Exposition Universelle (1889)  

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"One of the earliest examples of crossover music is the music of French composer Claude Debussy. In 1889 the French government staged the great Paris Exposition, an event that was to have profound effects on many areas of western art and music. Debussy visited the exposition and it was here that he first heard gamelan music performed by Sundanese musicians. He was transfixed by the hypnotic, layered sound of the gamelan orchestra and reportedly returned to the Dutch East Indies pavilion over several days to listen to the Indonesian musicians perform and to study the structure and tuning of this novel musical form. His exposure to gamelan music had a direct influence on the composition of his famous Nocturnes for orchestra. "--Sholem Stein

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The Exposition Universelle of 1889 was a World's Fair held in Paris, France from May 6, to October 31, 1889.

It was held during the year of the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, an event traditionally considered as the symbol for the beginning of the French Revolution.

The main symbol of the Fair was the Eiffel Tower, which was completed in 1889, and served as the entrance arch to the Fair. A "Negro village" (village nègre) where 400 indigenous people were displayed constituted the major attraction.

The Exposition covered a total area of 0.96 km², including the Champ de Mars, the Trocadéro, the quai d'Orsay, a part of the Seine and the Invalides esplanade.

At the Exposition, the French composer Claude Debussy first heard Javanese gamelan music, performed by an ensemble from Java. David Toop, a modern musical critic, denotes Debussy's experience at the fair to mark the start of an ambient music. Toop expounds upon Debussy's importance in his 1995 exegesis on ambient sound, Ocean of Sound.


The main symbol of the Fair was the Eiffel Tower, which was completed in 1889, and served as the entrance arch to the Fair. The tower was constructed of wrought iron (or more correctly, puddled iron, a form of purified wrought iron). Gustav Eiffel was the architect. The 1889 fair was built on the Champ de Mars in Paris, which had been the site of the earlier Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867, and would be the site of the 1900 exposition as well.

An equally significant building constructed for the fair was the Galerie des machines, designed by architect Ferdinand Dutert (1845-1906) and engineer Victor Contamin (1840-1893), which was reused at the exposition of 1900 and then destroyed in 1910. At 111 meters, the Galerie (or "Machinery Hall") spanned the longest interior space in the world at the time, using a system of hinged arches (like a series of bridge spans placed not end-to-end but parallel) made of steel or iron. The choice of construction material is controversial; the building was designed to be built with steel but was actually constructed in iron.

Volume 10 of Studies in the History of Civil Engineering: Structural Iron and Steel 1850-1900 (published by Ashgate Publishing Limited and edited by Robert Thorne in 2000), includes an article by John W. Stamper, The Galerie des Machines of the 1889 Paris world’s fair. In it, Stamper claims that

The principal material of the building’s structure was to have been steel, but the decision was made at the last minute to use iron instead. There is considerable confusion about this on the part of architectural historians, most of whom assume it was built of steel since that is what is mentioned by contemporary journalists before the opening of the fair. William Watson, an American engineer who wrote a thorough report on the fair after it closed states that the idea of using steel was abandoned “on the two-fold ground of expense and the necessity of hastening the execution of work. “ The price of iron was about two-thirds that of steel in 1889….

There is an extensive and elaborate description of the Exposition's two famous buildings in the British journal Engineering (May 3, 1889 issue) with illustrations. A follow-up report appears in the June 14th issue of Engineering with this summation:

... the exhibition will be famous for four distinctive features. In the first place, for its buildings, especially the Eiffel tower and the Machinery Hall; in the second place, for its Colonial Exhibition, which for the first time brings vividly to the appreciation of the Frenchmen that they are masters of lands beyond the sea; thirdly, it will be remembered for its great collection of war material, the most absorbing subject now-a-days, unfortunately, to governments if not to individuals; and fourthly, it will be remembered, and with good cause by many, for the extraordinary manner in which South American countries are represented. (p. 677)

The June 28th issue of Engineering also mentions a remarkable "Great Model of the Earth" created by Theodore Villard and Charles Cotard. There were unseasonal thunderstorms in Paris during that summer of 1889, causing some distress to the canopies and decoration of the exposition, as reported by the Engineering issues at that time.

The Exhibition included a building by the Paris architect Pierre-Henri Picq. This was an elaborate iron and glass structure decorated with ceramic tiles in a Byzantine-Egyptian-Romanesque style. After the Exposition the building was shipped to Fort de France and reassembled there, the work being completed by 1893. Known as the Schoelcher Library, initially it contained the 10,000 books that Victor Schoelcher had donated to the island. Today it houses over 250,000 books and an ethnographic museum, and stands as a tribute to the man it is named after who led the movement to abolish slavery in Martinique.

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