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Music Hall

Music Hall is a type of British theatre which had its start in the public "song and supper" rooms of the 1850s. It flourished from the 1890s to the Second World War, when other forms of popular music evolved and it began to be replaced by films as the most popular form of entertainment.

British Music Hall was similar to American vaudeville, featuring rousing songs and standard jokes, while in the United Kingdom the term vaudeville referred to more lowbrow entertainment that would have been termed burlesque in the United States.

Table of contents
1 History of the Songs
2 Musical Origins
3 The Two Eras
4 Music Hall Songwriters
5 Music Hall Performers

History of the Songs

The music evolved from traditional folk songs, becoming by the 1850's more humorous as increasing affluence gave the lower classes access to the piano. The change in musical taste arose as a result of the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of previously rural populations. The new urban communities, cut off from their cultural roots, required new and accessible means of entertainment. Music Halls were originally bar rooms which provided entertainment, in the form of music and speciality acts, for their patrons. By the middle years of the nineteenth century the first purpose-built music halls were being built in London. The halls created a demand for new and catchy popular songs that could no longer be met from the traditional folk-song repertoire. Professional songwriters were enlisted to fill the gap.

Musical Origins

The emergence of a distinct music hall style depended upon a fusion of musical influences. Music hall songs needed to gain and hold the attention of an often unruly urban audience. In America from the 1840s Stephen Foster had reinvigorated folk song with the admixture of negro spiritual to produce something entirely new. Songs like Golden Slippers and The Old Folks at Home spread round the globe, taking with them all the appertenances of the minstrel song. Other influences on the rapidly-developing music hall idiom were Irish and European music, particularly the jig, polka and waltz.

Typically a music hall song consists of a series of verses sung by the performer alone, and a repeated chorus which carries the principal melody, and in which the audience is encouraged to join.

In Britain, the first music hall songs often promoted the alcoholic wares of the owners of the halls in which they were performed. Songs like Glorious Beer, and the first major music hall success, Champagne Charlie, in 1854, had a wide influence. Champagne Charlie is often credited with inspiring William Booth to form the Salvation Army, and for giving rise to the famous quotation: "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?"

By the 1870's the songs had lost their folk music roots, and particular songs also started to become associated with particular singers, often with exclusive contracts with the songwriter, just as many pop songs are today.

Towards the end of the style the music became influenced by ragtime and jazz, before being overtaken by them.

The most popular Music Hall songs became the basis for the Pub songs of the typical Cockney "knees up".

The Two Eras

Music Hall entertainment is sometimes divided by era into Victorian Music Hall and Edwardian Music Hall. Toward the end of its heyday the terms theatrical variety or revue began to be used.

Music Hall began as a largely working class entertainment, and its association with beer halls and gin palaces led to it being initially shunned by polite society. As Music Hall grew in popularity, the original arrangement of a large hall with tables at which drink was served, changed to that of a drink-free auditorium. The acceptance of Music Hall as a legitimate cultural form was sealed by the first Royal Variety Command Performance before King George V in 1912.

Music publication was boosted by the application of copyright law to musical compositions. The term Tin Pan Alley, for the music publication industry gained currency from the banging of pots and pans by publishers in order to disrupt their rivals' auditions.

After World War II, competition from Television and Rock and Roll led to the slow demise of the British music halls. The final blow came when Moss Empires, the largest British Music Hall chain, closed the majority of its theatres in 1960. Stage and Film musicals, however, continued to be influenced by the music hall idiom. Oliver, Dr Dolittle, My Fair Lady, and many other musicals continued to show strong roots in music hall.

Music Hall Songwriters

Music Hall Performers

The term Music Hall is also used to describe a large musical venue, such as the Paris Olympia and Radio City Music Hall.