Paris’s hidden musical story
Smoky cabarets, chansons and can-can dances, and the perfect travel playlist to go with it all.
Paris hides centuries of musical history within itself. From the troubadours, cathedral choirs and lutes of old, to the symphonies and operas of Romanticism.
The tight winding streets of the Monmartre district tell us even more modern stories. They speak of can-can dances and forbidden entertainment; of lonely wartime writers, absinthe, and the heavy keys of a piano, banging out a sad chanson in a cabaret.
Walking the streets in the artist quarter, Monmartre, with the faded ornamented facades, makes you think of The Belle Epoque. The bright and hopeful days before the First World War seem so close; back when traveling across Europe was easy and swift for the wealthy - on newly laid train lines.
When you enter a cabaret, the past comes alive: and with it, 19th centure cafe-concerts in Monmartre. An evening of entertainment started with a witty monologue from the owner, a gentleman-cabaretier. The crowd? A unique mix of high-livers, but also journalists and artists, prostitutes and models. Song, dance and recitations could happen, as well as weirder things like magicians’ performances and shadow plays. It was the perfect experience, a balance between dining and lively entertainment_.
_That’s where the famous French chansons were born a few decades later, lyrical songs, a slow and melodic lament of the poor workers’ struggles, or personal love-life tragedies. From Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel, to Serge Gainsbourg, well-known Olympia Theater remembers so many performances.
The Moulin Rouge is probably the most famous cabaret in Europe. Bright red glowing name, gently flowing in the natural curves of an Art Nouveau script. Lavish musical and theatrical productions came to life there daily since it opened in 1889.
Can-can was born here - picture a line of women in revealing clothes, in garters and skirts, doing high kicks and cartwheels. Courtesans came up with the dance to seduce their clients. Now the cabaret is a major tourist attraction, a freeze-frame of times long gone.