Cowgill, Rachel (2012) Performance Alfresco: Music-Making in English Pleasure Gardens. In: The Pleasure Garden: From Vauxhall to Coney Island. Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture . University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, pp. 100-126. ISBN 9780812244380

This essay – developed from a keynote delivered at the interdisciplinary conference ‘Vauxhall Revisited’ (Tate Britain, 2008) – draws on perspectives from architectural history, cultural geography, and the history of auditory culture in an exploration of the ‘soundscape’ of the eighteenth-century pleasure garden. Focusing on Vauxhall, the least investigated musically of London’s late Georgian commercial garden resorts, Cowgill explores how music was used to demarcate time and space, to articulate national/imperial identity and political affiliations, to create and manipulate illusion, and to regulate the movement and demeanour of audiences in a carefully constructed, multi-sensory night-time environment. Discussion is informed by detailed study of primary sources, including songsheets, scrapbooks, albums, bills, prints, periodicals and newspapers, and archival material from the Minet Library (Lambeth Archive) and British Library.

Commentary on London’s pleasure gardens tends to leave off at the close of the eighteenth century, as if the nineteenth was simply a long, slow period of decline; yet the urban garden resort proved remarkably resilient amid a rapidly changing economic and social environment, and Cowgill highlights the musical transformations that helped to ensure this long-term survival. Finally, discussion broadens to examine the influence of pleasure-garden culture on the concert life and venues of the high Victorian period – including the Crystal Palace, Albert Hall and Alexandra Palace – and ultimately on the early history of the promenade concerts, bringing the narrative up to more recent times. The essay underlines the need for music historians to expand their frames of reference to include sound, rather than music alone, and argues that musical performance in the open air formed an important component of late Georgian entertainment culture. The collection to which this essay contributes was published in the series Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture, and features a number of established cultural historians including John Dixon Hunt and Peter Borsay.

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