A conference on "The 19th-Century American Orchestra" was held at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Jan 17-19, 2008. 20 leading scholars from a variety of disciplines presented their research on orchestras in 19th-century American history and culture. Below are the abstracts of the conference papers for everyone to read.In order to share their work with one another the conference participants have posted their papers as password-protected PDF files. Click on the author's name to the left, and if you know the password, you can read the paper and see the graphics as they were presented at the conference. We hope to publish the papers soon in printed form.
Karen Ahlquist (George Washington University): Cincinnati Festival Orchestras, 1873-82: Redefining Local Achievement on National Terms
Arguably the most artistically ambitious American city after the Civil War, between 1867 and 1881 Cincinnati, Ohio established the May Festival, built a music hall, opened two conservatories, and presented four professional opera festivals. Orchestra players contributed to this rise of musical Cincinnati by establishing the Cincinnati (Grand) Orchestra in 1872, which mounted a symphonic series each year, using local resources to win national approbation through artistic achievement.
From the first biennial May Festival in 1873, however, music by Wagner other contemporary composers necessitated importing players and vocal soloists, in turn encouraging links between artistic quality and challenges of scale. Although the local players performed in the festival, doing so undermined their identity as a source of locally-produced musical excellence. By 1882, competing May festivals on the Cincinnati model were held in New York and Chicago under Theodore Thomas' leadership. The local players performed in all three series; by this time the Cincinnati Orchestra was defunct.
Thomas' artistic and organizational triumph brought a decline in local pride in the face of new national musical standards. As the press praised renditions of monumental compositions by Thomas' "incomparable band," the gap between a festival and ordinary music-making grew. Cincinnati's clearly-lost uniqueness showed the city that its hopes and expectations for musical leadership were not to be realized. Supporting a local orchestra came to look like a "small" goal, leaving players with opportunities to perform at a high level but unable to define their performance as a significant achievement.
Adrienne Fried Block (CUNY): Thinking about Serious Music in New York, 1840-1870
There is considerable evidence that symphony programs in New York were influenced by early nineteenth-century writings on serious music, and the classification of musical genres by their structural design, especially the use or lack of sonata form, by the presence or absence of physical display, such as in virtuosic vocal and instrumental performance, or the kinaesthetic response to dance music. Symphony orchestras, according to the theory, were the best media for public education in the best music, because their high-art repertory consisted of abstract instrumental music without text or program, presented by a large body of players in venues seating thousands, thus reaching a maximum number of listeners who could focus on the music with minimal performative distractions. Further evidence of the theory’s influence can be found in both the programs and written records of the Philharmonic Society of New-York, est. 1842 (now called the New York Philharmonic),in the programs of early “Sacred Sunday” concerts conducted by Carl Bergmann, and the Theodore Thomas Orchestra. Changes in symphony programs from mixed to all serious genres will be traced through programs of the Philharmonic conducted by both Bergmann and then Thomas. The idealists’ elevation of critics to the level of public educators was a second aspect of their theory, and will be considered together with its critical opposition, based on reception as reported in New York’s newspapers, journals, memoirs, diaries, etc. and other contemporary writings.
Mark Clague (University of Michigan): Building the American Orchestra:
the Nineteenth-Century Roots of Twenty-First Century Musical Institutions
With nine administrative divisions under an executive director working with five staff conductors, a hundred plus musicians, a board of directors, volunteers, and countless collaborators, today’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) is considered an organizational model for orchestras in the United States. In order to get a symphony to “sound together” as its etymology proclaims, the ensemble depends on an institutional structure to raise funds, structure rehearsals, operate the stage, advertise, sell tickets, select music, etc. This structure reflects not only the ensemble’s practical requirements, but also its aesthetic goals and social mission. It is a structure rooted in a particular place under a particular set of circumstances and at a particular time in history. It also affects nearly every aspect of an orchestra’s performances, from ticket prices to programming.
The roots of the modern American orchestra as institution lie in its first nineteenth-century iterations. But how did ensembles move from primarily cooperative organizations such as New York’s musician-led Philharmonic Society or the Germania Society to the entrepreneurial Thomas Orchestra and the board-administered Chicago Symphony? What do these nineteenth-century models reveal about the nature and role of orchestral music in nineteenth-century America? And do they have anything to offer today’s orchestras as predictors of either success or failure—as models for emulation or avoidance?
This paper examines three types of early American orchestras: the cooperative, the entrepreneurial, and the corporate. Each model responds to a particular set of financial conditions and each shapes its orchestra’s programming choices and audience. Today’s most pervasive model—the corporate non-profit—finds its roots in nineteenth-century building initiatives to erect venues such as New York’s [Old] Metropolitan Opera House and Chicago’s Auditorium Theater. From such construction projects, today’s orchestral machines have been built and thus the exploration of these persistent organizational structures help clarify not only the American orchestra’s past, but inform its present and possibly its future.
Mary Wallace Davidson (Indiana University): John Sullivan Dwight and the Harvard Musical Association Orchestra: A Help or a Hindrance?
Although not a musician himself, John Sullivan Dwight (1813 – 1893) exercised an enormous (some would say, too much) influence on musical life in 19th-century Boston chiefly through his literary efforts among the Associationists beginning in the 1840s, his Journal of Music (1852 – 1881), and his leadership of the Harvard Musical Association (HMA), of which he was a founding Vice-President in 1838, and president from 1873 until his death.
The Civil War “well nigh killed music in Boston,” and did put an end to the short-lived Philharmonic Orchestra (1855 – 1863), under the direction of Carl Zerrahn (1826 – 1909). The HMA viewed this situation as an emergency, and swung into action, creating what became known as the “Harvard Orchestra” at the close of 1865, with Zerrahn as its conductor. Under Dwight’s management the orchestra produced “pure” music, of the “highest quality” until its demise in 1881—until then, the longest survival of any orchestra in Boston.
Several writers of summary histories have commented briefly on Dwight’s narrow, utopian tastes, leading to the ultimate decline of the orchestra and its audiences. This paper will present a balanced study, based on all the programs, reviews, personnel lists, correspondence, reports, and other extant archival materials of the HMA, as well as excerpts from the loud complaints from the Boston periodical press. The answer to the question posed in the title above will probably be, “Both!”
James Deaville (Carleton University): The Philharmonic Society, Hans Balatka and W.S.B. Mathews: Orchestra, Conductor, and Critic in Pre-Fire Chicago
Traditional lexical sources (including the New Grove) regard Theodore Thomas as Chicago’s first professional conductor, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as its first standing orchestra and G.P. Upton as the city’s first music critic, thereby drawing attention to the 1870s, ‘80s and ‘90s as the years for the emergence of organized concert life in the city. Examination of the historical record reveals, however, that another, earlier nexus of conductor—orchestra—music critic in Chicago laid the foundations for those later developments, already in the late 1860s: Hans Balatka, the Philharmonic Society and W.S.B. Mathews. This paper will examine how the interactions of conductor Balatka, critic Mathews and institution The Philharmonic Society during the late 1860s helped establish the conditions necessary for the eventual success of Thomas, Upton and the CSO. In such a pioneering generation, critical virtuosity counted for less than boosterism, and conducting excellence was less important than establishing a foundation of repertory and performance standards. The close study of one season (1868-1869) will allow us to observe in detail how Balatka's Philharmonic Society was able to mount a full season (five concerts) that not only featured a traditional repertory of Classic-era and early-19th-century compositions, but also introduced works by Liszt and Wagner. In general, Balatka and the Philharmonic Society tried to establish an audience in the young city through solid performances of standard and new works, while Mathews prepared the audiences for their concert-hall experiences through effective and insightful columns.
Barbara Haws (New York Philharmonic): U.C. Hill, The First American Musician Abroad (1835-1836): What He Learned that Led to the Founding of the New York Philharmonic
In early nineteenth-century New York, Ureli Corelli Hill, the son of a Massachusetts violin teacher and a violinist himself, was known as an organizer of and performer in many of the City's musical offerings including playing in the pit for the debut performances of Maria Garcia Malibran. In June 1835, Hill left New York to explore the musical communities of London, Paris and Germany and to study violin with Louis Spohr and composition with Mortiz Hauptmann in Kassel. In an article covering his travels abroad, the New York Evening Star (December 2, 1836) reported that Hill was the first American musician to go to Europe "solely with the view of improvement in his profession."
While on this journey, Hill kept a detailed account of who he met, what performances he attended, the configurations of orchestras he experienced either as an audience member or as a player, drew comparisons with New York musical life, and recorded the cost of everything from tickets to cherries. This paper will focus primarily on Hill's observations of the various orchestras he encountered and how these findings were implemented (or not) in the founding of the New York Philharmonic in 1842.
Bethany Goldberg (Indiana University):The Orchestral Potential at Bernard Ullman’s Academy of Music
During 1858, Bernard Ullman, the manager of New York City’s Academy of Music, programmed a variety of instrumental concerts to replace and compete with the offerings of the Philharmonic Society of New York, whose annual contract to perform at the Academy he refused to renew that year. Ullman’s financially driven decisions highlight the influence managers had on the burgeoning orchestral culture of mid-nineteenth-century America.
Among his aggressive managerial tactics, Ullman programmed several “Philharmonic Concerts” at the Academy in direct competition with the Philharmonic Society offerings. His concerts featured virtuosos Sigismund Thalberg, Henri Vieuxtemps, and Carl Formes, all of whom were under individual contracts with him and whom he strictly prohibited from performing with the Philharmonic Society. Ullman also engaged French showman Alfred Musard and his “monster orchestra” for a series of promenade concerts in the spring and summer of 1858. Musard’s fame rested in lively dance pieces and solo numbers, but the programming intentionally went beyond these popular entertainments to include modern orchestral works by Berlioz and Mendelssohn.
Unlike other managers of the period, Bernard Ullman prioritized his entrepreneurial goals ahead of musical motivations. By promoting concerts in competition with the Philharmonic Society, Ullman must have believed the audience for such orchestral performances was large enough to ensure financial success. His tactics for diversifying programs further served to increase attendance from all classes of listeners. Ullman’s management strategies in 1858 exploited the potential for a more diverse and abundant orchestral life in New York and the United States.
John Graziano (CUNY): The Invisible Entertainers: Theater Orchestras in New York City, 1850-1900
While studies of symphonic and opera orchestras have interested several scholars over the past decade, relatively little attention has been devoted to the pit orchestra, which was heard in many different theatrical settings. These orchestras, which rarely exceeded fifteen instruments, were resident in most theaters, but especially in the higher class venues. They provided music before the play, during intermission, after the show, and accompanied the actors during the show as needed.
This paper documents, through extant programs, newspaper articles and announcements, periodical advertisements, and music, the variety of roles played by pit orchestras, the musicians who conducted and arranged the music, and the critics’ views on musical taste in the theaters during the last half of the nineteenth century.
John Koegel (California State University, Fullerton): The Sunday “Sacred Concert” and Orchestral Music in Later Nineteenth-Century New York City
The long-lived tradition of the Sunday “sacred concert” was instituted by the mid nineteenth century in New York City (and elsewhere in the United States) in order to present performances on Sundays of theatrical and musical works that otherwise would have been prohibited by city statutes, known as “blue laws.” They were not always concerts and were rarely sacred in nature. Though popular among English-speaking audiences, they were also closely associated with the German-American community. The sites for these sacred concerts were German theaters, beer halls and gardens, dance halls, society and club halls, and other venues. This paper examines the use of orchestral music for entertainment, artistic, and didactic purposes in the German American community in the later nineteenth century, with a particular emphasis on the repertory and programming methods of German American conductors such as Adolf Neuendorff and Nahan Franko. Though less well known than their contemporaries, the New York conductors Theodore Thomas and Carl Bergmann, their performances of “light classical” and dance music, as well as excerpts from the standard (or soon-to-be standard) repertory exposed audiences from various social and ethnic groups to a wide range of orchestral music. This European orchestral music was sometimes juxtaposed in sharp contrast with other forms of musical entertainment such as vaudeville acts. Orchestral music, performed by such groups as the famous Elite Damen Kapelle (women’s orchestra), was a staple of the repertory performed at New York’s principal German “high-class” concert hall-beer hall venues, the Atlantic Garden on the Bowery and the Terrace Garden on East 58th Street. Sunday sacred concerts given at these venues highlighted the sharp contrasts and accommodation between low-, middle-, and high-brow culture that New Yorkers experienced on a daily basis.
Brenda Nelson-Strauss (Indiana University): Sowing the Seeds: Theodore Thomas's Contribution to American Music
Theodore Thomas conducted as many as 7,000 concerts in over 200 cities across America from 1862-1905, leading some critics to dub him the “Johnny Appleseed” of orchestral music. His Theodore Thomas Orchestra was a fixture of New York concert life for over twenty-five years, performing “symphony soirees” in the winter followed by an extensive series of summer garden concerts. In addition, Thomas led the Brooklyn Philharmonic from 1866-1891 and the New York Philharmonic Society from 1877-1891. As the leader of the city’s foremost orchestras, Thomas left an indelible mark on music in Gotham, simultaneously elevating the level of technical proficiency in his orchestras and cultivating a new appreciation for symphonic music. He promoted American composers, whose works were often programmed on his concerts, and also introduced to American audiences hundreds of works by Europe’s foremost composers. The majority of the scores and parts used for these performances were retained by Thomas, who by 1905 had amassed the largest private library of orchestral music in the country (now held by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Rosenthal Archive and the Newberry Library). Using examples of manuscripts and rare first editions from Thomas’s library, an attempt will be made to shed new light on his relationships with both American and European composers. An overview of his American premieres will also be provided, along with the performance history of selected works.
Nancy Newman (SUNY, Albany): Gender and the Germanians: “Art–Loving Ladies” in 19th–Century Concert Life
There is no doubt that the Germania Musical Society was a homosocial group; none of the performing members of the orchestra were women. However, women played diverse roles in sustaining the ensemble during its years together, 1848–1854. This paper summarizes the available evidence on the Germanians’ gender politics, paying particular attention to their activities in Baltimore and Boston. Adrienne Fried Block’s work on gender and New York concert audiences provides a model for the analysis of the orchestra’s activities.
Women worked with the Germanians as guest artists, patrons, and listeners. The “mixed repertory” programs of mid–century often included vocalists, and the Germanians shared numerous programs with European singers such as Jenny Lind, Henriette Sontag, and Teresa Parodi. Female instrumentalists, such as the violinist Camille Urso, frequently assisted the Germania as well.
As patrons, women sustained the Germania through ticket sales and concert attendance. The orchestra might have dissolved during its first year had it not been for the Baltimore women who took the initiative to sell subscriptions. Female attendance was consistently encouraged by the Germanians, as can been seen in their special ticket prices for “two ladies and a gentleman,” and concerts scheduled for families. In Boston, the Germanians pioneered the practice of inexpensive “public rehearsals,” afternoon concerts that made listening particularly accessible to women. Further evidence of the cultivation of female audiences is found in piano arrangements of works played by the orchestra. These publications targeted women in several ways, as can be seen in their titles, dedications, and distribution.
As this paper will show, these activities helped women of diverse social backgrounds see themselves as having a stake in the orchestra’s fate and in mid–century musical culture generally.
Katherine K. Preston (College of William and Mary): "A Concentration of Talent on Our Musical Horizon": The 1853-54 American Tour by Jullien’s Extraordinary Orchestra
The French musician Louis Antoine Jullien (1812-1860) was the most renowned orchestra conductor in the world when he arrived in America in August 1853. He brought with him a core of exceptional European instrumentalists and filled out the remainder of his 100-piece ensemble with Americans. After a fabulously successful season in New York City, Jullien took a pared-down version of his Orchestra on the road, performing over one hundred additional concerts all over the eastern half of the country. American music critics, from the beginning to the end of his visit, effusively praised the ensemble’s repertory, extraordinary soloists, and incomparably high performance standards. This was unquestionably the best orchestra heard in America up to this time, and Jullien’s impact—on the musicians who performed under him, on audiences, and on American composers—was profound. It is surprising, then, that there has been almost no research on the Jullien Orchestra’s tour outside of New York.
Through January 1854 the ensemble performed primarily on the East Coast (Boston to Washington). From January through May, however, the Orchestra traveled to the west (Cincinnati) and south (New Orleans and Mobile) and back up the East Coast to Philadelphia; then to the north (to Boston via Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Rochester). Their final series of concerts was in New York in late May and June. This paper will be a summary examination of Jullien’s tour, with particular attention paid to repertory (as extracted from programs from local newspapers), reception, and impact on American musical culture at mid century.
Ora Frishberg Saloman (CUNY): Leopold Damrosch’s Orchestra, 1877-1878: Background, Instrumentation, Reception
When Leopold Damrosch (1832-1885) arrived in America in 1871, he was a mature immigrant musician who had left behind a successful German career as violinist, composer, and conductor. He had been in this country just six years when he formed his own orchestra following a tenure of only one season as conductor of the Philharmonic Society of New York from 1876 to 1877. By October 1878 the resourceful maestro had founded the Symphony Society of New York with its New York Symphony Orchestra. However, very little has been known about the orchestra Damrosch created during the transitional period between his affiliation with the established institution and his development of a new performing organization. The goal of this paper is to provide information concerning the background, instrumentation, programming ideas, and critical reception of Leopold Damrosch’s Orchestra during the one season of its independent existence. Primary sources utilized for the study include materials in the various Damrosch collections located at the Music Division of the Library of Congress, the New York Philharmonic Archives, and the Archives of the Oratorio Society of New York as well as in magazines, journals, and newspapers of the era. It is hoped that this research may contribute to increased recognition of Leopold Damrosch's significant role in American orchestral culture as conductor and concert organizer in nineteenth-century New York.
Anna-Lise Santella (University of Chicago ): Modeling music: Early social structures of women’s orchestras.
The 1871 American tour of the Vienna Ladies’ Orchestra kicked off an American women’s orchestra movement that peaked in the 1930s. The earliest of these professional women’s orchestras, most founded and conducted and staffed entirely by women, claimed to model themselves on the Vienna Ladies’ Orchestra’s example, but in fact seem to have borrowed their organizational structures from other organizations, including women’s clubs and male and female professional chamber ensembles. Using as examples two of the earliest American women’s orchestras, the Fadettes Womans Orchestra of Boston [sic], founded in 1888, and the Los Angeles Woman’s Symphony, founded in 1893, this paper explores the role of organizational models in the development of two different types of women’s orchestras, the first a small, professional touring ensemble, and the second a large, symphonic, unpaid, residential ensemble. The two ensembles took different approaches to defining expertise. Together, the two types helped to define a professional class of female orchestral musician that would affect the way orchestras, both male and female, conducted their business well into the twentieth century.
John Spitzer (San Francisco Conservatory of Music): American Musicians’ Unions in the 19th Century
Most professional orchestra musicians in the United States after the Civil War belonged to musicians’ unions. Unions were organized on a city-by-city basis—the New York Musical Mutual Protective Union, the Philadelphia Musical Association, the Chicago Musical Society, the Cincinnati Musicians’ Protective Association, the Musicians’ Mutual Protective Union of San Francisco, and many others. By 1896, according to one count, there were over 75 local musicians unions.
The most important functions of these unions were to operate a labor exchange, where leaders of bands and orchestras could hire musicians, to insure that local union members received all the musical jobs in town, and to establish a “price list,” that is a schedule of pay rates for various types of musical work. An important feature of musicians’ unions was that they included both players and their employers: conductors, bandleaders and contractors had to be union members in order to engage musicians for their ensembles.
The last quarter of the 19th century saw a series of attempts to unite these local unions into a national organization. The most important were the National League of Musicians (founded, 1886) and the American Federation of Musicians (founded 1896). The NLM and the AFM engaged in a short but intense rivalry between 1896 and 1903, with the AFM emerging victorious. Most historians have characterized this dispute as a conflict between ideologies, with the NLM and the East Coast locals like New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore espousing a doctrine of musicians as “artists” and their organizations as “professional” societies, while the western locals saw musicians as “workers” and their organizations as “trade unions.” This interpretation is misleading. All the locals—partisans of the NLM or the AFM—organized themselves and functioned as trade unions. They called their members “workers” or “professionals” alternately as suited the occasion. The rivalry between the NLM and the AFM and between eastern and western locals, had more to do with national vs. local organization of the music business. The NLM and the NewYork Musical Mutual Protective Union represented the interests of musicians operating in a national market; the AFM and the western locals represented the interests of musicians working in their local areas.
Patrick Warfield (Georgetown University):
The Georgetown Amateur Orchestra of Washington, D.C., 1880-1900
Given that late nineteenth-century Washington was without a national orchestra, opera company, or conservatory, it is hardly surprising that critics often referred to the city as a sleepy, southern town. But the lack of an incorporated ensemble hardly means that Washingtonians were without an orchestra of their own. A study of Washington’s newspapers reveals that choral, chamber, and orchestral music performed with friends in amateur settings provided a significant portion of daily musical activity. This paper is a study of just one of these ensembles, the Georgetown Amateur Orchestra, which was active between 1877 and 1905. Surviving rosters reveal that the ensemble was composed of three types of musicians. There were players for whom the orchestra served as a social and musical outlet. These true amateurs included members of Washington’s most powerful social and political families. But weak instrumental sections naturally needed to be supplemented with professional musicians. These were often ringers hired from the United States Marine Band and local theater orchestras. Finally, there was a sort of middle-ground musician, players who seem to have had other professions, but appeared with startling frequency on the Washington stage. Programs and reviews indicate that the organizing members (almost always amateurs) were interested in more than simply providing Washington audiences with a source of entertainment. They saw their amateur music making as a means of bringing high art to their neighborhood and viewed the orchestra as a way of providing cultural education for their friends and neighbors.
William Weber (CSU, Long Beach): Programming in Boston’s Earliest Orchestral Series, 1840-1855
In most European cities one orchestra rose to predominance within the emerging world of classical music during the first half of the nineteenth century. Yet in his seminal history of music in Boston c. 1750-1860, Michael Broyles demonstrated that three ensembles competed with one another during the 1840s, no one of them--the Academy of Music, Musical Fund Society, or Philharmonic Society—achieving any such hegemonic position. Thus did public orchestral music first appear with an open-ended quality close to the heart of Alexis de Tocqueville.
This paper will discuss the programming of the three orchestras, to see how the practices of the Boston orchestras were closely linked with European practices but nonetheless went in somewhat different directions. In no case did a repertory focus as strictly upon classical or sacred works as did the Concert Spirituel in Vienna or the Society of Concerts of the Conservatoire in Paris. Boston's orchestras instead resembled the programming found in the Philharmonic Society of London and the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, where opera selections and virtuoso pieces remained central to orchestral concerts for much of the nineteenth century. Ballads were also included to a certain extent, similar to what was done in Birmingham and other English cities. Yet the Boston orchestras rarely offered the glee, a genre central to many performing institutions in that country. And some programs demonstrate an unusual rigor, excluding glees, ballads, and opera selections, indeed offering little vocal music of any kind, as was rarely found in Europe until the 1880s.