The Celebrated Circus Tunes: Music and Musicians in an Eighteenth-Century Circus

Kim Baston


The early modern circus was not only a feast for the eyes, but also for the ears. Music accompanied the equestrians, tumblers, and dancers (on the rope, horse and stage), and underscored the pantomimes. It came to the fore in the performance of burlettas and in individual songs, often performed by audience request. Sometimes the audience joined in a rousing chorus. The visual spectacle was always ‘heard through’ music, and popular music from the circus performances (as for the patent theatres of the day), was published for the domestic market, ensuring that some part of the experience could be relived at home. This article examines the function of music in the circus during the late eighteenth-century, considering how it supported the physical performances, and how these functions were underpinned by the embodied practices of the musicians.

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Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303