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Review of From Pageant to Pop

A lecture given by Roger Askew

In the Horsleys we are under an hour away from arguably the greatest eclectic music centre in the world. Music venues are plentiful and for artists, appearing on a London stage is a testimony to success.


How did London become a magnet for musicians? Roger Askew was with us to explain and began with music. “The Knightsbridge March” by Eric Coates set the scene.


But in the beginning, we can thank our monarchy for the music of pageantry. Royal Court was perhaps the first music venue outside of the church and Henry VIII followed by Elizabeth I and then Charles II were all keen to be entertained.


After the civil war Charles II returned from continental exile and immediately set London alight with music and longed for entertainment. Henry Purcell composed Dido and Aeneas, the first English opera music for theatre and he enjoyed a long career at the heart of the London scene. In 1672 John Banister opened the first paying concert theatre – The Mitre Tavern. 


London was expanding and thriving, the nobility and new middle classes were hungry for music and keen to be seen at the best venues. This was the era of the pleasure gardens where outdoor promenading and liaisons were enhanced by music.


Opera had arrived but some Londoners considered it a foreign import and elitist.  Samuel Johnson describes it as “An exotic and irrational entertainment.” Enter “The Beggars Opera’ by John Gay in 1728 which premiered at Lincoln’s Inn Field Theatre. Many theatres sprang up in London during the 18th century.


In 1784 “Zadoch the Priest” at Westminster Abbey was performed for George II. This will be forever associated with royalty as is Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks.” Roger Askew tells us that twelve thousand people attended the rehearsal in Hyde Park. Pageantry was enjoyed as much as the popular tunes of the day.


By 1850 there was a huge increase in the population and with it a rise in amateur music societies. Notable among these was the Philharmonic Society and the orchestra played in the Argyle Rooms. Almost every Victorian home had a piano and Vincent Novello had started the music publishing industry.  Victoria and Albert were advocates of culture while Music Hall appealed to the masses. London was also home to Gilbert and Sullivan at the Savoy and Henry Wood at the proms.


By the 1950s and the 1960s orchestras were everywhere. There was a new vibe and venues such as the Festival Hall and The Barbican heralded in the new Elizabethan age


When Roger tells us that there are blue plaques to both Handel and Hendrix in

Brook Street, we have romped our way through centuries of the history of music in London. We arrive finally with the Beatles recording at Abbey Road and the colour of the Notting Hill Carnival.

Roger Askew is clearly passionate about music, he treated us to continual visuals and twenty six pieces of music and video. He managed to bring the energy and diversity of the Capital’s music over time, into a generous hour of informative and enjoyable e


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