The English settlers who came to this country and located at Jamestown, and their successors, brought with them from their home the songs they sang theregay songs, cavalier songs, love-ditties and the countryside tunes; but they left them at this, making no attempt to adapt them to their new surroundings. Indeed, it was as much a matter of fashion to be able to play or to sing some new ballad just brought from London as it was to have the latest fashion in dress. The Cavaliers were not the people to give a distinctive tone to music in their adopted home. The stern, severe, religious atmosphere of the New England Colonies did more for the beginnings of American music, although the first efforts were un-promising enough, since the Puritans discountenanced all music except that of Psalm tunes, which were probably sung in unison, since at that time there could be little question of singing in parts. Owing probably to a scarcity of hymn-books, it was customary to read the hymn line by line, and to sing in alternation with the reading, a custom observed in some sections of the United States even in the latter part of the 19th century. It was inevitable that the more progressive among the clergy and the people should demand better singing of the Psalms; and from this came the first singing schools, the beginning of musical education in the Colonies. A singing school is noted in Boston in 1717. As this movement spread, choirs were organized, since those who had gained some skill in singing and in reading from notes would naturally draw together, at first informally, later in regular organizations. This occurred as early as the middle of the 18th century.
Hymn-Tune Composers. The prominence given to the singing of Psalms and hymns is doubtless due to the fact that the first composers developed in the Colonies confined their efforts to the production of hymn-tunes. The first to gain prominence was William Billings, born in Boston in 1746, died there, i800. He was a tanner by trade and was, of course, self-taught. His efforts at harmonizing were rather crude, as is to be expected, since he had but few models in composition. He introduced a somewhat florid style, although without training in counterpoint. Yet the critic can see in the work of the early composers such as Billings, a rough vigor and a striving for a more distinctive melodic and rhythmic character than is to be found in the tunes brought over from England, showing traces of the forces already at work to differentiate the American character from the English. Billings’ first collection of tunes was published in 1770. Other composers of this period were Oliver Holden, who wrote the widely-sung “Coronation,” Andrew Law, Jacob Kimball, Daniel Read and Timothy Swan. The two other important cities, Philadelphia and New York, had some musical activity during the Colonial period. In 1741, Benjamin Franklin published a collection of hymns, performances were given of operas, and concerts for charitable purposes were organized, yet nothing in the way of native composition developed.
Early Musical Organizations.A musical atmosphere is essential to musical development and progress, and a musical atmosphere comes only from organized effort in musical work. The first efforts in this direction were vocal, following the same line of development as that we observed in the history of music as a whole, namely : first, vocal and choral music; secondly, instrumental and particularly orchestral. The earliest important society of this kind was the Stoughton (Mass.) Musical Society, which grew out of a singing class formed in that town, by Billings, in 1774. This organization still exists. The most famous and most significant body for musical development was the Handel and Haydn Society, still in existence, which was organized in Boston, in 1815, with a chorus of nearly one hundred voices. Boston had at this time some well-trained musicians, and others came there from Europe in later years, making it the centre of American musical life for years.
Lowell Mason.In 1826, a young man from the South, but born in Massachusetts, came to Boston to begin a musical career, which formed a link between the early singing school stage and the work of the present day. This was Lowell Mason, who was born in 1792, but spent his younger days in Savannah, Ga., where he studied music as an amateur. As the fruit of his efforts in composition, he published a collection of church music which was endorsed by the Handel and Haydn Society, and proved very successful, encouraging him, some years later, to take up music as a profession. He was essentially a man of the people among whom he lived and by nature an efficient teacher, to which he added a skill and training that ensured him the respect of those who came under his instruction. He traveled over New England and parts of New York State, holding musical conventions, and teaching the principles of music to hundreds of singers and teachers from far and near. His work thus closely touched the people, and in a day when music was not taught in the public schools, contributed greatly to spread a love for and a knowledge of vocal music. He died August I1, 1872.
Musical Instruments.When instrumental music began to receive a share of public attention, a great step was taken toward development of music in the United States. In cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia and some Southern homes, instruments of the spinet and virginal type could be found in the 17th and 18th centuries. The flute was a gentleman’s instrument in those days, following the English custom. The violin also received some attention. (Thomas Jefferson was very fond of this instrument.) Naturally, the first instruments were brought from England, yet the record shows that John Harris, of Boston, who had learned the trade in England, offered for sale spinets of his own make, in 1769. Some church organs were built several years earlier. The harpsichord and piano followed in due course of time, as we can gather from advertisements and concert programs. There is controversy as to the making of the first pianos in the United States. Both Philadelphia and Boston seem to have had makers in a small way before the beginning of the 19th century. The pioneer in this industry was Jonas Chickering, who served his apprenticeship in Boston and started in business on his own account, in 1823. The growth of interest in music arising from the organization of choral societies and the labors of Lowell Mason, and the musicians of foreign birth who came to this country created a demand for music outside of that for the voice, organ and piano, for many of these musicians had been players in orchestras in Europe.
Early Orchestras.The first permanent body of orchestral players, the Philharmonic Society, was formed in Boston. The chief promoter was a German, named Graupner, who came to the city named, in 1798. He gathered round him a few professionals and some amateurs, so that the nucleus of an orchestra existed before the Handel and Haydn Society was formed. Graupner also kept a music store and printed music. A large orchestra was established in 1840, which remained active for nearly a decade. New York had an organization of instrumentalists which was started about the same time as Graupner’s society in Boston, but its real work in this line did not occur until 1842, when the Phil-harmonic Society was founded, with a strength of from fifty to sixty players. This society still exists. The strongest musical force in Philadelphia was the Musical Fund Society, which came into existence in 182o, one object of which was to spread musical knowledge in the city. It built a hall, which still stands, and gave both vocal and instrumental concerts. Beethoven’s first symphony was given there, as early as 1821.
Permanent Orchestral Organizations.The credit for raising the standard of orchestral work and of spreading a popular appreciation of the classics in absolute music belongs to Theodore Thomas, born in Germany, in 1835, whose family came to this country in 1845. He became a proficient violinist while still a boy. His first efforts in the line of the higher music were in the domain of chamber-music; in these concerts he was associated with Dr. William Mason and others. In 1864, he began his work in the orchestral field, in New York, visiting other cities with his men and spreading a knowledge of the works of the masters. Mr. Thomas conducted a series of concerts in Philadelphia, but finished his labors in Chicago, as the conductor of the Chicago Orchestra, which was established for him. He died in 1905. Following the increased interest in orchestral music in New York City, due to the work of Thomas, the Boston musical public called for a higher standard and a more skilled set of players than the successors of the old Philharmonic Orchestra, the Germania and the Harvard Musical Association, which had kept up the work in a creditable manner. The outgrowth of this sentiment was the establishment of the celebrated Boston Symphony Orchestra, which gave its first concerts in the fall of 1881, under the direction of Mr. Georg Henschel. The financial needs of the organization were guaranteed by Mr. Henry L. Higginson. Mr. Henschel was succeeded, in 1884, by Wilhelm Gericke, who was followed five years later by Arthur Nikisch; in 1893, Mr. Emil Paur was made director, to be succeeded in 1898 by Wilhelm Gericke, who is still (1905) at the head of the organization. The work of the orchestras mentioned stimulated music lovers in other cities and at the present time, worthy rivals of the older bodies exist in Philadelphia, Mr. Fritz Scheel, director, the New York Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Walter Damrosch, director, and the Pittsburgh Orchestra, under the direction of Mr. Emil Paur. Baltimore has a good orchestra in connection with the Peabody Conservatory, Cincinnati has a permanent body with a guarantee fund, under the conductorship of Mr. Frank Van der Stucken. The orchestras mentioned give concerts in other cities, so that their work has more than a local significance. Other cities in which efforts are being made to develop orchestral music are New Haven, Buffalo, Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta, St. Louis, Kansas City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver.
Other Organized Bodies.Other means for promoting musical progress in the United States were the societies in different parts of the country, which provided concerts, aided musical education, kept up public interest, the great German singing societies, music festival associations, lecture courses, etc. A prominent example of this kind was the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia which, among its other activities, opened a music school that remained in existence for six years. The Harvard Musical Association, an organization of alumni who labored particularly for the advancement of music, formed the nucleus of a musical library and conducted orchestral concerts at its own expense or guarantee. In later years Pittsburgh had an active society to promote musical appreciation and the example is being followed by other cities. The greatest growth in this line, that of the formation of music festival associations and the development of the idea, was doubtless stimulated by the great festivals held in Boston in 1869 and 1872. Of these, the most important is the one held in Cincinnati, for a number of years under the direction of Theodore Thomas ; after his death, under Mr. Van der Stucken. It is impossible to give here a list of such organizations ; they are growing in numbers over all the country and form a hopeful sign of an increasing and healthy interest in music. In addition to the work of these societies must be mentioned the series of chamber-music concerts given by quartet organizations in all the important cities, a kind of music which demands a higher class of musical culture than any other and which is, therefore, a good index of the musical appreciation of a community. The great public libraries have collections of musical literature, as well as the printed works of the great masters. Notable among these is the Brown Collection, in the Boston Public Library; the New-berry Library of Chicago has a very fine collection of musical literature, including many rare works, and the new public library in New York City will also have works of great value to musicians. The Crosby-Brown Collection of musical instruments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, is one of the most valuable in the world; another collection of note is that which belongs to the University of Michigan.
Folk-Music.In a study of conditions connected with the development of music in the United States, we will not find the wealth of material in the direction of Folk-music that European countries possess. The American people being a composite one cannot have a true Folk-music as yet. There are but two types of music that can be classed in this category, the music of the Indians and that of the negro in his plantation life. The characteristics of both have been used by American composers in large works (Edward Mac Dowell : “Indian Suite,” for the orchestra ; Frederic Bur-ton, in a choral work), yet the Indian race forms no part of the dominant Caucasian people of the United States and can hardly have any claims to being considered American Folk-song. Among the negroes of the South, during the time of slavery, a type of song developed that possesses distinctive qualities, and is thoroughly pervaded with the emotional quality which characterizes the Folk-song of the musical races of Europe. It is not the song of the African in his native land, but the product of his new environment. Particularly is this the case with regard to the songs in which the religious element is the leading one. Many of them have the spontaneous character of the old minstrel poets, the leader improvising the verses, the chorus joining in the refrain. Several composers have used material based on negro musical idioms, notably Antonin Dvorâk, in his “From the New World” symphony and G. W. Chadwick, in the scherzo of one of his symphonies, but the most famous examples of the Folk-song of the plantation type are found in the works of Stephen C. Foster (1826-1864), the one most widely-known being “The Old Folks at Home” or “Suwanee River,” incomparable in its sweet melancholy and tender pathos, yet of extreme simplicity in harmonic basis and diatonic progressions.
The Opera.The development of the opera in the United States is a story of change from the simple style of the English ballad opera to the elaborate music dramas of Richard Wagner, in the North, with New York City as the leading centre, while New Orleans, in the South, with its large French population, furnishes a home for the French and Italian school of opera. The “Beggar’s Opera,” by Gay, which had won extraordinary popularity in England, was given in New York, in 1750, and as early as 1791 New Orleans had a company of French singers. Philadelphia also had performances before the end of the 18th century. It was not until after the wars with England, when the country was growing and becoming prosperous, that foreign managers and singers considered it an inviting field. The first company of real artistic worth was brought here in 1825, headed by Manuel Garcia, which included his daughter, afterward Mme. Malibran. In 1832, the poet Da Ponte, librettist of Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni,” who was a resident of New York City, brought another strong company of singers to the United States. From that time on, for a number of years, opera was furnished by visiting companies of foreign singers, who gave performances in the leading cities of the country, New Orleans being the first to establish a permanent opera season with a resident company. It was in 1859 that Adelina Patti made her first appearance, in New York City. In 1878, Mapleson, the impresario, commenced the “all star” system that developed a taste for opera by giving the American public the chance to hear the best singers in the world, and set a standard which has made the people dissatisfied with a company well-balanced but lacking in great singers. More real work is done to develop a community by hearing a number of performances well done than one or two in a sensational style. In 1883, the Metropolitan Opera House, in New York City, was opened with a “star” company, managed by Henry E. Abbey. German opera (Wagner music dramas) gained a foothold in this country through the efforts of Dr. Leopold Damrosch, who directed the first artistic performance of Wagner’s Tannhâuser, in 1884, in the Metropolitan Opera House; from this time, operas of the three great schools were given here, Italian, French and German. The following year, Anton Seidl was called to the conductorship and his labors put the performances of Wagner’s operas on a plane equal to any in the world ; the company had seasons in the other leading American cities. After Seidl’s death, in 1898, the performances continued along the same lines and with the same high artistic quality, the greatest singers being engaged. In 1903, on Christmas Eve under the direction of Mr. H. Conried, the first American representation (and the first outside of Bayreuth) of “Par sifal” was given. In assigning credit for work of an educational character in opera, mention must be made of certain traveling companies, such as the “Ideals” and “Bostonians” who gave highly artistic performances of the standard operas, and of the companies under the direction of Mr. Henry W. Savage, who gave grand opera in English during the first decade of the present century.
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