How I felt let down by the English language, and by Google, and by Wikipedia and by the whole worldwide web. There I sat, longing for images of romantic 19th century summer parks, with elegant cast-iron pavilions sheltering brass bands playing invigorating music... Full of nostalgic expectations I had typed “Music Kiosk” , the literal English transcript of a most charming Dutch word. But ach, Google promptly led me to a horrendous collection of gleaming digital music vending machines. Wikipedia did mention “Kiosks” as open garden pavilions in ancient Persia and India but then brutely switched to kiosks as banal sales booths in more recent times. When trying “Music pavilion” instead, Google threw up some futuristic Arkansas music stage.
An ordinary dictionary brought help : “Bandstand” was the word! “Bandstand” .... what an utterly disappointing word, so entirely without grace.
Just as dull and basic as the stingy page that Wikipedia devotes to bandstands.
So is this then a mainly continental European enchantment? At any rate, not only are the Dutch ("Muziek Kiosk") and French words ("Kiosque à Musique") far nicer – the subject also seems to raise more affectionate interest on the European continent than in Anglosaxon regions. The French Wikipédia page about Kiosques & Kiosques à Musique is as instructive as Wiki comes (1). And I found many Dutch and French webpages testifying of impassioned individual initiatives to save local Kiosques à Musique/Muziekkiosken from sad neglect and disrepair.
“kiosques du monde” for a brief history , a bibliography, literary references and many many pictures. On that site I furthermore learned that the ultimate book about kiosques à musique has also already been written, by Marie–Claire Mussat: La Belle Epoque des Kiosques à Musique (3)
Whence this sudden infatuation with “kiosques à musiques / muziekkiosken/ music kiosks” (2), the puzzled reader may ask. Not sudden at all, and obviously much more durable than an infatuation. It is part of my fascination for the 19th Century – so materialistic and positivist and ruthless an age – and yet, how tangible its architectural heritage, how exalted still its reverence for culture, how aesthetically minded its engineers and architects (whether they were building sturdy railway stations, bridges, or rather more frivolous bandstands).
And then, last week, I happened to be moved by an endearing example of such a bandstand, while wandering about in Tournai, a sleepy provincial Walloon town - with however a grandiose past, as witnessed by its formidable Romanesque cathedral, its bulky 19th Century railway station and various other remaining civil buildings and public spaces. Tournai is also home to one of the most charming museums I know (4).
On my way to this museum, I strolled through an austere looking public park, surrounded by dignified though worn-out neo-classical buildings, the whole looking rather desolate with the flowerbeds still empty and the fountains dead. In an adjacent, wooded public garden the trees still looked very wintry, and there, through the bare branches, I caught a first glimpse of it.
This kiosk (2), so rusty and decaying, so abandoned - and yet, by its sheer form and materiality evoking blissful summers past, careless gaiety and frivolous garden pleasures enlivened by arousing brass music ...
Dont les soldats parfois inondent nos jardins,
Et qui, dans ces soirs d'or où l'on se sent revivre,
Versent quelque héroïsme au coeur des citadins. »(5)
(1) Britannica: One can only wonder how the formidable Encyclopedia Britannica and Larousse Encyclopédie would treat the subject. Not on-line I mean, but in their heavy weight book version. I bet they’d illuminate the reader with nice little époque drawings of “kiosques à musique” and with cross references to lemma’s about light music and about military music and about “belle époque” leisure habits? But alas, recently a news flashed by on the internet announcing the end of the Brittanica as a book . This is what The Independent writes: “On a sad day for knowledge, metaphors, and door-to-door salespeople, Encyclopaedia Britannica announced last week that it will no longer publish its print edition, and henceforth it will only be available online and as an app.”
(2) Bandstand: The word, alas, is “Bandstand” - OED: “ a covered platform outdoors, where musicians, especially a brass or military band, can stand and play”
(3) Belle Epoque - the hunt is open to find a physical copy of this book - Marie-Claire Mussat: La Belle Epoque des Kiosques à Musique
(4) Beaux Arts : Le Musée des Beaux Arts de Tournai was built early in the 20th Century by the art nouveau architect Horta, displaying a fascinating mix of styles, hesitating between sinuous art nouveau and much sterner and geometric art deco. When you push open the heavy doors of this outwardly rather austere looking building, you cannot but gasp from sheer delight and happiness. There you are welcomed by sheltering spaces, lavish ceiling light and many an enchanting perspective. It’s a museum with a small but beautiful collection ranging from a Madonna by the local painter Roger de la Pasture (aka Rogier van der Weyden) to some famous impressionist paintings.