How can I learn more about traveling musicians in Europe in the 1800's?
December 28, 2014 9:44 AM   Subscribe

A few years ago, before she died, my grandmother told me about her great great grandparents who were traveling musicians in Europe. I don't know how much truth there is to this assertion (we didn't talk about family history very much when she was alive), but I'd like to learn more about this subject.

More specifically, I'm interested in reading (nonfiction books, articles, web resources, etc) about traveling musicians in Europe during the 1800's and/or early 1900's. These people were probably in Russia, though I am interested in learning about anywhere in Europe during this time-period. There's quite a bit about American minstrels out there, but I am having a harder time finding good resources about Europe. I am more interested in music that was for common people instead of music that might have been played for the rich or nobility.

Thanks for your help with this!
posted by theantikitty to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If they were Jewish, you might get some traction looking for information on klezmer and maybe klezmorim.
posted by dilettante at 10:00 AM on December 28, 2014

Is it possible they were Ruska Roma or Russian Gypsies?
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:22 AM on December 28, 2014

Did they come to the states? If you PM me info about her, I may be able to trace her line to the grandparents that immigrated. Usually boat the records included occupation and country and perhaps village. It could help reveal a bit about what types of musicians they may have been.
posted by beccaj at 2:47 PM on December 28, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! It is very likely that they were Jewish, but I'm not necessarily looking to track down these relatives specifically. I'm just curious about what kind of life traveling musicians had in Europe during this pretty long period of time. Any specific recommendations about nonfiction books or similar that discuss some of this?
posted by theantikitty at 5:29 PM on December 28, 2014

Professional musicians who can travel and still make a living would have been too expensive for common people, who depended on local folk musicians who stuck to a style and repertoire that was usually unique to one defined area. I research Klezmer and older Jewish and Roma/Gypsy music traditions, and I have not encountered any ensemble that was wide ranging or could be called "travelling musicians." A band might live in a town and travel out to nearby towns and villages, but rarely more that a day's journey. Both Jewish and Gypsy musicians often had professional guilds which defined the territories they could play in. So in most cases if you just hopped off a wagon and walked into a bar with your violin, you would have to get permission to play from the local guild (in Yiddish "tsekh") if you wanted to be paid, and you would not be likely to get it.

Classical musicians, on the other hand, often did travel, as did dancing masters. They would arrive at a town to do a concert and hire out the local musicians for accompaniment. The programs would be heavy on the locals alternating with the headliner and the resulting musical quality could be quite ragged and slipshod.
posted by zaelic at 5:57 AM on December 29, 2014

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