Prof. Katharine Ellis, University of Cambridge
When Gatekeepers Fail: Joseph Régnier and Church Music Reform
In France, 1848-1860
When Howard Becker wrote his celebrated book Art Worlds (1982) he became one of the first researchers to detail the collaborative nature of artistic endeavour and the variety of agents necessary not only for artistic production but also for effective distribution. Perhaps without realising it, he emphasised the positives: the ‘nurturing’ role of ‘contributing individuals’. Failure, in his book, is something suffered by artists, often because of collaboration not working in their favour (censorship, for example). Becker’s collaborators are, then, powerful intermediaries who can close doors as well as open them. However, intermediaries suffer their own pressures, all of which restrict their degree of influence: competition, financial difficulty, and social, political and infrastructural challenges. They can also fail, and their stories are historiographically useful for that very reason. The central figure of this paper is a forgotten name who published a frankly amateurish music journal—Le Chœur—in Nancy during the French Second Republic and Second Empire. His ‘art world’ of Catholic musical reformism was distant in time, place and ethos from those Becker considered; but the ambition of his project combined with his public cries of pain give us a unique insight into the messy middle ground between the extremes of heroic patronage or bad-faith power-broking among French musical intermediaries—a kind of middle ground that is probably more common than the historical evidence allows us to know.