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Languages: English
Types: Unknown
Subjects: M1497, ML1400, ML3916
The Canterbury Catch Club is a particularly well-documented example of a national phenomenon: musical clubs and societies, in which gentlemen ate, drank, smoked, socialised and sang in more or less equal measure, were immensely popular throughout Britain in the late 18th and for much of the 19th century. They were a formalised incarnation of the much less respectable, tavern-based, informal gatherings well known to the British drinking classes (that is, everyone) since before the time of Shakespeare, whose low-life characters (Falstaff, Toby Belch, and the like) inhabit that somewhat disreputable world. Later writers testify to the popularity of singing in alcoholic contexts, with varying degrees of disdain: Dickens and Thackeray took good-humoured views of these gatherings, while other, more musical, diarists such as John Marsh and RJS Stevens are less well-disposed. This paper takes these writers as points of reference.\ud It is clear that as the Georgian age in Britain gave way to the Victorian, clubs sought to project a more cultured, sophisticated image. The Canterbury Catch Club will serve as a case study of this process, using a rich mine of contemporary archives to illuminate the study. This club moved itself upstairs to slightly more salubrious surroundings in a local hostelry, restricted the membership, adopted a motto, had portraits painted, commissioned a fine lithograph, employed a local artist of national renown (Thomas Sidney Cooper) to decorate their premises, and eventually built its own concert hall by subscription. \ud This paper interrogates all this aspirational activity to show that it says more about the precarious nature of middle-class identity than about the club’s musical taste. All that having been said, however, there is no doubt that music – whether for members’ consumption as it was performed by the Club’s hired orchestra or for their enthusiastic participation – was the club’s raison d’etre, and this paper will conclude by considering this phenomenon in the light of contemporary anthropological understanding of sociable music-making, whether in salon or tavern.
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