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Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life

Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life
    Book Description:

    Victor Herbert is one of the giants of American culture. As a musician, conductor, and, above all, composer, he touched every corner of American musical life at the turn of the century, writing scores of songs, marches, concerti, and other works. But his most enduring legacy is on a different kind of stage, as one of the grandfathers of the modern musical theater.Now, Victor Herbert has the biography he deserves. Neil Gould draws on his own experience as a director, producer, and scholar to craft the first comprehensive portrait in fifty years of the Irish immigrant whose extraordinary talents defined the sounds of a generation and made contemporary American music possible. Mining a wealth of sources-many for the first time-Gould provides a fascinating portrait of Herbert and his world. Born in Dublin in 1859, Herbert arrived in the United States in 1886. From his first job in the orchestra pit of the Metropolitan Opera, Herbert went on to perform in countless festivals and concerts, and conduct the Pittsburgh Orchestra. In 1894, he composed his first operetta, Prince Ananias, and by the time of his death in 1924, he'd composed forty-two more-many of them, such as Naughty Marietta, spectacular Broadway hits. Along the way, he also wrote two operas, stage music for the Ziegfeld Follies, and the first full score for a motion picture, The Fall of a Nation.Gould brilliantly blends the musical and the theatrical, classical and popular, the public and the private, in this book. He not only gives a revealing portrait of Herbert the artist, entrepreneur, and visionary, but also recreates the vibrant world of the Herbert's Broadway. Gould takes us inside the music itself-with detailed guides to each major work and recreations of great performances. He also makes strong connections between Herbert's breakthrough compositions, such as the operetta Mlle. Modiste, and the later contributions of Rudolf Friml,Sigmund Romberg, Jerome Kern and other giants of the musical theater.As exuberant as Herbert himself, this book is also a chronicle of American popular culture during one of its most creative periods. For anyone enraptured by the sound of the American musical, this book is delightfully required reading.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4656-4
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-17)

    If Victor Herbert was not the greatest of composers, he was certainly a great human being. He was tolerant and fair, but strongly tenacious of his own convictions and devoted to the ideals in which he believed. Cheerful and sophisticated, his humor ever-present, he had the rare faculty of drawing others to him. To be happy he had to give play to the tremendous mental and physical energy that carried him, at top speeds, to the very end of his life. He touched people in many extra-musical ways: with his generosity and encouragement; with the example of his enormous capacity...

  2. CHAPTER 2 IN OLD NEW YORK (1886–1891)
    (pp. 18-61)

    Seen from the deck of the steamshipSaale, Battery Place—a speck of green surrounded by a few buildings, backed by the spires of a few churches—was the setting for some thrilling theatrical spectacle.

    The New York to which Victor Herbert came, which he saw and conquered, was never beautiful by the standard of Paris or Rome. Too many of its buildings were glorified chimneys. It was the titanic energy of the city that gave it its shape, and a kind of beauty defined by a new esthetic: ambition.

    The scene of Victor Herbert’s eventual triumph was the Great...

    (pp. 62-83)

    The central railroad station in Worcester, Massachusetts, looks very much today as it did in September 1891, when Victor Herbert boarded the train for his return to New York City. Restored to its former glory, it shocks the observer and holds his eye—a gleaming, riveting white behemoth set against the faded facade of the old industrial town, a lonely monument to its glory days.

    A feeling of faded glory was very much what Herbert must have experienced as he reflected on his three summers at the Worcester Festival and on his disappointment with the critical reception of “The Captive.”...

    (pp. 84-156)

    When the wind rose through Pittsburgh in mid-December of 1897, it picked up the chill of the ice-bound rivers that, then as now, cut a channel between the bottom land on which the city rests and the Allegheny Mountains, and swept six men through the dark, icy streets. It was with no little relief that they entered the Farmer’s Bank boardroom to begin a process leading to six years that Victor Herbert would recall as the most musically satisfying, and personally frustrating, of his life.

    The meeting of the Orchestra Committee of the Art Society of Pittsburgh was chaired by...

    (pp. 157-168)

    The story of the remarkable organization known as the Victor Herbert Orchestra began in the last three years of Herbert’s residency at Pittsburgh. Immediately after announcing his resignation, Herbert openly declared his intention to form his own orchestra in New York City. “Victor Herbert Coming Here,” headlined theNew York Times.¹ “Will organize an orchestra and he intends that it shall be the foremost musical organization in the country. ‘I expect to die in harness,’” is the way Herbert expressed his continuing commitment to the role of conductor. The article notes that Herbert will conduct a spring tour, with sit-down...

  6. CHAPTER 6 PATERFAMILIAS (1889–1924)
    (pp. 169-189)

    Although perhaps unaccountable in his son Clifford’s eyes, the fact is that this situation was exactly what Victor Herbert wanted. He was a public figure who reveled in the persona which he chose to display to the world—a gregarious, generous disciple of the jovial; quick-witted, prodigiously productive, mercurial in mood, devoted to his art, his Celtic heritage and his family; the trencherman gourmand who refused to discuss business at table, since such discussion would distract his attention from the real business at hand: the enjoyment of his beloved pilsner and the delectation of mountains of Teutonic cuisine.

    “Immaculate and...

  7. CHAPTER 7 OYEZ! OYEZ! OYEZ! (1902–1924)
    (pp. 190-232)

    “I broke my arms, my legs. . . . I would have broken my ears, if they had been breakable.”¹ Thus Victor Herbert recalled his fighting spirit as a young man at school. He came by his pugnaciousness naturally: it was one more thing he inherited from his famous grandfather, Samuel Lover. And, of course, he was Irish.

    As Herbert added to his activities as concertizing cellist and conductor the role of theatrical composer, the scene of his conflicts moved from the schoolyard to the courtroom. He was fiercely protective of his reputation and the rights to the properties he...

    (pp. 233-246)

    Musical theater is a living social event. As such it is subject to change that reflects the changes in society. It is the position of this study that Victor Herbert was significant as a creative artist, not only for his time, but for our time as well. In order to justify this position it is useful to view Herbert’s works as part of a continuum, to describe what musical theater pieces were like before Herbert made his contribution and how his work affected contemporary and later composers and the American musical in general, if indeed it did. Was there a...

  9. CHAPTER 9 ACT ONE (1894–1900)
    (pp. 247-306)

    It is symbolic that the discussion of Victor Herbert’s work in the theater should begin roughly halfway through his biography, for although his popular image rests on the contributions he made to the musical theater, he did not begin that work until the second half of his life.

    The popular image of Herbert’s operettas, like all cultural clichés, is comfortable but, on examination, faulty. What is that image? Simply, that all of the Herbert librettos are impossibly poor; that it is Herbert’s musical contribution that made for such success as he enjoyed in the theater; and finally, that the subject...

  10. CHAPTER 10 ENTRE’ACTE I: ACE OF CLUBS (1896–1924)
    (pp. 307-321)

    With his jovial personality and his love of camaraderie, it was the most natural thing in the world for Herbert to be an avid club man. He was attracted to the clubby New York world and it, in turn, welcomed him. Participation in that world represented more than recognition of one’s professional achievements. The private club was a refuge from the multiple stresses of the urban environment, a place where men of like mind and ability could enjoy themselves in the pleasure of one another’s company. At his death representatives of the Lambs, the Friars, the Lotos Club, the Society...

  11. CHAPTER 11 ACT TWO: SCENE ONE (1903–1905)
    (pp. 322-341)

    During the first decade of the twentieth century, Victor Herbert entered his period of most significant creativity. Most of the major works that date from this time are well known (Naughty Marietta,The Red Mill,Mlle. Modiste), and it was in this period that Herbert sealed his significance as a major force in American theatrical history. But even his lesser-known compositions represented new musical and dramatic achievements. These were, indeed, his finest hours.

    For children—and for their parents. Indeed for anyone who still carries with him in his pockets a bit of his childhood. The recognition that there is...

    (pp. 342-367)

    WithMlle. ModisteHerbert and Blossom consciously set out to take American operetta to a new level. Beneath the fluff and furbelow, the work had a serious subtext: the position of women in contemporary society. Gustav Klemm, Herbert’s long-time musical amanuensis, testifies to the fact that Herbert had long been frustrated in his attempts to create integrated works. In a letter to biographer Isaac Goldberg, Klemm recalls Herbert’s distaste for “song and dance” compositions and points out the role of publishers as a motive force behind the continuing trivialization of the American musical play.

    . . . Reading your book...

  13. CHAPTER 13 ACT TWO: SCENE TWO (1906–1912)
    (pp. 368-432)

    Charles Dillingham had an instinct for success. As an assistant to Charles Frohman, he had learned the formula that might lead to winning the Broadway game: hire famous performers, provide them with top-quality material, and frame the whole package with first-class production values. Any one or two of these elements might guarantee a modest success, but for a super-hit all three were essential.The Red Millis a case in point. It ran for 274 performances on Broadway on its first outing in 1906, and more than doubled that number when it was revived in 1945. It toured, it seemed,...

    (pp. 433-443)

    While Victor Herbert enthusiastically embraced American music and culture, he never forgot his Irish roots. Of Ireland’s music Herbert spoke in the closest personal terms:

    Ireland is full of music. It begins at the cradle and does not end at the grave. It is dance music, work music—very typical music: jigs, reels and some very mournful. . . . Ireland would never have survived but for her fairy tales and folk music. . . . Why has Ireland not produced a great national music that would sweep the world with its beauty, its eloquence, its fervor, its grandeur? When...

    (pp. 444-461)

    In what was roughly the last decade of Herbert’s life, he continued his theatrical activities and developed and expanded them in important ways. Although he created seventeen stage musicals in this period, only a few of them were significant achievements in themselves. Their importance lies in more than the quality of Herbert’s musical contribution. His output in this period is significant because it represents something new. During his first period Herbert copied and personalized the European operetta tradition; in his second he transformed that tradition into a form that, because of its theatrical and sociological focus, became what he called...

  16. CHAPTER 16 AN OPERA MANQUÉ (1915–1916)
    (pp. 462-473)

    When the letter arrived, Herbert was intrigued. Here was an approach from Thomas Dixon, director-general of the National Drama Corporation, suggesting that they meet at the corporation’s New York headquarters to discuss the possibility of his providing an original score for a new film, Dixon’sThe Fall of a Nation.

    Thomas Dixon was a name well known to Herbert. He was the successful author of twenty-two novels that had sold five million copies, and of nine plays and five screenplays. His novelThe Clansmanhad recently been filmed by D. W. Griffith asThe Birth of a Nation, the first...

  17. CHAPTER 17 ACT THREE: SCENE TWO (1914–1924)
    (pp. 474-507)

    The Society of American Dramatists and Composers, an antecedent of ASCAP, was founded in New York in 1892. On the occasion of its twenty-first birthday the organization’s membership gathered in the upstairs banquet hall of Delmonico’s to celebrate the anniversary and to pay tribute to its most illustrious member, Victor Herbert. His image in the profession was reflected in the make-up of the assembly. Over one hundred and fifty playwrights and composers gathered to honor him and to gently roast their guest of honor.

    The president of the society, Augustus Thomas, served as toast master and called on many of...

    (pp. 508-524)

    No. This paragraph does not describe Victor Herbert’s finale. It is an excerpt from an article by his mother in which she discusses the life of her father, Samuel Lover. But in this, as in so many ways, Victor Herbert’s life mirrored that of his grandfather. The same vigor, the same dedication to the creative work at hand that characterized Lover was typical of Herbert to the end.

    To understand Herbert’s decline and death it is necessary to go back almost to the beginning of his career, to Stuttgart in 1886. This was the year in which Herbert courted Theresa,...

    (pp. 525-546)

    But not for long. Few people are comfortable contemplating their mortality; more than half the population of the United States die intestate. Herbert did leave an extensive and detailed will, but made no provision for the ultimate disposition of his remains. Since the suddenness of his death had left Theresa in a state of shock, the immediate decisions fell to Ella. When the undertaker from St. Thomas’ Church arrived at Dr. Baruch’s office, Ella arranged for her father to be clothed in the formal morning dress—complete with green vest and tie—that he had favored when at work in...

  20. CHAPTER 20 FEBRUARY 1, 2003
    (pp. 547-548)

    February 1, 2003, was a warm day in Central Park. The night before, a light snow had fallen, and the warm air moving across the icy landscape gave rise to a mist that obscured the mall where, on summer nights, hundreds of music lovers gathered. In recent years the Goldman Band had performed there, carrying on a tradition established by the great bandmasters of the past: Gilmore, Sousa and Victor Herbert.

    From a distance of a hundred feet the image of Victor Herbert’s statue was also shrouded in mist. Approaching the hillock where it stands, a visitor joins a small...

    (pp. 549-557)
    (pp. 558-568)