A comprehensive account of the musical culture of Charleston's golden age
Blending archival research with musical expertise, Nicholas Michael Butler offers a definitive history of the dynamic and vibrant concert life in Charleston, South Carolina, during the era from 1766 to 1820, when the exclusive St. Cecilia Society functioned as North America's premier musical organization. In the process he provides an unprecedented look into the early membership and inner workings of this storied society.
For fifty-four seasons during the late colonial and early federal years, the St. Cecilia Society offered the families and guests of Charleston's wealthy planters and merchants opportunities to enjoy the latest European musical fashions performed by a cosmopolitan orchestra, visiting professional musicians, and talented amateurs. Intermingling the practices and values of both the Old and the New Worlds, the society's events formed a social stage on which the patronage, performance, and appreciation of contemporary European concert music evinced the cultural and political authority of its participants.
In reconstructing this era of the St. Cecilia Society's concert patronage, Butler begins with a survey of the socio-economic background of the golden age of Charleston's prosperity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and then examines British modes of concert patronage that inspired this South Carolina institution. Following an overview of the society's half century of concert patronage, Butler focuses on specifics of the musical activity: organizational structure and management of activities, administration of finances, performance venues, performers and their relationship to the society, concert repertoire, and withdrawal from patronage.
The details Butler offers of the society's concert series—which was commensurate with the content, form, and nature of those in the urban centers of contemporary Britain—greatly augment our understanding of the vitality of early American musical culture and challenge long-held historiographic misperceptions about southern cultural history.
Nicholas Michael Butler is a musicologist, historian, archivist, and musician. Formerly the archivist for the South Carolina Historical Society, he has taught at the University of South Carolina, the College of Charleston, and Indiana University. Butler is special collections manager at the Charleston County Public Library.
"What a refreshing and unique look at the history of music in Charleston! Nicholas Butler has done a brilliant job researching and capturing in the most entertaining way what made Charleston the great cultural center it was more than two hundred years ago. After lying dormant for one hundred fifty years, it makes our work now all the more rewarding as we try to recapture that spirit."—David Stahl, music director, Charleston Symphony Orchestra
"Votaries of Apollo is a landmark study in eighteenth-century American music research with a wealth of carefully integrated information about the arts and material culture. Charleston comes alive with detailed descriptions of taverns and ballrooms, unpaid bills and insults over debt collection, bold entrepreneurs and humble workers, architectural disasters, fires, and hurricanes. Butler's study is far more than the history of an institution. It is also a cultural history that examines the roots and propelling motivations of the people of Charleston in this period."—Kate Van Winkle Keller, Colonial Music Institute
"Until now, early American musical history has been set largely in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. Now, thanks to Nicholas Butler's effort, the balance has been restored. He shows that the elites of Charleston in the late-Colonial and Federal periods supported a strong, European-based musical culture at least as sophisticated as anything further north, with its own distinctive flavor, derived from Caribbean and French connections. Butler's study of the St. Cecilia Society is based on impressively thorough research, and is presented without a trace of regional or racial bias. It is an easy read, rich in fascinating detail."—Nicholas Temperley, emeritus professor of music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"Butler traces the history of the St. Cecilia Society as 'epitomiz[ing] the contemporary transformation of Charleston's cultural life from the confident cosmopolitan and ambitious expansion of the late colonial era to the onset of economic decline and isolationist attitudes at the advent of the antebellum era'.
He uncovers the local social and business connections of Charleston elites that permitted the society to thrive for more than five decades. He adds fascinating details to our understanding of elite white Charleston culture…. In giving a convincing narrative and material ballast to the familiar historical concepts of cosmopolitanism, sociability, and the Atlantic world more broadly."—H-Net Reviews