Business, culture and power

'Music in Regent Street, 1820-1940: Business, Culture and Power': An invited lecture for the Friends of Kenwood, Hampstead, London 28 May 2017

In his designs for Regent Street, the architect John Nash gave music a prime spot and professional musicians a dedicated space.

The area would eventually embrace more than 200 music businesses and institutions besides three successive concert halls – the Argyll Rooms (1807-30), St James's Hall (1858-1905), and Queen's Hall (1893-1941). All fed a high-cultural identity for the Street now long since forgotten.

How did music come to shape this part of the West End so decisively, and what does the connection reveal about a distinctively British approach to culture? This illustrated lecture explored music performed in Regent Street, the audiences who flocked to hear it, and the urban and social changes accompanying music synergies up and down the Street for more than a century.

Nash's intention, with Crown approval, had been to blend commercial aims with practical utility and beauty. Once he partnered with musicians to help achieve that goal, market forces and genuine public engagement gradually fostered higher performing standards, better listening opportunities, cheaper ticket prices, and music for every taste - as well as new composition at the highest level, from Beethoven and Schoenberg to Debussy, Holst and Vaughan Williams. Audiences grew. Players and composers gained respect. Serious music brought cash and international cultural kudos hardly dreamt of by John Nash.

Eventually the British Broadcasting Corporation moved to Regent Street, too, using Queen's Hall as sound studio and base for its own orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Kenwood House offered a delightful room for this talk. The Friends were keen listeners eager to hear the music in a sympathetic setting with a related background: Humphry Repton, Kenwood's landscape designer, was once a Nash colleague.

'brilliant, illuminating lecture ... you brought your audience with you every step of the way'

Angela Cox, Friends of Kenwood

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