The History of New York State
Book 12, Chapter 17, Part 1

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam



Modern music had its beginnings about the time of the Dutch settlement on the Hudson River, and as the United Provinces were far in advance of other European countries in the cultivation of polyphonic music, it is not unreasonable to assume that the colonists were proportionately in advance of the Swedes in Pennsylvania, the Cavaliers in Virginia, and certainly immeasurably ahead of the Puritans in New England, who frowned upon music of all kinds except the crude variety used in their form of worship. Johannes Okeghem, 1434-96, a Flemish musician, made chapel-master to Louis XI, of France, was the founder of the second or new school of Netherlands composers, and his pupil, Josquin des Pres, justly styled by Dr. Burney the "Father of Modern Harmony," was the foremost musician of his period, 1445-1521. In the so-called "Golden Age of Music," J. Arcadelt, Clemens non Papa, Orlando di Lasso and Jan P. Sweelinck, all musician of the Low Countries, were without rivals in northern Europe, and exerted influences no less profound than those of Palestrina, in Italy, Vittoria, in Spain, or Orlando Gibbons, in England. What is generally regarded as the world's first opera, Jacopo Peri's "Dafne," received its first performance in Florence in 1597, the development of the oratorio came even later, and Haydn, "Father of the Symphony," was not born until 1732.

When the Dutch began the colonization of the region now called New York, Monteverde, in fact, was just beginning the publication of the works which partly justify his title of having invented the harmonic style of composition.

Necessarily, early colonists are chiefly hewers of wood and drawers of water, artisans, not artists, but it is safe to assume that when the professional and aristocratic classes of Dutchmen south to carve out for themselves homes on the advanced frontier of which Fort Orange (Albany) was the center; on Manhattan and Long Islands, they brought a certain degree of general culture wit them in which music must have been included. Of this early period the records are unfortunately missing.

Spinets or viginals were not only in use in New York early in the eighteenth century, but were manufactured here, although the more elaborate harpsichords, sometimes with doubt or tripe keyboards and couplers, continued to be imported. In 1704 Trinity Church conferred with Henry Nearing about the installation of an organ, but it was not until 1739 that the vestry actually came to terms with "Mr. John Clemm, of Philadelphia, organ maker," and recorded that in their opinion the pipes should be gilded with gold leaf. Clemm, otherwise, Johann Gottlieb Klemm, was a native of Dresden, who had worked under Silbermann, and came to America in 1733. Completed in 1741, this organ cost Trinity parish £520. Trinity's second organ, made by Snetzler, in England, and brought over in 1764, cost £850. It was destroyed by fire in 1776, and not replaced until 1791, when an instrument for Trinity was built in London by Henry Holland.

By 1750 harpsichords were made in New York of sufficient excellence to justify their use in public, and Tremaine, who may later have become the city's first musical director, made one which was played in the John Street Theatre in 1750. Tremaine, in early life a cabinet maker, eventually became an actor. In 1773, David Walhaupter, "at the upper end of Fair Street," advertising in the "New York Journal" his readiness to make and repair harpsichords, guitars and all sorts of musical instruments. In the same year Herman Zedwitz, "violin teacher from Europe," gave a concert at Hull's Assembly Rooms, at which he was accompanied on the pianoforte by Mr. Hulett. Apparently this was the first mention in New York of the instrument invented by Christofori, of Florence, about 1709, and destined to be brought to its highest perfection by New York manufacturers.

The evolution of music in Europe, which progressed rapidly during the post-renaissance period, quickly reacted in the New World. Opera, which had been a favorite form of entertainment in every royal court which could afford it, and in some which could not, was known in Virginia before it reached New York, and in both provinces the first work to be completely performed was the "Beggar's Opera," which was at once a travesty on Italian opera and a political satire. John Gay's witty text, however, was sung to music which Dr. Papist had pilfered with admirable taste from both Handel and Bononcini, from Purcell, Frescobaldi, and Rameau and many others. First given in New York in 1751, it had an immense success, and made the performance of such English ballad operas as "Love in a Village," by Dr. Arne; "Maid of the Mill," by Arnold; "Inkle and Yarico," "Children of the Wood," "Paul and Virginia," and Kelly's "Blue Beard" and Hunter of the Alps," not only possible but profitable.

From this small beginning New York was to assume a commanding position, not only in the production of serious opera on a splendid scale, but in chamber music, symphonic concerts, and in every form of musical activity. For the sake of clarity in a narrative which might be expanded to cover a world-wide range, because of all the foremost creators and interpreters of this art look to New York for their ultimate success, it may be well to trace the development of opera first.

Ballad opera was the first and only form of music drama in which the British attained distinction. In their colony of New York these works were performed almost entirely by English singers, among who may be named the early favorites, all from London theatres: Miss Storer, Miss Brett, Miss Broadhurst, Mrs. Oldmixon, Mrs. Hilson, and Mrs. Holman. The first opera composed in America, dated Philadelphia, 1767, bore the ominous title, "The Disappointment." It was the work of Francis Hopkinson, of Philadelphia, better known later as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. A century was to elapse before another American could get a hearing for opera, "made in America," but meantime, the best works of the older civilizations were becoming familiar. While English companies continued to produce English works, music was becoming a feature in the theatre, and arias and concerted pieces from Italian opera awakened curiosity which was soon to be abundantly gratified. In 1794-95 Benjamin Carr, an Englishman, who had settled New York as a music teacher, composed a musical setting for "Macbeth," and in 1799 James Hewitt completed the first opera ever composed in New York, also a disappointment. But in 1823 "Der Freischutz" appeared at the park Theatre in an English version, and several adaptations from the works of French composers were also heard.

The one outstanding figure in New York's musical life was Lorenzo da Ponte, who had been Latin secretary to the Emperor Joseph II, in Vienna, and wrote the librettos for Mozart's opera "Nozze di Figaro," "Don Giovanni," and "Cosi fan Tutti." On losing favor with the Emperor, he became assistant manager at the Italian Opera in London, and fled to New York to escape his creditors. Here, too, he was a business failure, but he finally obtained a post at Columbia University, and until his death in 1838, at the age of eighty-nine, was the foremost authority on music in America; the friend of most of the musicians resident here, and sometimes the adviser or manager for artists from abroad.

Possibly because of the activities of Da Ponta, Manuel del Popolo Vicenta Garcia was encouraged to give New Yorkers their first taste of Italian opera in 1825 and 1826 at the Park Theater. Manager, singer, composer, and the husband of Eugenie Meyer, a prima donna, who had been his pupil, he was also the father of the famous singers Maria Felicita Malibran, Pauline Viardot; and of Manuel Garcia, inventor of the laryngoscope, and the only great musician who life exceeded a century. Rossini had composed the role of Almaviva in "Il Barbiere di Seviglia" for the elder Garcia, and with this work he opened his season on November 25, 1825. The entire family took part, although Pauline was only a child. Maria Felicita, however, was at the dawn of her great powers. In 1826 her unfortunate marriage to Malibran, a French merchant of New York, took place. Soon after he became bankrupt, and she fled to Paris, never to return. She died at the age of twenty-eight, but not until she had brought the world to her feet, and married the man of her choice, Charles August de Beriot, the violinist. In all, Garcia gave seventy-nine representations, closing on September 30, 1826, having made known a repertoire of eleven operas. He then made a successful Mexican tour, but being robbed of $30,000 by bandits, he, too, returned to Europe, never to revisit America.

English opera again resumed its place in the musical life of New York, following the departure of the Garcias, but in 1830 a French company presented several works by Boieldieu and Auber, and in 1832 a second Italian company arrived, headed by Giacomo Montressor. He is said to have assembled the best orchestra that had been heard in America up to that time, but after thirty-five performances, was obliged to disband his troupe for lack of financial support. English versions of the Italian opera presented under the management of Mr. and Mrs. Wood met with better recognition, and Da Ponte finally succeeded in inducing a number of well-to-do New Yorkers to build a house for Italian opera. This, too, proved a monetary failure, became the national theatre, and until destroyed by fire, the home of legitimate spoken drama. There was still English opera, but not until the opening of Palmo's opera house in 1844 were the more exotic works heard again. Beethoven's only opera, "Fidelio," had its first New York performance, in English, in 1839, but from the first performance at Palmo's, when "I Puritani," had its American premiere, public taste veered toward the performanace of all operas in the language to which they were originally composed, and as the population became more and more cosmopolitan, this taste became a profound conviction which costly experiments later on failed to modify. The next home of the lyric drama in New York was the Astor Place Opera House, in which the Havana Opera Company headed by Luigi Arditi appeared for several seasons. The management, however, consisted of Messrs. Sanquirico and Patti, who gave "Ernani" as their first offering, in 1847, and followed it with other Italian works. In 1850, the Havana Opera Company gave a summer season at Castle Garden, once a fort and now the Aquarium. On September 11, 1850, Jenny Lind, the most famous of Manuel Garcia's pupils, made her first appearance in this same auditorium, which was later graced by the presence of Parodi, Sontag, Mario and Grisi.

On October 2, 1854, the Academy of Music, on fourteenth Street opened with a performance of "Norma," and a cast which included Grisi and Mario, and from that date, with perhaps a solitary exception, every great dramatic singer the world has known has been a familiar figure in the various lyric theatres of New York.

In 1855 Ole Bull gave a brief season of opera at the Academy of Music, where he was succeeded by Phalen, Coit, and Payne, none of whom made conspicuous financial records, although Payne gave American its first hearings of "Guglielmo Tell" and "Il Trovatore." Ullman's company, followed, then Mlle. Nau, who produced Auber's "La Sirene" and was followed by a German troupe, and the Pyne Harrison company. In 1856 "L'Etoile du Nord" and "La Traviata" were made known to New Yorkers in this house by the Lagrange company.

Adelina Patti, whose girlhood had been spent in New York, made her operatic debut as Lucia in the opera of that name, November 24, 1859, at the Academy of Music, and in that same year. Ann Bishop also made her first bow to a New York audience.

Adelaide Cortesi, Pauline Colson, and Inez Fabbri were among the artists who sang there the following year. Niblo's beer garden, the birthplace of modern "vaudeville," attempted rivalry in the matters of opera but with the advent of the Civil War, there was not time for music of other than a martial character.

In 1864 the Harrison English Opera Company gave a series of performances at the Academy of Music under the direction of Theodore Thomas, and were followed by a French company who sang "Le Mariage Aux Lanternes," and other Offenbach operettas, and when the war ended, Max Maretzek, who had been a conductor at the old Astor Place Opera House, organized an opera company which gave nineteen operas including "L'Africaine" and "Crispino e la Comare," both of which had received their first performance in Paris the previous year, and also the first American production of Gounod's "Faust." On the destruction of the Academy of Music by fire in 1866, Maretzek gave a season of opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and repeated his repertoire at an early Winter Garden Theater, and when the New York Academy of Music was rebuilt, opened it in `1867 with "Don Giovanni," and followed it with Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette," which had received its premiere in Paris that same year.

About this time the first opera was produced which had been composed in America. Reference has already been made to "The Disappointment." Although music critic of the New York "Tribune" and himself an impresario, William H. Fry, who opera "Leonora", was sung in Philadelphia, June 4, 1845, does not appear to have obtained a hearing fro it in New York until 1858, when it also proved a failure. Julius Eichberg, a German who settled in New York in 1857, was more fortunate with his "Rose of Tyrol," and "Doctor of Alcantura," operettas which, if they failed to set the North river on fire, at least attained the distinction of several public performances. He afterwards removed to Boston, where he was a founder of the Boston conservatory of Music. The time had not yet come, however, for American operas, and while in 1868 Pike's Opera House, later known as the Grand Opera House, was the scene of several performances of Italian opera by the Lagrange and Brignoli companies, directed by Max Strakosch, who was later to marry Adelina Patti's sister, Carlotta, a taste of French opera bouffe soon developed into a craze only comparable to that which was to manifest itself afterwards for American and English light operas. "LA Grande Duchesse," "La Belle Helene," "Barbe Bleu," "Les Bavards," "Chanson de Fortunio," and "La Perichole," were all received with favor, and "L'oeil Creve," and "Fluer de The," were also well received; but Offenbach was acclaimed the most amusing of the creators of this form of entertainment, and in 1876 he visited New York and conducted his own works.

Christine Nillson, who had appeared in concert in New York in 1870, with Cary, Brignoli, Verger, and Vienxtemps, under the direction of Max Strakosch, was heard in opera in New York in 1871 in such works as "Mignon," "Don Giovanni," "Il Flauto Magico," "Traviata," "Faust," "Hamlet," and returned two years later, when she sane Elsa in the first American production of "Lohengrin." Other noted singers who became favorites in New York of this period were Pauline Lucca, Clara Louise Kellogg, Annie Louise Cary, Minnie Hauk, Adelaide Phillips, Teresa Tietjens, Marie Roze, Etelka Gerster, Italo Campanini, Brignoli, Ronconi, and Wachtel. For copyright and other reasons, it sometimes happened that New Yorkers had an earlier opportunity of passing upon the merits of new works in music than the inhabitants of the art centres of the Old World. Thus "Aida," "Lohengrin," and "Die Walkure," were all known in New York before they had been performed in London or Paris.

In the eighties the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas acquired a vogue which for the time threatened the existence of serious opera, and almost banished the French operettas from the state. "Pinafore," produced in London, May 25, 1878, ran 700 nights in the same house. It was pirated in New York, where at one time it was being played in four theatres, while road companies and even church choirs produced it throughout the United States, without contributing a cent toward the compensation of either author or composer. For that reason "The Pirates of Penzance" and other works in this notable series were produced first in New York, the author and composer both assisting in the American production of "Pirates of Penzance" in 1880, in order to protect themselves from piracy on both sides of the Atlantic. Although the popularity of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas has never died out, it was in turn obscured for a time by the more trivial
American creation, "musical comedy,' which, after the success of "Floradora," "The Wizard of Oz," and other distinctly less meritorious works, in turn was almost banished by the potpourris called "revues."

The first American composer to win genuine success as a write for the lyric theater was Reginald de Koven, 1861-1920, a New Yorker of ancient Dutch descent, although born in Connecticut, whose "Robin Hood" paved the way for "the Fencing Master," "The Little Duchess" "the Red Feather," "The Student King," and a number of other works which held their own in the theatres for long runs. He also composed more than 300 songs, and much music for orchestra and piano. "Trilby" and "The Canterbury Pilgrims," his serious opera, were less fortunate.

The experience of Victor Herbert as a composed for the lyric stage was practically identical. An Irishman by birth, and grandson of Samuel Lover, he came to New York in 1886, as first cellist at the Metropolitan Opera House, and plunged into a career of immense activity in the course of which he produced "The Serenade," "The Fortune Teller," "The Wizard of the Nile," to mention only a few popular successes; but failed to see his serious operas "Natoma," and "Madelaine" established in the permanent repertoire of the city of his adoption.

To resume the story of serious or "grand" opera in New York, while patronized by the wealthy or the well-to-do, it found ever increasing favor with the masses of the people; but the tendency in the theatrical district of Manhattan Island to move ever north proved irresistible. Fourteenth Street, on which the second Academy of Music afforded an auditorium of unsurpassed acoustic qualities, had come to be regarded as too far downtown, and the Metropolitan Opera house, occupying the block bounded by Broadway, Seventh Avenue, Thirty-ninth and Fortieth streets, was opened October 22, 1883, under the management of the Henry E. Abby, and Maurice Grau. The Academy of Music continued in opposition under Colonel Mapleson for two years, and then withdrew from the operatic field. The building was taken down in 1927 to make room for a business structure. In the same year the doom of the Metropolitan Opera House was pronounced, and preparations were made for a larger and more modern structure, still further up town.

The Metropolitan Opera House, with a seating capacity of 3,700, and one of the largest stages in America, was owned by a group of wealthy men constituting the Metropolitan Opera House Real Estate Company, who retained for themselves the first tier of boxes, popularly called the "diamond horse shoe" and leased the management to an impresario. However artistic the productions of Messrs., Abbey and Grau, they were unable to achieve financial stability. Dr. Leopard Damrosch suggested that a season of German opera might be more attractive to the general public, and under his direction in 1884, plans were made for the production of all the Wagner operas except "Parsifal," which Wagner desired to restrict to the state of Bayreuth. The death of Dr. Damrosch left the execution of these plans to Anton Seidl, and to Walter Damrosch, who had been an assistant conductor. By 1888-89 all of Wagner's works had been produced with superb settings, and Seidl had also introduced to New York such novelties as Goldmark's "Die Koningin con Saba," Nessler's "Der Trompeter von Sakkingen," Spontini's "Fernand Cortez," and from the French school, Massenet's "Le Cid," and Lalo's "Le Rio d'Ys." Albani, Belloca, Scalchi, Lilli Lehmann, Marianne Brandt, Seidlkrauss, Max Alvary, Emil Fischer, and other notable singers made their appearance at the metropolitan during this period, and the years immediately following.

On 1891, the Metropolitan's impresarios were Abbey, Schoeffel and Grau, who came to financial disaster, and were succeeded by Maurice Grau, the first impresario to make a fortune in American by the representation of serious opera. He developed the star system and brought into his organization as great an aggregation of artists as any opera house had even known. Jean and Eduard de Reszke, Marcella Sembrrich, Lillian Nordica, Emma Eames, Journet, Scotti, Polpalncon were all at the Metropolitan during this regime, which ended with his voluntary retirement in 1903. Through the influence of Henry T. Finck, music critic of the New York "Evening Post," Heinrich Conried, who had been successful in maintaining a German stock company of players at the Irving Place Theatre, was made impresario. On the occasion of his annual benefit, December 24, 1903, Conreid produced "Parsifal," for the first time in any place outside Bayreuth, despite Frau Cosima Wagner's opposition, and orchestra chairs, which he ad priced at $10, reached a premium of $75 before the performance began. His greatest achievement was the engagement of Enrico Caruso, on the strength of a reproduction from a wax phonograph record of a few arias, without ever having heard him sing in person. For the "Parsifal" production his cast included Ternina, Burgstaller, Muehlmann, Blass and Van Rooy. At his annual benefit in 1907 he produced Richard Strauss' setting of Oscar Wilde's "Salome," but was obliged to withdraw it after the first performance, as the directors objected on moral grounds. But Conried, whose predilections were wholly Teutonics, neglected modern French opera, and slighted the Italians. This enabled Oscar Hammerstein, an adventurous theatrical manager of New York to open an opposition to the Metropolitan in the Manhattan Opera House, which he built for the purpose, December 2, 1906, presenting, "La Gioconda," with Nordica in the name part. Melba, Terrazzini, May Garden and Bonci were among his leading singers, and by producing "Thais," "Louise," and other modern works which had not been included in the Metropolitan repertoire, he produced such serious inroads on the following of the older establishment that, in April, 1910, the Metropolitan bought his interest for $2,000,000, upon conditions which made it possible for the managers to prevent him from re-entering the operatic field when he attempted to so two years later.

In 1905 Conried was ennobled by the Austrian Kaiser, and he had made a fortune, but wrecked his health. the impresario system at the Metropolitan Opera House ended with his retirement at the close of the season of 1908-09m, and the giving of opera was thereafter taken over by the Metropolitan Opera company, of which Otto H. Kahn became, and has ever since been, chairman. The first general manager of that organization was Giulio Gatti-Casazza, with Andreas Dippel, as administrative manger. Dippel resigned in 1910, and since then Gatti-Casazza has been in sole executive charge. The star system was abolished under the new regime at the Metropolitan, where attention was given to rehearsals, and to ensemble in general, and, for the first time in the history of American music, it produced an American opera in 1926, by Deems Taylor, which achieved a real artistic success. This was "The King's Henchman," to book by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The new opera house, according to announcements by Mr. Kahn, while cutting down on the space devoted to boxes, will make larger provisions in the way of cheaper seats for the ever-increasing throng of music lovers in New York to whom the higher prices necessitated at the old Metropolitan have been a hardship.

The Century theatre is New York's' monument to its one great operatic fiasco of modern times. Erected during the excitement over opera occasioned by the rivalry of Conried and Hammerstein, it was intended to be the home of opera comique. Opened in 1909 as the New York Theatre, under distinguished patronage, it was a failure from the start, but continued to be used for spectacles, concerts, and sometimes for Italian operas and other musical attractions.

The rise of great musical institutions in New York apart from opera, while less full of incident, of spectacular interest, is no less important as reflecting the growth of culture in the Empire State, but can be more briefly told.

Chamber music, which is modern parlance, is restricted to combinations of stringed instruments, or string with piano, was no new thing when the Dutch sent Henry Hudson exploring in the "Half Moon." Viols of which the double-bass to be seen in every large orchestra has alone survived, were in common use all over Europe from the eleventh century. The first violin known to exist which was made by Stradivarius is dated 1666, but the viols, which were slightly larger inform then the instruments devised by Cremona, were made in several sizes, and a "chest of viols," to use the old English phrase, consisted usually of two trebles, two tenors, and two basses. Supplemented by a harpsichord and a few woodwind instruments or an organ, these sufficed for the ordinary orchestra of the seventeenth century. For such combinations event he Dutch composers of the Golden Age wrote copiously, and it foes without saying that it was from such instruments that the concerted music of the New Netherlands was produced. These instruments were also a common possession of the English, and of their colonies in America, except perhaps in New England, where the double-bass was only admitted to "set the tune" in public worship with misgiving, and the organ was not tolerated for many generations.

But such music was adapted to the family, and the small intimate gatherings of friends rather than to public performance, and it is not, therefore, of record in the public prints of elsewhere. The pioneers in American chamber music were, in fact, Theodore Thomas and Dr. William, Mason, so far as the general public was concerned. Son of a Hanoverian violinist, who brought him to New York when he was ten year sold, Thomas had appeared as a violinist at many New York concerts.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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