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American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century

Studies of concert life in nineteenth-century America have generally been limited to large orchestras and the programs we are familiar with today. But as this book reveals, audiences of that era enjoyed far more diverse musical experiences than this focus would suggest. To hear an orchestra, people were more likely to head to a beer garden, restaurant, or summer resort than to a concert hall. And what they heard weren’t just symphonic works—programs also included opera excerpts and arrangements, instrumental showpieces, comic numbers, and medleys of patriotic tunes.

This book brings together musicologists and historians to investigate the many orchestras and programs that developed in nineteenth-century America. In addition to reflecting on the music that orchestras played and the socioeconomic aspects of building and maintaining orchestras, the book considers a wide range of topics, including audiences, entrepreneurs, concert arrangements, tours, and musicians’ unions. The authors also show that the period saw a massive influx of immigrant performers, the increasing ability of orchestras to travel across the nation, and the rising influence of women as listeners, patrons, and players. Painting a rich and detailed picture of nineteenth-century concert life, this collection will greatly broaden our understanding of America’s musical history.

488 pages | 28 halftones, 14 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2012

History: American History

Music: General Music


“This superb collection of essays breaks new ground. The scholarship by preeminent scholars relies on new archival sources. The volume’s contribution to the history of music in America is unique. Readers in many fields will benefit from Spitzer’s collection: an encounter with the extent of amateur concert life, the history of musicians’ unions and touring ensembles, and the origins of today’s professional orchestras in Chicago, Cincinnati, and New York. The richness and variety of concert repertoire in America, much of it forgotten, come alive. Playing and listening to orchestral music in nineteenth-century America assume a significance long underestimated. This is a long overdue contribution to understanding music within urban and public culture in America before 1900.”

Leon Botstein, Bard College

“To a remarkable degree, the ‘symphony orchestra’ is an American invention, distinct from the pit orchestras of Europe. And yet our knowledge of nineteenth-century American orchestras remains amazingly incomplete. Surely this volume will help build momentum toward an adequate understanding of a vital, even heroic chapter in American cultural history.”

Joseph Horowitz, author of Classical Music in America: A History

“Highly recommended.”


 “The text in toto presents a sweeping view of orchestras from about the second quarter of the nineteenth century to the end of the century; it is a more complex and diverse view than one might gather from standard music histories. . . . [It] describes in compelling detail how the orchestral movement got started and managed to become, in the opinion of some, ‘the cornerstone of America’s musical culture in the twentieth century.’ It is highly recommended, especially for conductors, orchestral musicians, and nineteenth-century specialists.”

Music Reference Services Quarterly

 “If this collection of essays is any indication, we can rest assured that scholarship on nineteenth-century American music has sprung to life and will remain relevant well into the future. From cover to cover, it draws a detailed blueprint of the complex world of orchestral music and musicians across the century and constructs a sturdy foundation upon which to build new understandings of orchestras then and now.”

Journal of the Society for American Music

 “This collection of diverse essays reflects well the fits and starts of American orchestra development. . . . While American orchestras’ leadership is beyond question, the path by which they reached it is shown to be much less direct and far more compelling.”

Journal of American History

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Toward a History of American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century
Deane L. Root

I. Ubiquity and Diversity
The Ubiquity and Diversity of Nineteenth-Century American Orchestras
John Spitzer
I.1. Building the American Symphony Orchestra: The Nineteenth-Century Roots of a Twenty-First-Century Musical Institution
Mark Clague
I.2. Modeling Music: Early Organizational Structures of American Women’s Orchestras
Anna-Lise P. Santella
I.3. American Orchestras and Their Unions in the Nineteenth Century
John Spitzer

II. The Orchestra and the American City
Orchestras: Local versus National
John Spitzer
II.1. Invisible Instruments: Theater Orchestras in New York, 1850–1900
John Graziano
II.2. Beethoven and Beer: Orchestral Music in German Beer Gardens in Nineteenth-Century New York City
John Koegel and Jonas Westover
II.3. Performances to “Permanence”: Orchestra Building in Late Nineteenth-Century Cincinnati
Karen Ahlquist
II.4. Critic and Conductor in 1860s Chicago: George P. Upton, Hans Balatka, and Cultural Capitalism
James Deaville
II.5. Amateur and Professional, Permanent and Transient: Orchestras in the District of Columbia, 1877–1905
 Patrick Warfield
III. Conductors, Promoters, Patrons
Marketing the American Orchestra
John Spitzer
III.1. Bernard Ullman and the Business of Orchestras in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York
Bethany S. Goldberg
III.2. John Sullivan Dwight and the Harvard Musical Association Orchestra: A Help or a Hindrance?
Mary Wallace Davidson
III.3. The Leopold Damrosch Orchestra, 1877–78: Background, Instrumentation, Programming, and Critical Reception
Ora Frishberg Saloman
III.4. Gender and the Germanians: “Art-Loving Ladies” in Nineteenth-Century Concert Life
Nancy Newman

IV. America and Europe
Orchestras: American and European
John Spitzer
IV.1. “A Concentration of Talent on Our Musical Horizon”: The 1853–54 American Tour by Jullien’s Extraordinary Orchestra
Katherine K. Preston
IV.2. Ureli Corelli Hill: His European Travels and the Creation of the New York Philharmonic
Barbara Haws

V. Orchestral Repertory
Orchestral Repertory: Highbrow and Lowbrow
John Spitzer
V.1.Orchestral Programs in Boston, 1842–55, in European Perspective
William Weber
V.2. Theodore Thomas and the Cultivation of American Music
Brenda Nelson-Strauss
V.3. Thinking about Serious Music in New York, 1842–82
Adrienne Fried Block

Afterword: Coming of Age
Ronald G. Walters



Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

American Musicological Society: Ruth A. Solie Award

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