The Musical Gazette (New York, 1854-1855)

The Musical Gazette

(New York, 1854-1855)

Prepared by Randi Trzesinski and Richard Kitson
1 volume 1 volumes (2007)

In November 1854, Daniel Gregory and Lowell Mason, Jr. issued two new musical periodicals, The Musical Gazette [MGA] (edited by Lowell Mason, Junior) and The Musical Review. MGA was published weekly on Saturdays in New York City from 11 November 1854 until 5 May 1855, and comprised twenty-six weekly numbers 1 through 26 printed in a two-column format, and organized in three main parts: musical news, articles and reviews. The first part treats news of contemporaneous musical life. MGA's articles treat well-known European and American musicians, musical organizations, musical critics, and compositions. Articles about the current state of musical life in Europe are extracted from major German journals the Neue Berliner Musikzeitschrift, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, and the Signale für die musikalische Welt, the French Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, and the British Musical World. Of interest are the activities of Franz Liszt, in particular his so-called “Society of Murls”—made up of the many musicians associated with him in Weimar and Liszt’s role as an advocate of modern music.

The third, a review section, contains several parts: an extensive weekly two-part review entitled “Our Musical Correspondence,” that is, reviews from the journal’s correspondents. This is divided into: “Domestic,” which chronicles and reviews concerts and operas in the major mid-century American cities (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Albany), and “Foreign,” which offers reports about musical activities in European cities (London, Paris, Leipzig, Berlin, Vienna and Cologne). Much of MGA’s attention focused on extensive reviews of operatic performances in New York, Boston and Philadelphia by five opera troupes: the Grisi and Mario Opera Company, the Pyne and Harrison English Opera Company, Niblo’s English Opera Company, the German Opera Company, and a troupe at the New York Academy of Music directed by Ole Bull and Max Maretzek. The repertory of the first and last of these troupes was predominantly made up of Italian operas by composers of the bel canto age. The English-language troupes performed operas by Auber, William Vincent Wallace, Donizetti and Bellini, while the German company featured operas by Weber, Flotow and Bellini. The singers were of variable quality: soprano Giulia Grisi and tenor Mario were found disappointing owing to their frequent indispositions and the general decline of their voices, while baritone Cesare Badialli’s voice (and stage presence) and the voices of tenor Pasquale Brignoli and soprano Signora Steffenone were greatly lauded at the New York Academy of Music. The English soprano Louisa Pyne received generous tribute to the excellence of her singing, but her co-performer, tenor William Harrison was found to be of harsh voice and manner. The reviews demonstrate an extensive and deep knowledge of Italian, French, English and German opera, their languages and the art of singing on the part of the journal’s correspondents. The reviewers do not hesitate to remark also on the lack of attendance and resultant financial problems that beset the various troupes.

In each of the principal American cities, vocal and instrumental concerts receive thorough reviews from critics who discuss both the repertory and the accomplishments of the vocal soloists and instrumentalists. Choral music performed by the Boston Handel and Haydn Society, the Musical Education Society and the Mendelssohn Choral Society, the Philadelphia Harmonia Sacred Music Society, and the New York Harmonic Society was an important feature of American musical life in the 1850s. MGA reviews the conductor and pianist Theodore Eisfeld, who was active in New York in two important capacities. First, he conducted the New York Philharmonic Society’s four orchestral concerts given in 1854-1855 at Niblo’s Garden. Second, Eisfeld presented six vocal and instrumental soirées at Dodsworth’s Academy at which string quartets and pianoforte trios formed the main parts of the programmes. The many activities of William Mason, an important American pupil of Franz Liszt, are discussed in numerous concert reviews. Philadelphia’s concert life receives little attention from the journal’s local correspondent, who limits his reports to news about pianists Hermann Thornbecke and Carl Wolfsohn’s soirées of chamber music. The proposed building of the Philadelphia Academy of Music is announced in the journal. Boston, on the other hand exhibits an active concert life in its several venues including the newly-built Boston Music Hall, piano manufacturer Jonas Chickering’s Rooms, Hallett and Davis’s Rooms, the Boston Melodeon, Tremont Temple and the Boston Theater. Important Boston ensembles, the Mendelssohn Quintette Club, the Orchestral Union, the Musical Fund Society, and the Musical Education Society are the focus of the review columns.

Articles on the state of English opera, republished from Dwight’s Journal of Music and the London Musical World deal with the lack of quality in works by English composers. A biographical sketch of Wagner is also offered, discussing among other things the literary works Die Revolution und die Musik, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft, and Oper und Drama, as well as the operas Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, and the then-unfinished tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen. Reports of European concerts deal with the Leipzig Gewandhaus concert series, Karl Liebeg’s orchestral concerts in Berlin and Adolphe Jullien’s promenade concerts in London. In its role as an educator of the American public, the journal gives biographical sketches of well-known European musicians including singers Sophie Cruvelli, Clara Novello, Sims Reeves and Rosine Stolz, and composers Bellini, Brahms, Clementi, Flotow, Meyerbeer and Anton Rubinstein.

Several selections from the writings of the eminent American music historian Alexander Wheelock Thayer, who signed his articles with initials (A. W. T.) or the pseudonym “The Diarist,” are found in MGA: a report on Beethoven’s youthful years spent in Bonn, a three-part article on the musical life in Berlin, and reports about the German periodical the Leipziger musikalisches Zeitung and the performance styles of Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann. The Boston music periodical Dwight’s Journal of Music is excerpted for articles about American psalmody, musical journalism, the necessity for audibility of English-language texts in operatic performances, non-copyrighted and copyrighted publications of sheet music, the requirements for making Americans a musical people, and the editor John Sullivan Dwight’s stand against the London Musical World’s appropriation of his editorials and translations without attribution.

Several articles discuss the controversy surrounding the setting of retail sales prices for sheet music in and out of copyright. Prominent among topics treated in the miscellaneous articles are the decline of negro minstrelsy, the sale of five hundred American grand pianos to the Chinese, a history of German opera at its origin, the birth of opera, German criticism of the lack of progress in American music and musical life, a history of the first music sellers and publishers in New York, the advancement of music education in the United States, and the authenticity of Mozart’s Requiem.