- Susan Key
Parlor music generally refers to music composed for domestic use from c1820 to World War I, consisting primarily of songs for voice and piano but also including compositions for solo piano as well as transcriptions and arrangements adaptable for a variety of instruments. Both vocal and instrumental music were aimed at an amateur market and intended for performance in the home, primarily but not exclusively by females. Instrumental music for the parlor was most commonly for piano or melodeon but demonstrated flexibility according to circumstances, with interchangeable parts for a variety of popular domestic instruments such as flute, guitar, or violin. The music was published in individual Sheet music editions, often with elaborate engraved covers. All aspects of the genre—music, texts, and the material cultural of sheet music and instruments—both reflected and affected the technology, social mores, and cultural values of this period.
The emergence of parlor music in the 19th century was a result of three interrelated phenomena: technological developments, the growth of the middle class, and changes in domestic architecture. Technical advances in the manufacture and dissemination of sheet music and musical instruments fostered music-making in American homes. In the 18th century, only a few hundred musical titles were published in the United States; the first quarter of the 19th century saw the publication of 10,000 titles, and the industry continued to expand until World War I. The growth of a middle class with more leisure time led to greater opportunities for music lessons and domestic entertainment. The 19th century saw sharp increases in the number and frequency of native-born music teachers who offered music training in school, home, and church settings. Finally, changes in domestic architecture created a room removed from the daily functions of cooking, eating, and sleeping, which served as a marker of social stature for Americans. Derived from the French word ...