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Music of the 1860s

Gaynor Borade
In the 1860s, music was largely influenced by the revolutionary fervor that was catching on globally. It flourished in the form of opera and soul music, finding its way into the hearts of millions via theater.
1860-1869 was a decade ushering in change. The world over, people were rebelling against tyrannous and oppressive reign; either by monarchy prevalent or colonizing powers. Amidst such a scenario, music too was influenced by social and political issues, as was theater.
Opera music thrived and music lovers took on the challenge of patronizing and encouraging new ideas and an obligation to the art.
This decade saw popular art music achieve a special status. People sang and played musical instruments beyond the regular utilitarian objective. Musicians and singers performed for the fun of the indulgence.
There were musicals in theaters that reflected individualism. Music was part of social functions, church services, militia and a number of public commemorations.
In a way, politics dictated the world of music. Musicians played classical music for social awareness, while making music a medium of diversion and entertainment. People enjoyed the opera and drama interspersed with song. Songs and music differed in intent and general perception.
Symphonies were composed to generate a sense of self-worth and dignity and added to the 'worship' decorum. Musicians and singers expressed themselves through anthems and hymns, when not contributing to the opera music genre. Singers like Henry Russell and groups like The Hutchinsons, addressed a number of moral issues through their songs.
Music of that decade stirred and inspired listeners, while putting politics to rhyme. Artists offered music variations that were fundamentally different, but unified in intent. The music was mostly instrumental, but the songs strongly addressed ethics and secularism. The art music included:-
  • Das Pensionat by Franz von Suppé
  • Down Among the Cane-Brakes, Old Black Joe and Virginia Belle by Stephen Foster
  • Soirées à Saint-Pétersbourg by Anton Rubinstein
  • Mephisto Waltz No. 1 by Franz Liszt
  • Teniers the Grimbergen by Flor van Duyse
  • Susanna, The Old Folks at Home and Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair by Stephen Collins Foster
  • Swedish Nightingale by soprano Jenny Lind
The music reflected the times, how people felt and events that sent out strong social messages. It offered listeners and patrons a release through music that endured the century. The music was preserved in the form of 'music sheets', at museums and special music libraries.
Special lyrics and music were even developed for various scout regiments. Midi sounds were designed by classical music composers, especially for hymns and gospel music.
The music of the 1860s was dominated by performances that marked major political shifts, such as the election of Abraham Lincoln as President and heavy government spending to strengthen the Northern economy.
1860s gospel music was part and parcel of the reactions and criticism of the people against Catholicism and the liberal movement that gained momentum in Europe. The world of sport too was covered by the artists of the time. They sang and played melodies to commemorate Association football becoming a spectator sport globally.
American Sheet Music catered to band performances and special compositions dedicated to the American Civil War. The music thus popularized included operatic arias, secular vocal music, piano music and solo instrumentals.
Performers like the Hutchinson family and arrangers like P.T. Barnum ensured the outreach and development of popular music in America during the 1860s.