Pre-requisite 3: The Franco-Prussian War

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This post is the third in a series on Western culture entitled Pre-requisites. (See the first and second articles.) In this installment, I particularly wish to set the stage for later discussion of how the music in Western civilization has progressed and how it has been influenced by major events in history. A concept that needs to be understood in order to have any meaningful discussion about music history is that music is simply the story of the people who listen to it. When people change—because of tragedy, war, or new ways of life—music will evolve. If people never changed, music would remain virtually the same. Over the next two posts I will share a couple of examples of this.

The Franco-Prussian War

In 1870, Louis Napoleon, (see below) the reigning monarch of France, unwisely engaged Germany (then Prussia) in battle. It was folly as the German army decisively overpowered the French and marched into Paris with the German standard flying high. This event was very traumatic to the citizens of France. It would be as if Washington DC were conquered and another flag was placed on the White House.

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In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War (also known as the War of 1870) Paris suffered a profound financial depression (typical of post-war periods). The Middle Class could no longer afford many of the luxuries that they had previously enjoyed. They stopped paying for music lessons, going to concerts, and employing in-house musicians. As can be imagined, this had quite a negative effect on the musical community of Paris.

One of the most important results was that composers had to take steps to reduce the cost of putting on musical performances in order to turn a profit. Composition for large expensive ensembles became impractical. It simply cost too much money to pay that many musicians to be on the stage. Symphonies and Grand Opera gave way to composition of string quartets and piano solos. In this way, fewer musicians were required to play a new composition.

Large impressive concerts could no longer be the norm so musicians began holding smaller concerts for members of musical societies or clubs. This enabled musicians to save money by not renting out large spacious concert halls. Instead they would hold concerts in large homes or other public spaces such as hotel lobbies (which were still much less expensive than a concert hall). This seemingly difficult circumstance however saw the creation of some of the most beautiful music in French history, which would never have been written had it not been for the financial hardships suffered by the musicians of the day. Some notable examples that came out of this period are linked below. Listen to them and recognize how the smaller ensemble would have enabled cheaper production costs.

Gabriel Faure: Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor

Cesar Franck: Piano Quintet in f minor

Variations pour deux Pianos sur Un Thème de Beethoven

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