of outdoor promenading that had gradually moved indoors. The history of concert hall suggests that the promenade phenomenon constituted not only a site of social and political negotiation (as it has typically been described), but also a staging post in the enclosure of hitherto open spaces and an example of the Victorian desire to control the climate of public assembly.
In Memoriam Indoor Fountains: Promenade Concerts and the Built Environment
Jonathan Hicks is lecturer in music at the University of Aberdeen, having previously held research fellowships at Lincoln College, Oxford, King's College, London, and Newcastle University. He specializes in music and theater of the British nineteenth century and is currently writing a book about music and mobility in Victorian London. His work has appeared in Cambridge Opera Journal, Journal of Musicology, Music & Letters, and Twentieth-Century Music. He is co-editor (with Katherine Hambridge) of The Melodramatic Moment: Music and Theatrical Culture, 1790–1820.
Jonathan Hicks; In Memoriam Indoor Fountains: Promenade Concerts and the Built Environment. 19th-Century Music 1 July 2021; 45 (1): 37–48. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2021.45.1.37
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