Art and Commitment in the British Music Hall in its Golden Age - Normandie Université Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2013

Art and Commitment in the British Music Hall in its Golden Age


My own speciality is the British music-hall, especially its later period, after 1900. I like to see this form of popular entertainment as fitting into a series of stories: at least three stories Firstly, as an industry, and as a repertoire of songs, it fits into the history of popular music, in the period before the domination of recorded or broadcast music, when live performance and sheet music were practically the only modes of distribution. It is a period when many aspects of today’s popular music were not present – there were no live recordings of songs to contrast with their studio versions, no post-production, and where singing along in a group, rather than other activities such as dancing, karaoke or listening on headphones in a bus, was central. But it was a period where other elements of modern pop music were already present – the use of everyday life as subject matter, fierce competition between producers, the rapid turnover of songs due to the hit system, the three-minute song format, the popular music star, adored by his or her audience (around a third of the singers are women by 1914) Music hall also fits into a second story: the history of the urban working class in Britain, The history of this class and its struggle for leisure time, and for control over its own leisure time in the face of multiple economic and moral pressures. Finally, it fits into the history of cultural productions which react to changing society. (Which is something it has in common with other productions we will be hearing about over the course of the conference). Music hall songs often represent everyday life (poverty or courtship or domestic disputes) or new aspects of the world (cars or telephones or gramophones or ragtime music), transforming them for an aesthetic and entertaining purpose… Or they represent dreams and fantasies of ordinary people, (dreams of going home to Ireland, dreams of living in a rural paradise as Dixieland was presented). These are dreams which have roots in their everyday experience. Of course they also omit many aspects of people’s life experience, (life at work, relations with children for example), and the omissions can tell us as much as the inclusions.
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hal-02565262 , version 1 (25-06-2020)


  • HAL Id : hal-02565262 , version 1


John Mullen. Art and Commitment in the British Music Hall in its Golden Age. Artistic Commitments, Université de Bourgogne, 2013, Dijon, France. ⟨hal-02565262⟩
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