Impressionist painters socialized often at Parisian cabarets, including The Black Cat, and absinthe always flowed freely.
"Cabaret as we know it was founded in the early 1880s in Paris," said Benjamin Binder, a Duquesne University professor of music history and theory.
On the last Friday of this month, the Carnegie Museum of Art will stage "La Belle Époque Cabaret: An Evening in the Bohemian Style," its own cabaret inside the marble foyer of Carnegie Music Hall. Singer Robert Frankenberry will perform French songs, accompanied on the piano by Mr. Binder, who holds a doctorate in musicology from Princeton.
Mr. Frankenberry will evoke the era by singing songs popularized by Aristide Bruant, a French performer who wears a red scarf in one of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's colorful portraits. Bruant, who was proud of his gritty, working-class origins, performed regularly in the cafe concert (pronounced conSAIR), another venue for popular songs that traces its roots to a singing society formed around the time of the French Revolution.
Admission to the cafe concert was free, Mr. Binder said, but, "You had to buy a certain number of drinks. There was a stage. Beautiful women, in various arrays of clothing or not, would sing popular songs, some mindless, some risque or bawdy. Some songs had politically or sexually deviant messages."
In 19th-century France, cafe concerts allowed members of the middle and upper classes to mingle with poor Impressionist artists and sometimes be scandalized by the encounter. The cafe concert inspired Toulouse-Lautrec and Edgar Degas to paint performers who appeared on stage and later evolved into the Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergere, Mr. Binder said.
Beginning at 7:30 p.m. July 27, the Carnegie program will include art songs by Claude Debussy set to text by Paul Verlaine, one of the great sensual poets of 19th-century France, Mr. Binder said. Debussy and Verlaine both frequented The Black Cat.
By the latter half of the 19th century, Parisian streets had grown into wide boulevards and buildings were larger.
"Everything that used to be hidden in the old corners and byways had been thrust out onto the glaring lights of the street. That urban planning change had an effect on the culture of the art and music and forms of expression. Paris came to be what we know it as today -- a place to see and be seen. You walked down the boulevards. You got to see the vast variety of humanity. It was a constant show," Mr. Binder said.
Marylynne Pitz: email@example.com or 412-263-1648.