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ClassicsOnline Home » GOLDEN AGE OF SALON MUSIC (The) (Schwanen Salon Orchestra, G. Huber)
Relive the golden age of palm court salon music with over 2 hours of tangos, waltzes and charming
opera and operetta melodies, played in the style that was the height of fashion in the grand
European cafés of the early twentieth century.
By David Denton
The Golden Age of Salon Music
At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, salon music was a phenomenon
that could be heard all over Europe. Following the trail blazed by the triumphal processions of legendary
virtuosos such as the Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840), the Polish pianist Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849) and the Austro-Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt (1811–1886) or the French cellist Adrien-François Servais
(1807–1866), a musical culture developed which transcended all national boundaries. But only selected
examples were passed on to the concert-halls of posterity; most of this music, if it survived at all, was doomed
to an underground existence, for the preservers of pure music took exception to the increasing emphasis
laid on commercial aspects. Nevertheless, it would hardly be exaggerating to say that salon music was simply
the reaction to new socio-economic circumstances. A growing market, in which direct means of musical
reproduction were still unknown, had to be supplied with compositions which were so easy on the ear that
the mass sale of printed music could be guaranteed by virtue of this alone. In these circumstances widespread
popularity could only be to advantage, national colouring providing at best an additional breath of exoticism.
Later eras have adopted the prejudicial view that this process inevitably produced works of inferior quality, a
prejudice which can be refuted by this collection of some of these pearls.
Salon music was chiefly music for the grand piano in the salon (or, more frequently, the upright piano in the
drawing-room)—whether arrangements of orchestral works, operas or operatic excerpts, or (as was quite
frequently the case) original compositions. In all these cases arrangements for other instruments or groups of
instruments—made by the composer himself or by different arrangers in the course of the decades—were the
rule rather than the exception. The consequence of this is an astonishing variety of instrumentation.
Composers of light music have a hard time of it. For years they charm the world with their magic melodies,
yet this kind of immortality brings them little more than oblivion. Who knows, after all, where these well-loved
tunes come from? Meanwhile it is the performers who hold the foreground; it is the singer, not the song. In
earlier times it was not very different. It was certainly not the particular interpretation that put all others in the
shade, but this was almost in spite of any reference to the composer. Instead, there was discussion as to whether
the rhythm should be more strongly stressed or the melody, whether the brass should come out more or the
strings. It was over questions of this kind that regular ideological conflicts took place in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Schwanen Salon Orchestra holds a clear position: no trumpets or jazz saxophone, simply two clarinets, a
flute and a string group. From the wide range of light music of the early twentieth century the ensemble has
therefore chosen not the music drawing inspiration from jazz, but, as a focal point, music of the same period
influenced by the tango. In short, it is a matter of the dream of the south, where, south of the Alps, there are
always blue skies and we can be entranced by the Blue Tango or Dark Eyes. It actually has almost come to the
point where we let ourselves be carried away by associations and no longer ask about the composers.
Nevertheless the works that the Schwanen Salon Orchestra has sought out for these recordings are still living;
the composers do not deserve to be completely forgotten.
Translation: Diana Laos
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GOLDEN AGE OF SALON MUSIC (The) (Schwanen Salon Or...