The years 1870––71 marked the beginning of dramatic changes in French political and cultural life. A few short months witnessed defeat to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Second Empire, as well as the rapid rise of the Paris Commune and its subsequent violent suppression through the establishment of republican government. The Parisian musical world, while severely affected by the events of war and deprived of performers and audiences, did not come to a standstill. Indeed, these years ushered in a remarkable increase in the number of institutions and concert societies dedicated to supporting French music and to making what would become the standard repertoire more accessible to the average citizen.
Music heightened reactions to the turmoil of war and revolution in Paris at this crucial moment in France's history. Because of their stringent governmental control and largely middle- and working-class audiences, entertainments organized initially by wartime concert societies, and then under the aegis of the Commune, provide us with the greatest opportunity for understanding the political and social contexts in which music operated. Through investigation of the contemporary French press it can be shown that: (1) the perceived function of musical performance was adjusted to suit the practical and symbolic needs of a besieged city; (2) all the factions competing for power during the war and the post-war insurrection in Paris appropriated the connotations of civilization, social stability, and good taste that surrounded ““art music””; (3) the Commune's sudden rejection of the Austro-German musical tradition marked a brief but significant moment in which nationalistic preoccupations supplanted historically cosmopolitan attitudes toward foreign art. The study concludes with a meditation on Alfred Roll's painting of the execution of a Communard trumpeter, in which we find one of the strongest images relating war and rebellion to music in the France of 1871.
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