Music and Musical Life in the Utopian Community of La Réunion, Texas (1855-58), with a Little-Known Songbook

by John Michael Cooper
Southwestern University
AMS-SW Conference, Spring 2015
University of North Texas

Paper Abstract

One of the most influential inspirations for the hundreds of so-called “utopian communities” that sprang up in the United States in the nineteenth century was the French social theorist Charles Fourier (1772-1837), author of eleven treatises and over two hundred journal articles that collectively drafted a new blueprint for society. Distinctive in Fourier’s thought was the integral role of music and abstract musical concepts. Not only were the entire range of vocational and personal aptitudes and all the collective properties of society and the physical universe phenomena that were analogues of the musical scale, with individual components identified according to the pitches of the chromatic scale and their intervallic relationships; but song and especially the opera industry were to be essential elements for achieving a divinely inspired social order.

This paper examines a little-known manuscript songbook held in the University of Texas at Arlington and other primary sources in order to gain a view of the music and musical life in the Fourierist community of La Réunion (near Dallas, Texas) during the years 1855-58. An offshoot of Fourierist philosophy conceived and led by Victor Considerant (1808-93) with significant aid from novelist Clarisse Vigoureux (1789-1865) and composer/journalist Allyre Bureau (1810-59), La Réunion was launched as a pilot project for a series of European utopian colonies that were to be established on the Western frontiers of the antebellum U.S. The colony ultimately foundered in the wake of financial difficulties and the harsh Texas climate – but its conceptual premises and day-to-day life reveal much about the issues and tensions that characterized life in U.S. intentional communities in the mid-nineteenth century. These considerations in turn offer a glimpse of the ways in which Fourier’s ideas were – and were not – able to sow the seeds of what he termed a “new industrial and societary world.”