Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cafe Chantants

The original cafes chantant (concert cafes) were probably quite enchanting. They consisted of performers (often singers)entertaining audiences in outdoor cafes in France. These first began as long ago as the eighteenth century. Eventually they evolved into famous 'music-halls', such as the Folies Bergere.

The cafes chantant were extremely popular in the Belle Epoque. They had become rather dark, smoky, crowded places by then and the atmosphere was probably a bit rough and unpleasant. They were very popular with the working-classes and aristocratic young men looking for a good time. (The hero of Colette's Cheri comes to mind.) Theodore Child wasn't impressed with the cafes chantant. He found them 'inept and stupid.' He describes the Parisian cafes of 1889 here: Parisian Cafes.

The concert cafes soon became popular in other countries. They began in Italy in the 1890's. Here is a description of the

Cafe Margherita in Naples.

Singers at the cafe chantants included Lina Cavalieri and Yvette Guilbert.

More refined concert cafes became very popular amongst the English aristocracy and the American upper classes during Edwardian times. Often cafe chantants were staged for charity. I would have liked to attend this .
charity evening.


Hels said...

What a great story: cafe concerts for ordinary working families during the Belle Epoque. I love the idea of music halls, of course, also a bit rough and ready. But concert cafes would have been dark, smoky, crowded, rough AND drink filled.

Viola said...

Thank you very much, Hels. I would love to be able to go back in time and visit music halls and cafe concerts. I think that it would be best to keep a very low profile at the seedier cafe concerts, though!

The singers lived very interesting lives so I'm hoping to write a series about them soon.