The Ideal World of Mrs. Widder's Soirée Musicale: Social Identity and Musical Life in Nineteenth-Century Ontario


154 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-660-19344-2
DDC 781.5'35'09713551




Reviewed by Desmond Maley

Desmond Maley is the music librarian at the J.W. Tate Library,
Huntington College, Laurentian University, and editor of the CAML


I am unconvinced that this topic merited a book-length treatment.
Guiguet’s basic thesis is that “all the world is contained in a
grain of sand,” the grain in this case being a “soirée musicale”
held at the posh Toronto home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Widder on March
12, 1844.

Guiguet uses the high-society occasion to paint a portrait of
19th-century gender roles, social networks, local politics, the
relationship between working musicians and “leisure class” amateurs,
and the complexities of art and etiquette when designing concert
programs. The trouble is that we simply don’t know enough about the
concert itself. The only document Guiguet has is the program. There were
no newspaper accounts of this private concert, and neither the
participants nor the audience left diaries or correspondence that
touched on the event.

As a result, Guiguet recounts what she managed to find out about the
life and times of the participants, as well as the history of these
kinds of events. She also engages in a close textual analysis of the
program of ballads, glees, and opera arias. Although Guiguet is
successful in showing that it is well constructed, she is on shakier
ground when she claims the program is a veiled defence of Mr. Widder’s
political machinations. (A prominent developer, Widder was engaged at
the time in a campaign to turn over Crown land reserved for the Anglican
Church to the private sector.) There also is a lengthy digression on the
post-soirée career of “Miss Hagerman,” a gifted amateur who later
became Mrs. John Beverley Robinson Jr., the wife of Ontario’s

Then there is the “ideal world” of the book’s title. Guiguet uses
that phrase to refer to how the soirée epitomized the social order of
the British Empire, with Toronto being a colonial branch plant. To me,
however, it raised several questions: How many soirées were there all
told? Why have so few programs survived? How much importance did people
attach to these events? In the end, I was left with the feeling that
this product of a master’s thesis had made more out of the occasion
than was warranted.


Guiguet, Kristina Marie., “The Ideal World of Mrs. Widder's Soirée Musicale: Social Identity and Musical Life in Nineteenth-Century Ontario,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,