Music, Leisure, and the Cultivation of ‘Higher Civilization’ in the Late Nineteenth Century



Alexandra Palace and Park, situated on Muswell Hill in North London, opened in 1873. Envisaged as a ‘palace of the people’, this enormous structure and landscaped gardens were constructed to provide leisure and entertainment to a local population estimated to be one million people. It provided a cornucopia of attractions including flower displays, circus acts, horse racing, art exhibitions, and the performance of oratorio, opera, and orchestral, band, and symphonic music. Like many ventures of its time, the Palace and Park were not economically viable and by the late nineteenth century its future was in jeopardy. This article examines the first twenty (or so) years of its operation and the economic, social, cultural, and musical pressures placed upon it. In addition to ‘reading’ the musical life of the Palace as textbook case of the expression of nation, Empire, and religion, we argue that a more subtle reading of the Palace’s mission was to promulgate a so-called ‘higher civilization’ that was prevalent in popular and scholarly discourses of the day.




Alexandra Palace: Music, Leisure, and the Cultivation of ‘Higher Civilization’ in the Late Nineteenth Century
Paul Watt and Alison Rabinovici*
ਪµ* Monash University. Email: University of Melbourne. Email: An earlier and shorter version of this article entitled ‘Music-making at Alexandra Palace in the Late Nineteenth Century: Competition and Commerce’ was given at the 17th Biennial International Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music at the University of Edinburgh on 29 June 2012. We are grateful to Christina Bashford, Sarah Collins, Margaret Kartomi, and Fiona Palmer, who provided comments and feedback on various earlier drafts and to the Music & Letters Trust for a grant of 𧺬 that greatly assisted in costs associated with undertaking research for the article. The Alexandra Palace and Park archives are held at Bruce Castle in Haringey, and our grateful thanks are extended to Valerie Crosby and Clare Stephens for their help and generosity in accessing the archives. The various documents cited below give the Palace’s archival folders prefixed by ‘AP’ followed by box, then folder numbers.

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