John Bull, Angelica Catalani and Middle-Class Taste at the 1820s British Musical Festival
This article examines the contentious relationship between the prima donna Angelica Catalani and the British musical festival in the 1820s. The inclusion of Catalani, the most famous soprano of her generation, at the great musical festivals in this decade, such as those of Birmingham, York, Derby and Manchester, among other places, was a sign of the aspects of spectacle festival producers thought necessary to capture the middle-class audience. At the time, contemporaries assumed this audience was increasing in number and importance. Catalani attempted to use her fame to dictate musical and aesthetic terms to festival committees, particularly by transposing arias within performances of Handel's Messiah, and interpolating Italian sacred music by Pietro Carlo Guglielmi and Pio Cianchettini into the same. The British musical press responded by invoking the figure John Bull to roundly condemn Catalani: the allegorical everyman, crying 'cant' and 'humbug' was used to portray the singer as a tasteless and 'foreign' other while at the same time forwarding the education of the middle-class audience into aspects of the nascent concept of 'the composer's intentions'. The condemnation of Catalani was also an attempt to integrate the middle classes into the cultural life of Britain, while denigrating the purported taste of the British aristocracy, which made star turns such as Catalani's possible.
McGuire, Charles Edward. 2014. "John Bull, Angelica Catalani and Middle-Class Taste at the 1820s British Musical Festival." Nineteenth-Century Music Review 11(01): 3-31.
Cambridge University Press
Nineteenth-Century Music Review