Shibboleth – Opening the Salon Door

Posted on December 7th, 2009 by


Opening the Salon Door

Text of Talk given at SOUNDBOX,RAM 2008

It is perhaps appropriate that we discuss the question of the Salon here, in the surroundings of a Museum. It is a word that we have come to use a lot to describe our activities here at the Academy. In the beginning, it was a bit of a badge, maybe even a fantasy that we might be able to give the conversations, the performances, the natural weave of ideas and entertainment that we initially dreamt of taking place in this space when the museum was open. But gradually it has become a natural thing, that on a number of different times each week, there should be gatherings like this one, where music is played, poetry is read, there might be discussion of ideas, of the arts, of politics, of sociology, that engineers, scientists, designers, artisans and performers should be able to exchange ideas in a comfortable space that encouraged such activities. And it has become entertaining, diverting even, something which it has become very difficult to live without. Those of us who have been very deeply involved in this, have realised that this is a place where ideas, innovations, Luftslotter can be road tested, or where an extreme opinion can be floated without fear of redress, where a reckless flight of artistic fancy can be essayed and assayed with the reassurance of the particular safety net that this environment offers. And it is clear that we have not made, but become members of a salon. Most important of all, it is not necessarily clear to us what that means, how it happened, who owns it, or even how to preserve it. Ironically, perhaps one of the definitions of a salon is that the strength of support that it proffers to its habitués is inversely proportional to its delicacy, its susceptibility to change. And it is that change that fascinates me when I find myself ,looking at the period covering the years which lead up to the years of revolution, the revolutionary era, the Napoleonic wars, the restoration, further revolution…and then, well then we are deep into the nineteenth century and the process of flux heats up. There is one important change which can immediately be seen in the course of these years; it is the change that one would expect. That is to say, that in the era that we shall call the ancient regime, the salon was the privilege of the court, of nobility, and of those with access thereto. By the end of the age of revolution, the post- Jacobin era, if you like, the salon had become the playground of a new bourgeoisie. I would take it further and argue that when the social revolution which began to accompany the industrial revolution really began to bite, then the salon ceased to be exclusive of class. If these years offered anything, in terms of how the largest cross section of the population spent there time is that the notion of leisure time, of free time, even of play time, began to be a commodity which was available to an ever larger cross section of society; put another way, what we might first view in the word games, elegant musical performance, hot chocolate on porcelain in the salons of pre-revolutionary Versailles gradually morphs into the family sing song around the piano, its legs carefully covered, on which there might stand a mass-produced bust of the Prince Consort, of a parlour of a small family house in a mill town in the North of England a hundred years later.

Curiously, it is this question of access that fascinates me, as I started to think about today’s talk. Because it struck me that historically the salon has always tended towards exclusivity; initially this was an exclusivity of money and class. Money and class, prior to the revolution, might buy one education, the knowledge to survive the various hazings that seem to have marked out the history of the salon. More to the point, as the exclusivity of money, class, connections, faded, it was the knowledge itself which became the mark of the initiate the habitué, the salonista. If you like, salons have always tended to shibboleths.  In Judges 12 vs 5-6 we read.

“And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites, which were escaped said Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said Nay; Then said they unto him, Say thou now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth, for he could not frame it right. Then they took him and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there ell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.”

I am not suggesting that salons were the purveyors of the homicidal behaviour described in the old testament, but rather that there have always been certain passes, be they shibboleths, modes of behaviour, or indications of previous access to the right knowledge, or simply, being one of the ‘in’ crowd, which has guaranteed their exclusivity. Hopefully that it is something that we guard against in this building, but, I am forced to acknowledge that we have to keep a weather eye out for it, against the presentation of fora which might ‘lock out’ those who do not have access to the appropriate shibboleth.

An indication of how this can work is provided by the last film in fabulous ‘Thin Man’ series, which was built around characters created by Dashiell Hammett in the early 1930’s. These films were built as start vehicles for the charming pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy, both of whom could pass for bright young things before the Second World War (even thought Powell) was, if truth be told, rather longer in the tooth than his publicists liked to let on. The final movie was made, after a 4 year hiatus, in 1947. By this point, two truths were obvious; that the stars were at the very least, older and that times had changed. A new jazz age was dawning, one not based around dancing, that of Bebop, and with it, it brought a whole new vernacular of street slang, whose complexity and quixotishness matched the new prestidigitations demanded of its players. In the movie, our two central characters, Nick and Nora Charles, embark on a tour of the after hours hangouts of the new young jazz players, on the trail of a murderer, their Virgil a street smart ‘hep cat’, who is mortified at the prospect that he might be caught bringing a ‘couple of squares’ into the ‘joints’ where the initiates gather. It  becomes very obvious, very soon, that our heroes are completely unable to ‘cut it’ , demonstrating complete ignorance as to the aesthetic of the music that they are hearing, and no knowledge of the ‘double talk’ that is the shibboleth of this particular type of salons. Whilst not quite as vicious, the exclusion that results mirrors the savagery of the world of such as Madame de Pompadour which was depicted in the Fanny Ardent vehicle, Ridicule.

It seems to me, useful, to lay out a number of model salons; not to present them with any particular logic. They have a tenuous link at best, but they cover our period, and they are colourful.

1770-Charles Burney Visits Ambassador William Hamilton in Naples “Mrs H. has a very neat finger and plays the harpsichord with great delicacy, expression and taste. Mr H. is likewise a pretty good performer on the violin; but are both so tired of he music of the Neapolitans as to be glad to return to that  Corelli, Handel, Vivaldi etc for the sake of harmony and variety-indeed the general run of Neapolitan music is noisy and monotonous, but while such composers as Jomelli, Piccini, Merula, Manna, Paisello etc are in it one would think no complaint need be made of a scarcity of good music-the Mountain was very turbulent all night (Burney,Music, men and Manners in france and Italy 1770)

The storm clouds were beginning to gather over Europe.  Burney was visiting whilst Mt. Vesuvius was in spectacular eruption: I can only think that his fabulous piece of understatement has something of the air of Nero’s fiddling, whilst Rome burnt.

In May 1770, Catherine Hamilton organised a concert where Leopold Mozart and his son Wolfgang Amadeus played to an assembly of Scots in Naples. Leopold Mozart noted that Lady Hamilton was “and agreeable person, who performs on the Clavier with unusual skill.”In November that year, Charles Burney, along with the Hamiltons, and others, attended a ‘sumptuous musical feast; arranged by Lord Fortrose at which the castrato Caffarelli and the violinist Emanuele Barbella entertained. Burney noted the talents of Lord Fortrose. “He both draws and paints very well, understands perspective, rides, fences, dances, swims and plays the harpsichord.”

Marie Antoinette surrounded herself with musicians of the highest quality; this is the Austrian queen who had staved off a precocious proposal from the young Mozart, and who, as the following letter to her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa indicates, was happy to use her comfort around musicians for very personal and private ends.

Versailles, Feb 13th, 1778-“Madam My Dearest Mother: I do not know whether Gluck will arrive before the regular mail. By his care I have sent word to my dear mother that my period resumed on the 8th-six days ahead of time.” (Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun, Harper Collins, London 2001)

The Madame de Hausset, who had been Madame de Pompadour’s maid, noted the enthusiasm for music, and her love of Viotti’s playing in particular:

“Her majesty was the great patroness of the celebrated Viotti, who was also attached to her private musical parties. Before Viotti began to perform his concertos, Her Majesty, with the most amiable condescension, would go round the music saloon, and say, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I request you will be silent, and very attentive, and not enter into conversation while Mr Viotti is playing, for it interrupts him in the execution of his fine performance.” (Memoirs of Louis XV and XVI-Being the Secret Memoirs of Madame de Hausset, Lady’s Maide to Madame to Pompadour, and of an unknown English Girl and the Princes Lamballe)

Madame de Hausset noted the ebb of the Queen’s interest in music, come the ‘Terror’: “the revolutionary horrors so increased that her mind was no longer in a state to listen to anything but the howlings of the tempest.” Of course, it did not help the queen’s popularity that son many of the habitués of her salons were foreigners; with the exception of the German, Gluck, they were mostly Italian, Sacchini, Spontini, Cherubini, and Francesco Petrini. In addition, many of the amateurs were arrivistes and none more so than the ‘Grand Falconer of France’, Governor of Lille, marechal de camp, the sugar magnate Le Comte de Vaudreil, who was personally responsible to establishing the career of Elisabeth Vigée le Brun at Court.

In the salons of the 1780s, Nature was all the rage. (Simon Schama, Citizens, Knopf, London , 1989) The queen herself was in the forefront of applying this notion to fashion, and behaviour, and it was not long before the same notions began not only to liberate the dress and movement of women, but also the maniere and physical deportment, and even the training, of performers. It would have been inconceivable for the performers onstage, whether dancers, actors, and musicians, to have retained the stiff, corseted, bewigged, manner, when there audience were deporting themselves naturally. Gradually, though certainly driven by the revolutionary, in their way, innovations of salonistes such as Emma Hamilton and Viotti, idealistic fresh air began to blow through the corridors of power. Of course, these would blow stronger and stronger, and the gentle zephyr which such as Marie Antoinette had hoped would accompany her activities blew up into the ‘howlings of the tempest’ noted by Madame de Hausset.

Panel inscribed: This drawing was made by Madame le Brun, with a piece of charcoal from the kitchen, on a door of a room at the Casino of Sir William Hamilton…and removed on orders of the Chevalier who was eager to own and conserve this piece my this lovable and sublime artist.” The artist noted. “One day I sketched two small heads upon one of the doors; I was very surprised to find the same sketches in England at the home of Lord Warwick. Sir William had had the surface of the door sawn off and sold my sketches; I do not remember the exact sum he obtained for them.” (Memoirs, pp.105-106)

The leaky-roofed salon kept by Elizabeth  Vigée le Brun was one of the most fashionable of these  gathering places, where royalty would come to be entertained in music, words, and no doubt, by the effervescent Elizabeth herself. Although we have no accounts of her working in public in London, there is little question in my mind that her virtuoso performance at the Home of Ambassador William Hamilton to the kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies, where she sketched her most striking depiction of Emma Hamilton on a door panel, was perhaps typical of her behaviour. Perhaps no painter before or since has celebrated herself more in the act of painting, and I like to think that maybe, no salon would be complete without her contributions whether as painter or host, Viotti, and the brilliance of the guests, be they the Prince Regent, the pushy Madame de Stael, Cherubini or the other musicians, poets, and émigrés who flocked around her.

The Salons of French émigrés in London seem to have served a similar, or maybe even heightened political function to their versions in Paris. The politicised salons had revived in Paris in the early 1792, and were dominated by intellectual hostesses such as Germaine de Staël, Laure Junot and Madame Récamier. This might seem a little alien to us today, but it seems to me that it is impossible to conceive of such a gathering in either city, indulging in its taste for poetry, music, and the arts, which was not politicized. Perhaps Viotti’s stunt with the bust of Jean Jacques Rousseau in 1790, should be seen in this light, a jeu d’esprit for sure, but one in the context of an ever-more politicised salon environment.

It was very common practise for soloists to oil their wheels in society and to further the chances of patronage and concert subscriptions by playing for their supper at the houses of the nobility. The great oboist, Fischer, felt the same about this as Viotti; his ‘Sir, my Oboe never sups!’ sums up generations of resentment at musicians being treated as merely indentured servants. I am sure that Viotti’s resistance to the same had philosophical origin. He had been forced to leave France for his political idealism. To be forced to betray that to play for his supper was clearly beyond the pale; hence the wine business.

“My dear sir, I have done so simply because I find that the English prefer Wine to Music.”

Notwithstanding this self assurance, his business foundered repeatedly.

In April 1800, there was a performance of Haydn’s creation at the private residence of Baron Moritz von Fritz (1772-1826). The Baron lived in the Palais Fries, which his father Johann Josef, had built opposite the Hofburg. Fries had been presenting concerts in his salon since the previous season, when Haydn’s ‘Schöpfung’ was presented there in its septet version. These were evenings of serious minded chamber music. Other musicians who appeared at them in the following years included George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, who would later premiere Beethoven’s Op 47 Sonata, and the virtuoso pianist-showman, Daniel Steibelt. His well–documented encounter with Beethoven at two of Fries’ evenings provides a valuable insight into the very different approach to chamber music performance taken at the beginning of the 19th Century.

The Baron was the head of the banking firm of ‘Fries and Co’… His father, Johann Josef, von Fries, a Swiss protestant, had been one of the richest men in Austria, He was not only a banker, but a manufacturer of brassware and cotton goods. Two years after the Palais was completed in 1783, he committed suicide. His wife Anna, controlled his estate until Moritz came of age. Unfortunately, the son had none of his father’s business acumen. He had frittered away much of his father’s accumulated fortune by the time he commissioned these works from Beethoven.

However, for all his failings as a businessman Baron Moritz von Fries, was a connoisseur of impeccable taste, and a bibliophile to boot. The library in the Palais Fries contained nearly 2000 rare volumes. In addition, the Palace contained a remarkable collection of both historic and modern art. Pride of place went to Antonia Canova’s sculpture of ‘Theseus and the Minotaur’, which stood in a specially designed cupola.

Fries was a member of the Gesellschaft der Associierten Cavaliere (GAC), whose director was the redoubtable Baron von Swieten. The Gesellschaft believed that great art should not be accessible to all but rather reserved for those well-schooled enough to appreciated and understand it. The ‘GAC’ ran its own ‘Liebhaber’ concerts, and access to these was restricted to a list of seventy carefully screened invitees. In May 1801, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung remarked:

“For some years there has been in the Imperial city a society of guardians of music, consisting of a small group of members who put on several concerts [Akadamien] each year .The names…lead one to great expectations. The results have outdistanced these expectations by far.”

In 1800 Fries married, above his rank, to the Princess Maria Theresia von Hohenlohe Waldenburg. This was seem as a fortuitous match, although the old Viennese aristocracy never let Fries forget that he was not one of them, but second rank, and an arriviste. The princess seems to have taken an active part in organizes his concerts. In 1811, Georg August Griesinger wrote: “Countess Fries had prepared an entertainment for her husband on the day of St Maurice…” (His name day). It was a very happy marriage, and when the Princess died in 1819, she was greatly mourned

A sketch by J Fischer depicts on of Fries’ soirees in 1800, the year of the premiere of Beethoven’s Op 23 -24 sonatas.  This shows a relaxed, but intense occasion, with guests and musicians, both male and female, gathered around a fortepiano. Some of them are concentrating on sheets of paper, which may be music, or listening attentively. The remaining guests are looking at a painting, which is being displayed on an easel adjacent to the piano.  It is tempting to suggest that such a soiree, bringing together the appreciation of fine music and the arts, would entail their simultaneous appreciation, much in the same way that orchestral performances at the time were sometimes given with tableaux vivants.

Ferdinand Ries, who came to study with Beethoven in 1801, described two of Fries evenings, when Beethoven encountered Steibelt. On the second of the two, having been badly ‘burnt’ by Beethoven before, Steibelt:

“[Steibelt] played a quintet with much success, and in addition (and this was quite evident), had prepared a brilliant improvisation, choosing as a theme the subject of the variations of Beethoven’s Trio. (Op 11)  This outraged not only Beethoven’s supporters but also the composer himself. He now had to seat himself at the piano in order to improvise. He went in his usual, I must say, ungracious manner, to the instrument as if half lunging towards it, grabbing, as he passed, the violoncello part of Steibelt’s quintet, placed it upside–down  on the music stand, and from the opening notes drummed out a theme with one finger. Offended and stimulated at the same time, he improvised in such a manner that Steibelt left the room before Beethoven had finished. He refused ever to met him again, in fact he made condition that Beethoven should not be invited anywhere where his company was requested.”(Weiner 110-111)

This description provides a clue as to the tenor of these evenings. It is clear that the close observation of duelling virtuosi, an opportunity best afforded in a chamber setting, was a key attraction, as well as the more elevated pure chamber music.  It is most likely that the two sonatas for Piano and Violin Op 23 and 24, were premiered at one of these private evenings, probably by Ignaz Schuppanzigh,.who premiered all of the other Sonatas for violin and piano, except the last, Op 96, which was written for the French violinist Pierre Rode.

When the Sonatas were published by the firm of Mollo and co. on the 18th October  1801r, they carried the dedication: ‘Monsieur le Comte Maurice de Fries/Chambellan de S.M.J & R./Par Louis van Beethoven Op 23 The following year, Beethoven dedicated his masterly C major  string quintet, Op 29, to the Baron, and later would inscribe his 7th  Symphony, Op 55 to him. Joseph Haydn, a frequent participant at his evenings, would dedicate his last, unfinished quartet to Von Fries in 1803, like in 1823 Franz Schubert’s song ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade.’

Beethoven himself had worked out a method of persuading rich amateurs to commission work by promising them a delay of at least six months, sometimes a whole year, between the delivery of the finished work in manuscript and its publication, with a dedication to the commissioner. This has its equivalent, of course, in the modern ‘performance ban’ often negotiated by commissioning artists or orchestras with composers. A year after the publication of ‘Fries’s’ two sonatas in 1801, he was  the cause of a major misunderstanding after being hoodwinked by the publisher Artaria, into letting them have his set of originals for the work. They promptly brought out a ‘pirated; edition. Carl Beethoven explained this system of private commissioning and performance restrictions in a letter to the firm of Breitkopf and Härtel written on the 5th December 1802.

“He who wants a piece pays a specified sum for it exclusive possession for a half or a whole year, or even longer, and bids himself not to give the manuscript to anybody. After this period the author is free to do as he wishes with the piece. This was the understanding with the Count Fries.”

Despite the seriousness of Fries’ intentions, his very public failure as a business man was the subject to considerable ridicule. It was widely assumed that the writer Ferdinand Raimund based his play ‘der Verschwender’ on the ‘spendthrift’ baron. When Fries remarried after Maria Theresia’s death in 1819, it was to a mere commoner, plain Fanny  Münzenberger; the contrast between his two brides was held up as example of his social and financial ruin: he was once again the subject of ridicule. The Countess Maria Theresia had died in 1819, and was greatly mourned. Count Griesinger, who a regular at Fries’ salon, wrote: “The solemn burial of Countess Fries took place in Vöslau. The procession first moved to the neighbouring church in Gainfarhn…where every step reminded me of the happiest hours…Seclusion, occupation and smiling surroundings are the most effective cure after such a shock”.

On his death in 1826, all of Fries’s money, his palace and his farmlands went to his creditors. Griesinger noted: “Not a penny to his children.” The Baroness de Montet blamed his final ruin on his mistress, “…a French actress, a small yellow-complexioned and ugly slut, Mme Lombard…the evil spirit who fastened herself on to the Count…One of his daughters became a governess.”

1804 Paganini and Chateaubriand at Elisa Bacciochi’s salon in Lucca

Elisa Bacciochi (1777-1820), was born Marie Anne Elisa Bonaparte. In 1797, she married Felice Bacciochi, a captain in the French Army. When Bonaparte unified Piombino and Lucca into a principality, he conferred the responsibilities of government upon her. In 1809 she became the Grand-Duchess of Tuscany, at which time her court transferred to Florence, which made Paganini hopeful that he was still in favour and could benefit from the move. This, however, was not the case. Under the rule of Elisa, the Court of Lucca became a musical centre, driven by the enthusiasm of Felix Bacciocchi for the violin, and that of his wife for the company of musicians, which made her the subject of gossip. Paganini played for Elisa, and gave violin lessons and played duets with her somewhat feckless husband.

Her Kapellmeister was Antonino Puccini (1747-1832), who was the second generation of Puccinis to direct the Capello Palatino.   His great-grandson Giacomo (1858-1924), also born in Lucca, would later bring true lustre to the family name.

Gaspare Spontini (1774-1851), whose patron the Empress Joséphine was a habitué of Elisa’s circle. His opera La Vestale , written on a libretto by Etienne de Jouy which Boieldieu had rejected, was dedicated to the Princess. This was the opera on which Paganini’s great French rival, Charles Philippe Lafont would later compose a spectacular set of variations.

It was reported that Elisa Bacciochi was in the habit of lying on her couch listening to Paganini play, much as she had listened to the Vicomte Rene de Chateaubriand; she was in the habit of fanning herself coquettishly as her poets and musicians declaimed and performed. Perhaps her husband was compensated for the loss of her company to Paganini by the opportunity for violin lesson, s of which he eagerly availed himself.

Vigée Le Brun described her first arrival at the Chinnery house.

“I seized the opportunity to take a breath of pure air in the lovely vales and dales of England, where I could at least see some sunlight. I began, shortly after my arrival, by spending a fortnight with Mme. Chinnery at Gilwell, where I found the celebrated Viotti. The house was most luxurious, and I was given a charming welcome. ON reaching the place I saw that the gate was garlanded with flowery wreaths twined about the pillars. ON the staircase, similarly decorated, stood at intervals little marble cupids, holding vases filled with roses. In short, it was a springtime fairy pageant. So soon as I had entered the drawing room, two little angels, Mme Chinnery’s son and daughter, sang a delicious piece of music to me, composer for me by that good natured Viotti. I was truly touched by this affectionate greeting; indeed, the fortnight I spent at Gilwell were days of joy and gladness.”

It seems that the work with which Viotti and the Chinnerys greeted the artist was most likely Gli Zingarelli VII:2¸ which Viotti dedicated to her.  Le Brun continues:

“Mme Chinnery was a beautiful woman, with much mental subtlety and charm. Here daughter, then fourteen years of age, played the piano astonishingly, so that every evening this young girl, Viotti, and Mme Chinnery, herself and excellent musician, gave us a delightful concert.”

It is likely that the pieces that Viotti would have played with Mrs Chinnery would have included the Serenata. Chi sa se non divertira la Padrona VI:8, which most likely refers to her. This work, a ten movement serenade, would ideally suit whiling away an evening, its movements ranging, as one would expect, from marches and minuets more substantial sonata movements and aria like adagios.

A number of the songs were specifically composed for important events in the life of the Chinnery family. The cantata Au fond d’une sombre vallée VI:1 is subtitled Per il giorno natalizio del caro Padre Chinnery. Cantata composta dall’amico G.B.Viottino.” This work is undated, but the dedication indicates clearly that it was composed before 1812, the year that William Bassett Chinnery fled London, having embezzled £81,000 treasury funds. William was not alone amongst English notables in having to flee to France. Two years later, Emma Hamilton, who had squandered the fortune left to her by Admiral Lord Nelson after his death at Trafalgar, and who  Vigée Le Brun had first drawn on the door panel of her husband Ambassador Sir William Hamilton’s salon in Naples, had herself, to flee to Calais.

The only accounts that we have of her actually collaborating with Viotti, are those of the mini-productions which they would mount at Gilwell (sic) House, which, occasionally involved the young Nicholas Mori, so long as he was not being scolded by his war for his overindulgence in pasta. Explicit evidence for these events can be found in Viotti’s Suite for Strings VIII:1, the score of which indicates its dramatic purpose, being marked up with various textual cues in French. One song that resulted from this was a Romance: Dis mois ce que j’éprouve, which bears the note, paroles de Vigée, Musique de JBV.

Margaret Chinnery recorded one of their duo performances:

(21st November 1808)  ‘Mori , who came down  on Saturday night, played a concerto also, and very well; but the poor boy is grown strangely awkward and stupid; I believe his father gives him too much salami and macaroni!-then our concert concluded most divinely by two Duets played by Amico and Mori’. (P.141 Denise Yim-Viotti and the Chinnerys, Ashgate, London)

It is clear that Gilwell House functioned as the out-of-town salon of choice for the French community, an idealised rural retreat where small musical and theatrical productions could be mounted, and to which the artistic elite would retreat late on a Friday night, exhausted by the vicissitudes of the week during the ‘season’. This begs the question as to what was going on in the other nearby estates on the outskirts of East London, which would supply the nobility, and bluntly, the money that could fund such activities.

The —painting of the Bacciochi court in Florence in 1812, gives a wonderful illustration of the atmosphere in her salon. This of course, was the year of the scandal of Paganini wearing the uniform, even though he was no longer in her employ. . He certainly would not have been in the Bevenuti when this picture was painted during the Lucca Court’s sojourn n Florence in 1812. But this was the year that he ran into a trouble by still wearing the livery of the court after leaving its employ. Perhaps it was at Elise Bacciochi’s court that Paganini first sensed that he could change his stars, that the clothes could make the man. In do not think that the incident in Florence was insignificant, that Paganini s appearance at the traveling court; resplendent in his ‘captain of the bodyguard’ uniform was mere solecism.

Nicolo Paganini made a point of seeking out, and performing Viennese chamber music, for the whole of his working life. The simple reason that this has escaped from our notice is that the majority of these performances did not take place in concert halls or opera theatres, but behind the closed door of the salon. The notion of ‘performing’ chamber music, as opposed to concertante or orchestral music, to a listening audience was almost completely alien to both musicians and audiences until the 1830’s. Chamber music was seen as being a communal art, whether in playing it, or experiencing it in the relaxed conviviality of the salon, the drawing room or later the parlour.

In any city, it was often much easier for newly-arrived foreign artists and performers to find a quick acceptance in the salons and circles of the other ex-patriots, visiting artists, tourists and diplomats. This is often the case today. In this aspect, Paganini was no exception. He is reported to have given a one private concert in the Kaunitz’ salon in 1819.([Courcy 1957, Vol 1, pp 192) Paganini reported:

“I was also heard at a concert given by the Austrian Ambassador…the wife of the Ambassador said to me: ‘You are the whole attraction.’

It is clear that chamber music was very important to the Kaunitz family. Indeed, when Ingres drew the three daughters of the wastrel count, he depicted them grouped around a Viennese fortepiano, very similar to the 1812 Heichele, in the York Gate Collection at the Royal Academy of Music.

The 19th century salon is a creative environment; it seems elusive for us today, as it was not documented in the press, who were excluded. In addition, it was often so much the centre of the lifestyles of its habitués, that they did not see the need to record its workings. Most of the accounts of the activities of salons of this period come from outsiders, arrivistes, who were often impressed enough to leave more cohesive records. Much of the salon’s allure lay in its exclusivity. But this very exclusivity was also subject to change, was shifting in with uncertain times.

Count Kaunitz was in many ways a man of an earlier era, taking the opportunity of his international cachet and contacts, as well as conspicuous wealth, to attract artists and musicians. His salons, much like that of the earlier British ambassador to Naples and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Sir William Hamilton, effectively offered a form of short-term patronage. But this was changing, and increasingly the salon was not defined by wealth or class, but by the access to new movements in the arts and sciences.

Perhaps Paganini and Ingres played duos together. A number of his letters refer to his playing duos with keen amateur players, particularly, those of Ludwig Spohr. Walter Willson Cobbett was adamant that the meaning of ‘amateur’ should not become occluded. In his Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, he remarked: “For centuries, the world’s farceurs have indulged in satiric comments at the expense of the amateur in art, especially in music. They have been pleased to coin the most illogical adjective in the English language-‘amateurish’. The result is that the intrinsic meaning of a word of noble derivation has been obscured’.

If the violinist and the painter, had met at Kaunitz’s salon, it is more than likely that Ingres would have invited Paganini to visit him in his studio on the via Gregoriana. Here I can only speculate, but the figure in the drawing looks as if it has just been in action. Of course the later sketch of Baillot also points to a chamber music session, as Baillot is depicted with a music stand and the violin part of Mozart quartets. Fetis suggested that it was only when playing the great chamber music that Baillot could be heard to best advantage: “At the opera, where he was engaged to play the solos for the dancing, he was only the shadow of himself; but when at annual meetings for the performance of quartets and quintets, with the genius of Boccherini, of Haydn, of Mozart, and of Beethoven, his enthusiasm was aroused; he became sublime and unequalled for his varied accentuation, the various shadings of expression, and the poetry of his ideas. His bow was magical and every note under his fingers became an eloquent inspiration.” (Fetis P 23) It was Baillot who was single-handedly responsible for insisting that the Paris audience take chamber music seriously, until him, “chamber music was little appreciated in Paris. Goethe, who much enjoyed it, described the pleasure as that of hearing the conversation of four civilised people.”

Perhaps it was this civilised discourse, which later in his career, would lead Paganini to long to find an existence where he did not travel, and could enjoy just such a ‘conversation’ with his friends. His one time secretary, George Harrys wrote that the hours that Paganini spent sitting in a carriage, sitting for long hours, bumping over ill made roads, for long journeys from city to city, were extremely painful for Paganini, in his physically debilitated state, in a way that they were not for an other man. No wonder he might long for the civilize grace of string quartets, a comfortable bed, and good Italian food.

By the fourth decade of the 19th century, the salons had become primarily the purview of the bourgeois amateur. Many of those interested in music were doctors. In London, the two first Liebhaber of the medical profession were Dr Samuel Cartwright, who invented the system of appointment times, and the dentist and Oral  surgeon, Archibald Billings, himself a performer of sorts, his theatre being the operating theatre of Barts Hospital, Smithfield.

On 15th May 1833, Paganini played at a salon held at Dr Billing’s house. This is amazingly instructive for what it tells us as to the relationship between chamber music and improvisation at this time.

The Gazette reported:

“…at a soiree given by Dr Billing the other evening, Paganini, Mendelssohn and Lindley performed a trio for viola, guitar and violoncello (composed by Paganini), Mendelssohn playing the guitar part on the piano forte, adding a bass in the most ingenious manner. Paganini’s performance on the tenor was of the true school.”

The work that that was performed was most likely to have been his Terzetto Concertante or the Serenata.

It seems that Paganini also met the young virtuoso Henri Vieuxtemps at the Billings House, shortly after Vieuxtemps heard him in concert for the first time. He reported later:

“When Paganini appeared before the audience, there was a long noisy applause, which seemed to amuse him for a while. When he had had enough of it, he looked at the audience almost threateningly, lifted the violin, and played a run like a rocket from the G String up to the highest position, with such a powerful tone, and so brilliantly, that it almost caused giddiness and electrified every listener. Everybody willingly submitted to his art. I understood the enormous intensity of his playing, although I did not understand his technical resources. From that day forward, Paganini was my model, both as violinist and composer.” (Violins and Violinists Franz Farga. Trans Egon Larsen, Rockliff London 1950 P 191)

The Billings Salon was closely associated to the Salon run by the Horsley Siblings who were writers, artists and musicians, whose father had been one of the founders of the Philharmonic Society in 1813. After one such salon, Mendelssohn was taken over the workings of the worlds first underwater tunnel, 100 yards from where I am writing this, by William Horsley’s Son in Law Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a regular habitué of the evenings of music and discussion.

1864-Hans Christian Andersen, Goethe, Reichardt etc.

‘Friday 20th September: Sunshine…I drove out from gammel Torv and out through Noerreport…and came a little after 7 to Fru Heiberg’s house, where I met Martensens, and Krieger, a professor from Christiania [Oslo], Fru Devsen and her three sons. Rung and his two youngest sons, one of whom was only ten years old, played an old Spanish instrument and guitars…Jatrau sang an English song and his first aria from Don Juan….Also the young grocer, Hanssen ( a neighbour of Fru Heiberg) sang Reichardt’s Kennst dud as Land. Everything was most tastefully arranged, with bright light in the main Salon and shaded in the [adjoining] rooms. In one of these the table was most tastefully decorated with a construction of Fruit and leaves. Apricots lay in paper horns and spread on Oak leaves.  A tasteful wreath of Laurel berries…garlanded Heiberg’s bust. Krieger asked be to come and see him. Outside, it was a delightfully clear starry night and the ships rode at anchor were illuminated. I came home at half past ten.’


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