Glorious New Orleans music—before there was jazz

January 2, 2014 11:00 AM

Kathryn Hobgood Ray

New Orleans is recognized far and wide as the original epicenter of jazz; less known is that for a period of time in the 19th century, New Orleans was the epicenter of classical music in America. Concert Life in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans, a new book by Tulane University music professor John H. Baron, explores this important era in American musical performance history.

In this video, musicologist John Baron discusses how during the 19th century, New Orleans thrived as the epicenter of classical music in America, outshining New York, Boston and San Francisco before the Civil War and rivaling them thereafter.

"In 1971 I knew nothing about New Orleans music," Baron says. "I had been here two years in the city." Baron was preparing to immerse himself in the study of Spanish music when a mentor, the scholar Robert M. Stevenson, suggested Baron take advantage of the fact that he was "sitting in the most important city for music in America."

With that advice, and a tip about a connection between Polish composer Frédéric Chopin and New Orleans, Baron launched the 40-plus-year research project that culminated in the book. 

In that time, Baron also had an illustrious teaching career, raised a family, and published on other topics, such as Baroque, chamber and Jewish music.

In this video, Baron discusses New Orleans in the 1800s. Resident composers, performers, publishers, teachers and instrument makers and dealers fed the public's voracious cultural appetite. Tourists came from across the United States to experience the city's thriving musical scene, and world-renowned artists felt at home in the cultured city.

Baron's exhaustively researched work details all aspects of New Orleans' 19th-century musical renditions, including the development of orchestras; the surrounding social, political and economic conditions; and the individuals who collectively made the city a premier destination for world-class musicians.

Early accolades for the book reflect that Baron has created an indispensable reference work. Commented legendary jazz master and educator Ellis Marsalis, "This is much-needed information, helping to bring a significant aspect of New Orleans culture into focus for current and future generations."

Baron will be signing copies of Concert Life in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans at Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St. in uptown New Orleans, on Jan. 30, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000