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Music Festivals


MUSIC FESTIVALS commemorate anniversaries, celebrate religious or ethnic traditions, or offer music of a composer, period, or type; they can range from a single event to many events encompassing days or even a season. The earliest festivals in the United States date from the eighteenth century and had religious, social, or pedagogical functions. The first were associated with singing schools, to promote the singing of psalms according to established rules and order. Folk music began in the eighteenth century in the form of fiddlers' contests, many expanding to several days and involving instrumental music and community audiences.

Several large events took place beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1856 the Boston Handel and Haydn Society presented three major choral works—Haydn's The Seasons, Handel's Messiah, and Mendelssohn's Elijah. In 1869 the bandmaster Patrick S. Gilmore arranged a National Peace Jubilee in Boston with 20,000 instrumentalists. During the 1876 centennial of independence, Philadelphia sponsored a major music festival. Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1858 and Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1873 inaugurated festivals that have continued to the present day. Four festivals that came out of the tradition of singing schools continued into the twentieth century: the Messiah Festival in Lindsborg, Kansas (1882); the Big Singing Day in Benton, Kentucky (1884); the Ann Arbor May Festival (1894); and the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Bach Festival (1900).

Festivals proliferated in the twentieth century. Many occur in rural settings during summer months. Commercial motives and entrepreneurial talent have been a significant force in their promotion. Major symphony orchestras that employ musicians year-round include summer seasons that have become festivals. Since 1936 the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has played in Ravinia Park north of Chicago. The Tanglewood Music Center, in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1936, featuring regular summer programming, and the Blossom Music Center between Cleveland and Akron became the summer residence of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1968. In 1966 the annual Mostly Mozart Festival became a major

offering of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. Many of these summer centers have expanded to offer jazz, folk, and rock music. Smaller festivals have grown out of centers that specialize in the study of particular styles of music. The Marlboro School in Vermont has stressed chamber music since 1950, whereas the Cincinnati Summer Opera Festival has offered a series of opera productions since 1920. New Music Across America began as a festival in New York in 1979 and has emphasized works by composers using new techniques and new instruments; in 1992 the festival took place simultaneously in many sites across the country.

Also frequently held during summer months in the open air, festivals organized around other types of music, including folk, bluegrass, blues, jazz, and rock, proliferated in the twentieth century. Building on the tradition of fiddlers' contests, the Old Time Fiddler's Convention began in North Carolina in 1924. The National Folk Festival first took place in St. Louis in 1934 and in 1971 moved to Wolf Trap Farm Park southwest of Washington, D.C. The Kool Jazz Festival, founded in 1954 as the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, moved to New York City in 1972, and, on the Pacific coast, the Monterey Jazz Festival began in 1958. Smaller annual jazz and blues festivals are held in numerous cities around the country, including venues as diverse as Sacramento, California, and Madison, Wisconsin. Rock music promoters staged big events in the 1960s, notably California's Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 and New York State's Woodstock in 1969. The Woodstock event, among the largest rock concerts ever organized, took on iconic status for many and was commemorated in 1994 by a second concert. The Womyn's Music Festival has been held each summer in Michigan since 1975 and has been an important site for women's organizing. Festivals have become so plentiful and diverse at the end of the twentieth century that publishers issue music festival guide books, which offer a listing of events around the country.


Clynes, Tom. Music Festivals from Bach to Blues: A Traveler's Guide. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996.

McAll, Reginald. The Hymn Festival Movement in America. New York: Hymn Society of America, 1951.

Morris, Bonnie J. Eden Built by Eves: The Culture of Women's Music Festivals. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 1999.

Rabin, Carol Price. Music Festivals in America. 4th ed. Great Barrington, Mass.: Berkshire Traveller Press, 1990.

Santelli, Robert. Aquarius Rising: The Rock Festival Years. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1980.

Charles A.Weeks/l. t.

See alsoMusic Industry ; Music: African American, Classical, Popular .

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music festivals

music festivals, series of performances separate from the normal concert season and often, but not always, organized around an idea or theme. Music festivals usually are held annually in the summer, sometimes in the open air. The concept has been traced as far back as the sixth-century BC Pythian Games at Delphi, which included musical competitions. In the Middle Ages competitive festivals were sponsored by guilds. The eisteddfod in Wales is a direct descendant of medieval competitive festivals. Among the best-known music festivals with a specific theme held today are the Bayreuth Festival, which features the operas of Wagner; the Munich and Glyndebourne Festivals, which feature opera; the Darmstadt modern music festival; the Warsaw Autumn Days; England's Aldeburgh Festival, which was instituted by Benjamin Britten and concentrates on modern music; the Mostly Mozart festival in New York City; and the Newport Jazz Festival (now held in New York City and Newport). The Salzburg Festival began (musically) as a Mozart festival; today, however, other composers are also featured; it is perhaps the outstanding example of a general classical music festival. Similar events are held in New York City (notably Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival), Aspen, Colo. (see Aspen Music Festival), Edinburgh, Spoleto (see Spoleto Festival), and Bergen (Norway). The Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox and Stockbridge, Mass., features the Boston Symphony. The festival idea has spread all over the world; Osaka began a festival of music and drama in 1958. Festivals of rock music have frequently been held on a one-time basis. Two of the most famous were the Monterey Pop Festival (1967) and Woodstock (1969).

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Festival, Music

264. Festival, Music

  1. Bayreuth since 1876, international center for Wagners operas. [Opera Hist.: Thompson, 165]
  2. Berkshire Music Festival (Tanglewood ) summer home of Boston Symphony since 1934. [Music Hist.: Thompson, 202203]
  3. Edinburgh Festival internationally famous arts celebration since 1947. [Music Hist.: Thompson, 617]
  4. Eisteddfod ancient congress of bards, still held annually in Wales. [Music Hist.: Benét, 305]
  5. Festival of the Two Worlds (Spoleto Festival) founded in 1958 by Gian-Carlo Menotti and held annually in Spoleto, Italy. [Music Hist.: NCE, 2599]
  6. Glyndebourne Festivals annual operatic events held in Sussex, England since 1934. [Music Hist.: NCE, 1097]
  7. Newport Jazz Festival annual summer jazz celebration. [Am. Mus.: NCE, 1927]
  8. Woodstock 300,000 rock music fans attended this festival held near Bethel, N.Y. (August 16, 1969). [Am. Music Hist.: EB, X: 741]

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