The History of New York State
Book 12, Chapter 17, Part 2

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


Before he was fifteen, had been first violinist at the concerts of Jenny Lind, Mario, etc., and was Arditi's concertmeister. Mason, son of Dr. Lowell Mason, of Boston, was a first-class pianist who had studied under the best masters abroad, and later became a valuable factor in musical education. In 1855 he and Thomas founded a series of public chamber music concerts which continued for four years, and led to the formation of other less notable groups. The second famous chamber music organization was that founded by Dr. Franz Kneisel under the patronage of Colonel Henry L. Higginson, of Boston, while Kneisel was concertmeister of the Boston symphony Orchestra. For many years he was the first violin; A. Theororowicz, second violin; Louis Svecenski, viola; Alwyn Schoeder, violoncello. Its concerts were a feature of New York's musical life from 1885 until the retirement of Dr. Kneisel, owing to advanced age, and in its latter existence, its home was not Boston but New York. Still more recent, and of international reputation today is the Flonzaley Quartette, founded by E. J. de Coppet, a New York business man, at his chateau "Le Flonzaley," near Lusasanne, Switzerland, in November, 1903, "solely and absolutely for the sake of art." The members were Adolpho Betti, first violin; Alfred Pochon, second violin; Ugo Ara, viola; Iwan d'Archambeau, violoncello. While making their headquarters in New York, where their public concerts date from 1907, the Flonzaleys regularly tour both Europe and America each season.

In the matter of orchestral music, New York, and for that matter, all American cities lagged behind the progress in Europe fro more than two centuries, but while certain exceptions, this is still true of most American cities, New York became, in the course of time, the most important music center of the world, not only because of the number of its orchestral concerts, but by reason of their excellence. To harken back again to small beginnings, the Philharmonic Society of 1824, which gave its first concert in that year, but proved short lived, was composed of musicians who wished to keep abreast of compositions abroad, but also to finance the visits of foreign artists.

In 1842 a second Philharmonic Society came into being, largely through the efforts of Ureli Corelli Hill, who had been a pupil of Spoh's at Cassel, and then settled in New York instead of returning to his native New England. He was assisted by C. E. Horn, William Penson and P. Marconelli. The active members were professional musicians, and it was their purpose to make known the best orchestral music in New York as the Royal Philharmonic Society had been doing in London from 1815. Mr. Hill was elected president on April 23, 1842, and shared the baton during the first season with H. C. Timm,. W. Alpers, A. Boucher, and George Loder. Among the works performed that season were the Second, Third and Fifth Symphonies of Beethoven. These men builded better than they knew, for in 1927, the New York Philharmonic Society was the oldest orchestral organization in the world with the exception of its London prototype, which it had long surpassed ,both in the number of its concerts, and the quality of its performances. During the first half century the concerts were placed on a profit sharing basis. The members received as little as $17.50 each for their work one season, and the highest pay they ever attained was $250; but they kept together, and passed on the torch. In 1852 Theodore Eisfeld was elected director for the season, and among his successors have been Carl Bergmann, Leopold Damrosch, Theodore Thomas, Anton Seidl, Walter Damrosch, Gustav, Gustav Mahler, Wassilly Safonoff, Joseph Stransky, Josef William Mengelberg, and numerous guest conductors including Toscanini and Stravinsky. It was the first great American orchestra to broadcast its performance by radio, and its summer concerts at the Lewisohn Stadium of the college of the City of New York have become a permanent feature of life in the metropolis at a time when other musical activities are dormant.

Next only in importance is the New York Symphony Society, founded in 1878 by Dr. Leopard Damrosch, who had been Liszt's concertmeister at Weimer before coming to New York. Walter Damrosch succeeded to the directorship upon his father's death, and gave it his undivided attention from 1903-04. Educational concerts for young people have been an important feature of the work of this society, which has also been heard in Europe. In 1914 Harry Hopkins Flagler relieved Mr. Damrosch of the business details, and has ever since personally defrayed whatever financial losses may have been incurred. On Mr. Damrosch's retirement in 1927 guest conductors were engaged. Theodore Thomas, when not conducting the Philharmonic Society, usually maintained an orchestra of his own, with which he often made tours, or supported operatic organizations visiting New York, or on tour. Eventually, however, Mr. Thomas found greater appreciation of his genius in the West, and after establishing the Cincinnati College of Music and the Cincinnati May Festivals, he became director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of the most important of existing musical institutions. The People's Symphony Orchestra in more recent times gave educational concerts of the highest order in Cooper Union and elsewhere under the leadership of Franz X. Ahrens, the Russian Symphony Orchestra catered to the increasing population from that country under the baton of Modest Altschuler, the national Symphony Orchestra gave independent concerts under Arturo Bodansky until its absorption by the Philharmonic Society, and the Society of the Friends of Music continues its independent orchestral concerts under the same conductor. Despite the abundance of good orchestral music furnished by these organizations, New York has always been big enough to welcome the visits of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Cincinnati Orchestra. A favorite auditorium for the orchestras was that of Carnegie Hall, erected by Andrew Carnegie to meet the necessities of the Symphony Society and the Oratorio Society, and the scene of many notable musical events from its completion in 1891 until 1927, when the property was sold by Mrs. Carnegie to be razed for occupancy by business structure.

Mecca Temple was in use with its larger and more convenient seating arrangements before the sale of Carnegie Hall, but while there are permanent orchestras in New York in the technical sense of that word, there are no permanent auditoriums, and elderly music lovers of succeeding generations have been known to mourn the passing of such places of Steinway Hall, on Fourteenth Street, despite a much finer Steinway Hall, on Fifty-seventh Street; and Mendelssohn Hall, even though Aeolian Hall, which has also given way to commercial progress, was better adapted for concert purposes.

Of musical entertainers less definite in character than those afforded at the opera house, the chamber music concerts and the symphony concerts, even from colonial days, New York has had a greater variety to choose from. In the eighteenth century the Apollo Society was among the earliest to devote itself to general musical culture. The St. Cecilia, founded in 1791, and the Euterpean Society, founded in 1799, were its more flourishing successors, and the Euterpeans held together until the middle of the nineteenth century. The Musical Fund Society, a concert-gibing enterprise, came into being in 1828, and the Concordia, a choral body consisting largely of Germans, the New York choral society, and the Sacred Music Society were organized in the same decade. In 1843 the Vocal Society made its appearance, and a few years later the American Music Institute undertook the performance of oratorios, on a large scale. Several organizations wee grouped in 1850 under the leadership of Theodore Eisfeld as the New York Harmonic Society, to present oratorios and choral works. With the increasing influx of German immigration, the cultivation of part singing came as a matter of course, The Liederkranz, organized in 1846, and still flourishing, not only gave concerts, but provided free instruction in music. It was an original member of the North American Saengerbund, took part in a great Mendelssohn Festival in 1848, performed "Czar under Zimmermann" for the first time in American in 1851, possesses its own club house and has a membership of 1,400, of whom 150 are active, and the rest associate. There is also a large women's auxiliary. The Arion Society, outgrowth of a dissension in the Liederkranz in 1854, had a prosperous, spectacular, and in the main, useful place in the musical life of the city, but went to pieces during the World War.

Among the more important of the choral organizations as well as the oldest, is the Oratorio Society, consisting of 300 voices. It gave its first performance of the "Messiah" December 3, 1873, and its one hundredth in 1924. Founded by Leopold Damrosch, it was conducted for many years by his sons, Walter and Frank, then passing to Arthur Stoessel.

Prior to the American Revolution names later noted in other connections were found associated with music. In 1773 Peter Goelet advertised as an importer of guitars, flutes, fiddles, and other instruments; and in 1789 John Jacob Astor imported and sold pianos made by his brother in London. When he found furs more profitable than music, he turned the instrument trade over to Michael and John Puff, in 1802. Among the earliest dealers in and makers of musical interments in New York following the restoration of peace were Joseph Adams Fleming, George Ulshoefer, Hugh Reinagle, Charles Taws, Duplessis and Mechtler, Thomas Dodds, Morgan Davis and Thomas Gibson. George Chartres received the first American patent for an improvement in the construction of pianos in 1815. In 1855 Steinway & Sons put on the market the first piano with a simple piece, cast iron frame and overstrung wires. William Steinway, 1835-1896, was one of the greatest benefactors of musical art in America, as well as the most successful of piano manufactures. The instrument trade, however, has grown to vast proportions, and New York is the home of the American Piano Company, the Aeolian company, and of scores of excellent if less widely known concerns.

In 1786 Charles Gilfert opened the first shop in New York exclusively devoted to musical wares, and established the first musical periodical, the "American Musical Magazine," afterwards known as "Gilfert's Musical Magazine." There are now hundreds of stores devoted to music and instruments, and dozens of publishing houses, but the periodicals devoted to music have not increased proportionately, the leading ones in New York in 1927 being "musical America," edited by Deems Taylor, composer, pianist, and former music critic of the New York "World"; "Singing, The Musical Magazine," edited by Alfred Human, formerly editor of "Musical America" "Musical American, founded by Marc A. Blumenberg, in 1880, and oldest of them all, edited by Leonard Liebling.

A most extraordinary impetus to musical education and to the popularization of the best music has resulted from the invention of the talking machine, radio, phonofilm, vitophone, and other "talking movies" and player pianos. In one's own home, it is now possible to have accurate reproductions of performances of the Flonzaleys, the leading orchestra of the world, the greatest singers, and the most celebrated instrumentalists, by inserting a composition disk into a machine which can be bought for as little as $15, and turning a crank. Five records give Beethoven's Ninth symphony complete with chorus. Or by merely "tuning in" on one of many broadcasting stations--the most important are in New York--one may hear, according to a previously printed programme, a complete opera or a symphony concert, or a jazz band ragging the latest blues. Or through the player piano it is possible to head Paderewski or Rachmaninoff or John Powell perform the world's masterpieces with a degree of perfection quite inhuman, for the rolls of perforated paper on which their interpretations are recorded gave been submitted to them for editing before they are manufactured in quantity, digital errors are corrected, and every nuance is subject to the performer's own critical revision. It is the purpose of this chapter to record, and not predict, or it might be hinted that the art of music in New York is on the eve of its greatest expansion. At any rate, with the scores of excellent musical schools and private studios, it is no longer necessary for the American musician to complete his education abroad, and the Institute of Musical Art, an endowed institution with a large teaching staff, merged with the Juillard Foundation in 1927, which has a capital of $12,000,000, may some day rival the Paris Conservatoire.

Since the close of the World War New York has completely over-shadowed the musical centres of the Old world, such as Milan, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Paris, London. Music is the one universal language, and here it is spoken in all its dialects. Perhaps it is for this reason that there is no distinctive American school of composition. True, New York is the Mecca to which all creators and interpreters of music must travel, but the most popular of all American composers, Stephen foster, even though he lived for a time in New York, and published here, wrote what is perfectly understood and greatly loved in Germany, in England, even in Japan. Antonin Dvorak, who came from Bohemia, and here wrote the work by which he probably will be best remembered, the symphony "From the New World," although he tried to embody in it the ideas which had come to him in America, in New York, produced a masterpiece no less intelligible in Moscow or in Rome. Edward Alexander McDowell, the one recent American composer who is as much esteemed in Europe as in America, often composed Indian themes, but although this great New Yorker formed his style in the best German schools, he spoke the universal language so well that neither his accent not his means of expression offend the susceptible ears of the French. John Powell, whose "Rhapsodie Negre" shows a complete understanding of the Afro-American, is no less popular in Vienna, where he completed his education, than in London. But New York lends itself to all who have new ideas, or think they have. It applauded "Ragtime," a supposedly Negroid form of musical expression in which the only important, if miniature, composition "Gollywog's Cakewalk," was composed by Debussy, a Frenchman. It applauds Jazz, especially when George Gershwin treats it in the classic form of a symphonic poem. It takes the best that is offered from every part of the world, but ultimately keeps only the best.

As with music itself, so with musicians. The only outstanding names of composers born in New York, State or city, are those of Macdowell and Taylor. Among interpretive musicians Reinald Werrenrath, born in Brooklyn, 1883, is easily foremost. But to catalogue the names of eminent composers, singers, instrumentalists, and conductors who have lived in or visited New York would exceed the compass of this chapter. From Rubinstein, Wilhelmj, Sarasate to De Pachman and Kreisler, all have come, all have been made welcome. But it is the tendency of New York to take that which has dwarfed, to come extent, the musical activities of other parts of the State. Thus Brooklyn, even during its independent existence as a city, although it subscribed liberally to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the best of chamber concerts, and to recitals by eminent artists, was unable to create any musical institution of permanent value other than a few school and singing societies. One of the most remarkable of its organizations was the Musical Art Society, directed by the late James Downs, organist of the church of St. Francis Xavier, and composed of sixteen soloists in Brooklyn church choirs. A capella music featuring Palestrina, Vittoria, Byrd, De Lasso, Purcell, Gibbons, Tallis, etc., was sung with a degree of perfection rarely attained in America. The Apollo Club, of Brooklyn, was long directed by Dudley Buck, who wrote much of his secular music for it.

Buffalo is sufficiently remote from the metropolis to have attained a degree of musical independence, and has it sown symphony orchestra, choral and chamber music organizations, and schools.

Rochester is the foremost musical center of the State outside New York City, but that fact is solely due to the enterprise and munificence of a single citizen, George Eastman. In 1898, Mr. Eastman bought the Institute of Musical Art, a privately conducted school in Rochester, enlarged it, erected special buildings and a theatre for it, and presented the whole to the University of Rochester, with which the school is permanently affiliated. He next guaranteed the expenses of the Rochester Symphony Orchestra, installed a broadcasting station by which its music could be made available to everyone within 100 miles of Rochester, and stands ready to make any further improvements that future development required. The Crane School of Music at Potsdam is another of the excellent institution outside the metropolis.

L. J. De Bekker.


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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