HAVING followed, in a general way, the historical course of the development of the art of music in the Old World, we will now turn to our own shores, and briefly consider what we have thus far accomplished. We have seen that European nations, in their musical development, learned constantly from contact with their near neighbors, so that for centuries their musical status was nearly on a par. We know that throughout the first fifteen centuries of the Christian era all the arts were under the protecting care of the Catholic Church, and that music, which occupied such a prominent place in its services, was cultivated during that time almost for that sole purpose. We have noted the advent of the Chorale in the time of the great Reformation and have spoken of its transplanting to other countries, notably to England. The struggles between the followers of the Established Church of England, which to some seemed to savor of Catholicism, and the people who believed in the simplicity of religious worship, as well as the history of alternate religious oppression and revolt, which finally resulted in English emigration to our shores, are familiar to all.
Our early English settlers, the Cavaliers and the Puritans, belonged to two distinct classes, differing widely in their ideas. The contrast between these two classes, resulting from their difference in early environment and education, is visible even to-day in their descendants. The Cavaliers, mostly members of the established church of England and arriving here some fourteen years before the Puritans, largely in search of adventure, were interested in music merely as a source of entertainment and pleasure and therefore played and sang mostly the ballads of the countryside and court. The Puritans, or Non-Conformists, who left their homes because of a desire for religious freedom and came to the New England coast, belonged to that religious sect which had destroyed musical instruments and hymn-books and had driven the musicians and choirs out of the Anglican churches be-cause they deemed the contrapuntal music which was in vogue a frivolous art. In their antagonism to this kind of music they had reverted to melodic simplicity and singing in unison. Their sacred music, their hymnology, was very limited in extent, because the invention of new tunes was prohibited, and even the versified Psalms were sung by them with a vague fear of their possible frivolity. After their arrival in America, their hardy and hazardous pioneer life afforded but little opportunity for the cultivation and study of the peaceful arts. Furthermore, they were wholly out of contact with the musical progress of the world, except as they learned of it through their imported clergymen. As the music-books grew gradually fewer and fewer, so that the hymns were passed on orally from one generation to another, some of the church tunes became so corrupted that often no two people in the same church could agree on the correct way to sing them. Much has been written about the struggles for improvement in church music, which took place during colonial times, between the educated clergy, who were continually emigrating to this country, and their pioneer congregations. Time and space forbid more than a mere mention of the names of some leaders in this movement, but a study of its history will be found both profitable and interesting. In addition to their pulpit advocacy of musical betterment in the churches, some of the colonial clergymen published, and scattered abroad among the members of their congregations, pamphlets advising the removal of restrictions upon church singing. Among these must especially be mentioned John Cotton, whose calm and logical treatise (published in 1647) was responsible for the first steps in musical improvement, and John Cleves Symmes, whose arguments finally resulted in the establishment of singing-schools for children, and later for adults. Instruction-books for use in these singing-schools soon followed, for in 1712 the Rev. John Tufts published a book on “The Art of Singing Psalm-Tunes” which contained 28 tunes and a “method” of singing. This was followed by others written by James Lyon, Francis Hopkinson, and Flagg, a bandmaster in Philadelphia. The instruction received by the children and adults in the singing-schools created a desire for further study and practice, which in turn resulted in the formation of the volunteer church choir and the choral society. The entrance of the church choir, however, was not obtained without long and serious struggles within the churches which often caused permanent divisions of congregations. In order to appreciate with what giant strides we, in this country, have since moved in our development, we should remember that such was the status of music in America during the first half of the eighteenth century, when Bach and Handel were at the zenith of their glory.
The work of the first American composers was naturally in the direction of church music. Among the pioneer musicians who thus labored for their art should be mentioned, first of all, William Billings (1746-r800), a friend of Samuel Adams and Dr. Pierce of Brookline, Mass., both of whom stood with him in the choir. He was a singing-school teacher of note and a self-taught musician, whose original ideas and rules for composition are so naïve that we cannot refrain from quoting a few of them, as contained in the preface to the first collection of his own compositions, published in 1770. He says: “Nature is the best conductor “; “Hard rules never made a melody, any more than the twenty-four letters of the alphabet made poetry”; “You must first have music in nature, art can only polish it”; “Some say that consecutive fifths and octaves are forbidden, but I would rather permit them than spoil the melody. I have felt the slavish restraint of such rules; there is a poetic license, why not a musical license? I will not be confined by such rules, nor will I make any such rules for others who study with me.” Among contemporaries of Billings must be mentioned Oliver Holden, who wrote the hymn tune “Coronation,” Andrew Law, Jacob Kimball, Daniel Read, and Timothy Swan, all of whom contributed to literature of church music.
The first of the choral societies, resulting from the work done in singing-schools, which assumed importance, was the Stoughton Musical Society, an outgrowth of Billings’ labors; but the most famous one is the Handel and Haydn Society, organized in Boston in 1815 with a chorus of almost 100 voices.
The one man whose efforts connect the singing-schools with the work of the choral society of to-day was Lowell Mason (1792-1872). His publication of a number of his compositions in a collection of church music, after receiving the indorsement of the influential Handel and Haydn Society, proved so successful that he decided to become a professional musician. Being a man of the people and a born teacher, he devoted himself to musical convention work, and thus taught the principles of music to thousands upon thousands of young people, and fostered in them the love of singing.
Efforts in the direction of the organization of instrumental players followed those of the singers and resulted in the establishment of the Boston Philharmonic Society, whose chief promoter was Gottlieb Graupner; with a small orchestra of 12 and a chorus of 100 (ten of whom were ladies) he con-ducted, in 1812, Handers Judas Maccabceus, and, with the assistance of the Handel and Haydn Society, presented, in 1815, Haydn’s Creation, the first really notable event in our musical development.
The success of these attempts stimulated musical people in other cities and resulted in the organization of the Musical Fund Society in Philadelphia in 1820, and in a series of successive orchestras in New York City, which led finally to the formation of the New York Philharmonic Society, whose earnest work began in 1842 and has continued until the present time.
Performances of opera in this country, though sporadic, were not wholly absent even in colonial days, for the English form of Ballad Opera was in vogue in New York as early. as 1750. Although New Orleans supported a company of French singers as early as 1791, it was not until 1825, when our various wars were over and the country had become prosperous, that a really artistic opera company, having among its principals Manuel Garcia and his celebrated daughter Mme. Malibran, came to New York. Their success induced other foreign managers and singers to make occasional visits to our shores.
While many foreign musicians strove earnestly for the improvement of musical culture in this country during the latter half of the nineteenth century, the man whose name shines most effulgently among them was Theodore Thomas (1835-1905). To him more than to any one else we owe the general elevation of taste for the better class of music, and our high ideals of orchestral and choral performances of the works of the great masters. He was a marvelous force in our musical progress, which he regarded with an almost paternal love. He is responsible for the establishment of the widely celebrated Cincinnati May Music Festival, whose conductor he remained until his death, and which stimulated other cities to serious efforts in the same direction. Many others have followed in his footsteps, but as we still enjoy the benefit of their best endeavors, their names are sure to be known to all music-lovers.
Our present opportunities for hearing the greatest artists of the world in concert and in opera, are enjoyed by thousands upon thousands every year, and are so thoroughly appreciated and so well supported financially, that America has become the Mecca of every pianist, violinist and singer, and our taste for what is best in musical art may well be considered to be on a par with that of any other nation.
Our many music-schools, some of which, like the one with which the writer has the honor to be connected, offer, through their faculties of native and foreign artists, instruction equal to that of the best European institutions, are filling the land with well-qualified teachers, whose labors are certain to result in an ever-increasing musical public.
Since some of our native artists and teachers have already begun to fill important places abroad, and since even in the domain of composition we may boast of men, such as the late Edward MacDowell, whose works are known to all the world, we may well say that the rising sun of our musical future is brilliant with justifiable hopes, which may even include that of an American school of composition.