Bals masqués de l'opéra


Composer, conductor, and party planner, Philippe Musard (1792-1859) was called “king of the quadrilles.” In the 1830s, he began conducting bals masqués (masked balls) at the Paris Opera.

According to Richard Semmens, (The Bals Publics at the Paris Opéra) “The range of possibilities for what was termed a “ball” … was quite considerable. At one extreme were the carefully regulated bals parés at the other were the elaborately staged bals masqués. In fact, it was not until the inauguration of the famous “Bals Musard” in 1837 that a masked public ball began once more to dominate all others in Paris.” (MUS GV1748 .S46 2004)

In his Dictionary of Paris, Charles Dickens wrote “Public balls [and] the bals masqué de l’opéra have always been popular in Paris. It is the fashion nowadays to say that these balls are no longer what they were, that they are lifeless and that half the fun has gone from them. There is some truth in the complaint, for fifty years ago they were all the rage; the costumes then were droll and grotesque; people then took trouble and went to some expense to dress themselves so that each one should add his share to The gaiety of the scene; therefore, of souse, the dancing was more vigorous and hearty. For a few years, from 1830 to 1836, the dancing was very wild; from that date it has never been completely uproarious….”

“Still the sight is one to be seen. …The whole floor of the theatre is boarded over, and one may walk without interruption, except that caused by the crowd, from the back of the stalls to the back of the stage. …There are those who go to the bals masqué de l’opéra merely as a thing of fashion, others go to enjoy themselves; and the line of demarcation between the dancers—that is between the great crowd—and those that stand aloof in the foyer and in the passages where people walk up and down and see their friends is clearly marked. Some of the fine folk disdain the crowd; we may be certain that the feeling is reciprocal.”


Artist unknown, Bals masqués, 1853. Lithograph. Graphic Arts Theater Collection.

Listen to a quadrille by Musard: