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‘To Propagate Sound for Sense’: Music for Diversion and Seduction at Ranelagh Gardens

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  • Musicology


Through its music, Ranelagh Gardens became a soundscape as well as a landscape. Characteristic of the vocal music performed at its Rotunda, Europe’s first purpose-built concert space, was the projection — through words, orchestration, and pairings of singers — of the pastoral myth that the Gardens laboured to evoke. Pastoral-themed masquerades and their musical conceits offered visitors the chance to enact, as well as witness, an Arcadia-themed erotic abandonment, as when a maid of honour to the Princess of Wales appeared at a masquerade half-naked in the character of Iphegenia, the event lampooned in a vocal cantata by Thomas Arne. By working ‘to propagate sound for sense’, as Defoe had it, music helped overpower visitors’ rationality at this ‘Grand Seminary of Luxury’.

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