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Historical references to London's sounds

A database of several hundred historical descriptions and references to London's sounds. They're drawn mainly from primary sources such as autobiographies, diaries and statutes, as well as novels written around the times they depict.

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 Pub life, music and song   1 3     1 5 3
 City-wide celebrations     3 2   3 3  
 Toasts, dinners and feasts     2 1       1
 Theatre and cinema audiences     2 1 1 1    
 Music and song in theatres     2 2   2    
 Public music and song outdoors     3   1 4    
 Education: Oratory and debate   1            
 Gambling and fairs     1 1 1 2 1  
 Sporting events   1 1 1 1      
 Families at leisure             1  
 Dancing             1  
 Local celebrations           1   1

Period referred to: Early 18th century

Sound category: Social > Music and song in theatres

Title of work: The Italian Opera

Type of publication: Essay in The Spectator

Author: Jospeh Addison

Year of publication: 1711

Page/volume number: Spectator 18, March 21, 1711

18th century Italian opera introduced to the London stage

And it was pleasant enough to see the most refined persons of the British nation dying away and languishing to notes that were filled with a spirit of rage and indignation. It happened also very frequently, where the sense was rightly translated, the necessary transposition of words, which were drawn out of the phrase of one tongue into that of another, made the music appear very absurd in one tongue that was very natural in the other. I remember an Italian verse that ran thus, word for word:

“And turned my rage into pity;”

which the English for rhyme’s sake translated:

“And into pity turned my rage.”

By this means the soft notes that were adapted to pity in the Italian fell upon the word rage in the English; and the angry sounds that were turned to rage in the original, were made to express pity in the translation. It oftentimes happened, likewise, that the finest notes in the air fell upon the most insignificant words in the sentence. I have known the word “and” pursued through the whole gamut; have been entertained with many a melodious “the;” and have heard the most beautiful graces, quavers, and divisions bestowed upon “then,” “for,” and “from,” to the eternal honour of our English particles.

The next step to our refinement was the introducing of Italian actors into our opera; who sang their parts in their own language, at the same time that our countrymen performed theirs in our native tongue. The king or hero of the play generally spoke in Italian, and his slaves answered him in English. The lover frequently made his court, and gained the heart of his princess, in a language which she did not understand. One would have thought it very difficult to have carried on dialogues after this manner without an interpreter between the persons that conversed together; but this was the state of the English stage for about three years.

At length the audience grew tired of understanding half the opera; and therefore, to ease themselves entirely of the fatigue of thinking, have so ordered it at present, that the whole opera is performed in an unknown tongue. We no longer understand the language of our own stage; insomuch that I have often been afraid, when I have seen our Italian performers chattering in the vehemence of action, that they have been calling us names, and abusing us among themselves; but I hope, since we put such an entire confidence in them, they will not talk against us before our faces, though they may do it with the same safety as if it were behind our backs. In the meantime, I cannot forbear thinking how naturally an historian who writes two or three hundred years hence, and does not know the taste of his wise forefathers, will make the following reflection: “In the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Italian tongue was so well understood in England, that operas were acted on the public stage in that language.”

Period referred to: 1780s

Sound category: Social > Music and song in theatres

Title of work: Travels in England in 1782

Type of publication: Travel diary

Author: Karl Philipp Mortiz

Year of publication: 1782

Page/volume number: Not known

A German tourist visits Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens

At length I arrived at Ranelagh [. . .] I had not been here long before I was accosted by a young lady, who also was walking there, and who, without ceremony, offered me her arm, asking me why was I thus walking solitarily?

[. . .]

I suddenly entered a round building, illuminated by many hundred lamps; the splendour and beauty of which surpassed everything of the kind I had ever seen before. Everything seemed here, to be round: above, there was a gallery, divided into boxes; and in one part of it an organ with a beautiful choir, from which issued both instrumental and vocal music.

[Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens stood in Chelsea until 1804. The round building referred to by Moritz was known as the Rotunda.]