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date: 13 December 2019


  • Patrick O’Connor


A place of entertainment, serving food and drink, where songs were performed by professional musicians. The term came to encompass a whole style of French popular song, especially during the second half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th. The history of such amusements is bound up with the laws of censorship. Popular song was often perceived to be subversive, not only because of the content of the lyrics, but also because it served as a cloak to disguise gatherings of radical or revolutionary political groups.

In the late 18th century the fashion for singing gained strength through the Caveau, in the basement of the Café Italien near the Palais Royal. Successive regimes banned public singing houses, or reinstated them. Napoleon is said to have frequented the Café des Aveugles, but it was not until the construction of the Champs-Elysées that the café-concert came into its own. With tables set out under the trees, lit by lanterns in the evening, the tradition gradually developed whereby a group of female singers, sitting in a semicircle, would take turns to deliver their songs, accompanied by an orchestra....

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