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Reshaping British Concert Life: Tracking the Performance History of Hector Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust in Nineteenth-Century Britain


The 1846 première in Paris of Hector Berlioz’s (1803–1869) dramatic choral adaptation of Goethe’s poem La Damnation de Faust was initially deemed a failure. Undeterred, two years later Berlioz traveled to London to promote his music to the British public. While initially failing to capture the lasting attention of British audiences, by the end of the century, Faust had transformed from a virtually unknown musical work to a popular standard on British concert programs. Using the performance history of Faust as a case study, this dissertation tracks and contextualizes the work within the transformative shift in musical taste that occurred in Britain between 1848 and 1918. In trying to understand the move of highbrow musical forms into the realm of working-class culture, some scholars have begun addressing the use of music by nineteenth-century governments as a socioeconomic tool for class development; others have begun documenting the amateur choral movement in Victorian Britain. More work is needed, however, on understanding the link between the development of Victorian musical taste and the growing socioeconomic changes of class morality and structure through music education as a response to industrialization.

In addition to identifying the British première of the work in February 1880 as the catalyst for cementing Berlioz’s permanent place in the British orchestral repertoire, this study also discusses the orchestral training and audience development required for this first performance to occur as well as the transformative effect that it had on British concert life, particularly at the regional triennial musical festivals. Furthermore, this study explores the transition of Faust from the concert hall to popular seaside resorts and how this development laid the foundation for the even greater interest in Berlioz’s music in the mid-twentieth century. By applying current theoretical discussions on the topics of British performance history, historiography, and transnational identity to data that was obtained through archival investigation, this research contributes towards a greater understanding of the cultural development in musical taste that occurred in late nineteenth-century Britain as well as the use of music as a philanthropic and socioeconomic tool in transnational contexts.

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