Nowadays, we are accustomed to entertainers who go by only one name, but in the nineteenth century, there was only Jullien (1812-1860). He was born with more than one name. In fact, his father conducted a French orchestra and every member became the young son’s godfather: he had 37 Christian names!
Louis George Maurice Adolphe Roch Albert Abel Antonio Alexandre Noé Jean Lucien Daniel Eugène Joseph-le-Brun Joseph-Barême Thomas Thomas Thomas-Thomas Pierre Arbon Pierre-Maurel Barthélemi Artus Alphonse Bertrand Dieudonné Emanuel Josué Vincent Luc Michel Jules-de-la-plane Jules-Bazin Julio César Jullien.
With a start in life like that, no wonder he became eccentric! Something of a child prodigy on the violin, his father touted him as the Paganini of the Alps. Jullien entered the Paris Conservatory of Music in 1831 but withdrew because he was more interested in light music than the classics.
According to William Weber, important social distinctions became important to music in the 1820s and 1830s. The nobility and the upper middle class each became divided between partisans of classical music and what he called high-status popular music. Low-status concerts featured the same music as high-status concerts but drew less affluent audiences.
Philippe Musard, conductor of a popular Parisian dance orchestra, introduced the prototype of the low status concert in an attempt to make money with his orchestra during the off-season for balls. He called them “promenades.”
Jullien was only one of several conductors who tried to compete with Musard in Paris, starting his series in 1836. It proved popular, but not enough to succeed financially. Meanwhile, several promoters had introduced promenade concerts in London, but no one had yet achieved a dominant position. Fleeing bankruptcy, Jullien left Paris for London in 1838, intending to take that position for himself.
Jullien’s showmanship and eccentricity
Like Musard, Jullien’s reputation rested both on showmanship and musicianship. His dress shirt for concerts had diamond studs. He conducted from a gold-studded crimson podium, and after each piece, sank exhausted into a white and gold chair. Whenever he conducted Beethoven, he ostentatiously donned special gloves and used a jewel-encrusted baton, which a page always brought to him on a silver salver.
He regularly advertised some concerts as “monster concerts.” The advertisement for one in 1845 promised selections from Bellini’s I puritani, including “Suona la Tromba” performed by 20 trumpets, 20 cornets-a-piston, 20 trombones, 20 ophicleides, and 20 serpents. (Italian opera, by the way, was not regarded as classical music at that time. It was one of the components of “high-status popular music”).
A quadrille, something like an aristocratic square dance with four or five separate movements, occupied pride of place in Jullien’s programming. He composed one for every season. It gave him a chance to showcase the talents of the many soloists in his orchestra, which included renowned players of every instrument, especially those like the cornet, trombone, and ophicleide that would never have been welcome as solo instruments by symphony orchestras.
Jullien occasionally had members of his orchestra put down their instruments and sing. That practice can still be found in American pops concerts. Jazz bands adopted it, too.
Jullien’s American tour
Jullien took his orchestra on an annual tour, usually around the British Isles. In 1853, P.T. Barnum, whose talents for promotion and marketing rivaled Jullien’s own, invited Jullien to tour the US. He took 40 players to New York and filled out the rest of his orchestra with local musicians. During the year, his orchestra gave 214 concerts.
At least some of them were the “monster concerts,” for which he was famous in London. According to advertisements, they included 20 soloists among 1,200 total performers! As one critic wrote, “The music is magnificent, and so is the humbug.”
When Jullien presented his Fireman’s Quadrille at New York’s Crystal Palace, he warned the audience that something unusual “might happen.” On cue, three companies of firemen invaded the palace with their firehouses to combat real flames.
Ushers had to deal with fainting women and other minor panic, even though Jullien had as much told the audience to expect something of the kind. But the firemen all left on cue, too. The quadrille ended with the doxology, and the audience sang along. During the whole thing, of course, the orchestra kept playing, totally undisturbed.
Jullien as a musician
If Jullien could be explained entirely in terms of stunts and gimmicks, he would not be worthy of our attention. As a critic in Putnam’s Monthly (November 1853, p. 573) noted, “He is a humbug, not in essence, but in form. He is like a good book gaudily bound. . . But the music is true and great.”
His first season in London, Jullien presented four complete Beethoven symphonies. He sometimes devoted entire concerts to the music of a single classical composer. He went through his entire shtick with the special baton, crimson podium, and chair. But while he conducted the music, he was all business.
Most conductors of the time took it upon themselves to update and “improve” the orchestration of the masters by adding parts for instruments that had not been customary in earlier generations. Jullien himself once added four ophecleides, a saxophone, and side drum to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. But usually, he left great classical pieces alone and thus earned critical praise.
After one Mozart night, when Jullien presented two symphonies and the overture to The Magic Flute, the Times noted:
It was consoling to find that music, in order to be relished by a modern audience, is not obliged, as a matter of necessity, to be boisterous and overpowering, full of violent contrasts, fantastic, exaggerated, and so forth. In the two symphonies there are no loud instruments–no trombones or ophicleides. In the second, the immortal “Jupiter” (so called, not by the unassuming Mozart, but by his admirers)–there are not even clarionets. M. Jullien, with real artistic feeling, refrained from interference with the original scores, simply adding a third bassoon in the last-named symphony.
Jullien’s legacy in the US
When Jullien returned to England, he left behind a remarkable legacy.
Although the New York Philharmonic virtually ignored American composers, Jullien performed the music of such composers as William Henry Fry and George Bristow. He performed some of these pieces several times back in England, giving American concert music its first international audience.
Although American orchestras continued not to play American symphonic music, they did notice that Jullien’s orchestra played with a polish and precision they could not match. Jullien’s legacy in America includes an elevation of performance standards.
Patrick Gilmore, who founded the first of America’s professional touring military-style bands, adopted the concept of monster concerts and other aspects of Jullien’s showmanship.
Jullien’s influence probably explains why Gilmore arranged to have firemen pounding on anvils during a performance of Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus,” and why he even used an actual canon in another piece.
American bands and orchestras played the Fireman’s Quadrille for years, complete with uniformed firemen tramping across the stage (although probably not with fire hoses to put out a real fire).
Jullien achieved notoriety, but not financial success. His return to Paris in 1859 proved disastrous. Although he was a naturalized English citizen, he was promptly arrested for old debts. He became mentally unstable and died in a lunatic asylum. Along with his contemporaries Musard and Johann Strauss, Sr., Jullien spent a lifetime bringing classical music to a mass audience. His aim was always first to entertain and second to instruct. Perhaps that policy has lessons for modern concert series as well.
Death of M. Jullien / New York Times. March 31, 1860
A history of the trombone / David M. Guion (Scarecrow, 2010)
Music and the middle class / William Weber (Holms and Meier, 1975)
The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians (Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, 1980)
Articles and advertisements in the Times (London)