The Macksey Journal


My research project analyzes the main facade of the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris in the context of nineteenth-century French music culture. During the Second Empire of France, Napoleon III entrusted the commission to build a new imperial opera house to the architect Charles Garnier. This structure played a major role in the urbanization of Paris under Baron Haussmann, who brought “air, light, and cleanliness”, to create a city worthy of an empire. The Neo-Baroque style of the new Paris Opera House synthesized classical and baroque elements, creating a dazzling edifice that met those standing along the axis of the grand boulevard. As the city of Paris transformed, the middle class grew and contributed to the modernization of musical culture. Classical music witnessed an increase in private practice with the rise of print culture and commercialization. Public locations became sites of discourse on the latest compositions, ultimately establishing a musical hierarchy that prized intellectually-stimulating classical music reflecting the legacy of German masters and held popular and dance music at a lower rank. I argue that the Palais Garnier facade expresses this hierarchy with the organization and style of the gilded busts of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, assuming a privileged placement on the facade. By contrast, I will address the public scandal regarding Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s La Danse (1868) created for the lower level of the facade, which reveals who the Opera House served, further underscoring music culture disparities in nineteenth-century Paris.