WHAT THEY HEARD: Music in America, 1852-1881 by Irving Sablosky

WHAT THEY HEARD: Music in America, 1852-1881

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A medley of more than 60 articles, reviews, news items and letters drawn from the pages of Dwight's Journal of Music, one of the earliest periodicals to report on classical and popular music in mid-19th-century America. Music scholars, cultural historians and laymen will welcome Sablosky's selections, winnowed from 1,051 issues of the magazine, as well as his knowledgeable commentaries. Together, they present fascinating insights into the sometimes surprisingly cosmopolitan, sometimes uproariously provincial beginnings of America's musical maturation. Lively, firsthand reports on Jenny Lind's farewell American recital (""a royal priestess of the Beautiful and True""), Adelina Patti's concert debut at the age of 10 (a ""charming child cantatrice""), and the American premiere of Bizet's Carmen (""the characters betray little acquaintance with the customs of polite society"") are among the highlights of the reviews. Tucked away among these historically significant accounts are less important, but equally revelatory, descriptions of an out-of-tune performance of Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in D Minor in Gold Rush San Francisco, and of a concert by Louis Jullien in which a ""Fireman's Quadrille"" was accompanied by the local fire brigade's extinguishing a conflagration onstage. John Sullivan Dwight, one of those congenitally impractical, irrepressibly idealistic Bostonians who, by their refusal ""to face reality,"" managed nonetheless to stir America to intellectual life, encouraged the development of such musical organizations as ""The Handel and Haydn Society,"" the New York Philharmonic Society and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His reports on their progress are especially revealing, listing, as they do, both performances and programs. Even more important, perhaps, was Dwight's fostering of Afro-American music. An ardent Abolitionist, he publicized the collections being made of black spirituals and work songs, feeling they revealed the humanity of the freed slaves, unstifled by generations of bondage. In a lighter mood, Dwight commented on ""Concert Etiquette"" during the Civil War. Though he makes no mention of candy wrappers, he might have been encouraged by concertgoers' manners today, free as they are of the newspaper reading, knitting and ""lorgnetting"" that apparently went on then. In sum, a deftly organized, entertainingly annotated compilation of news from America's cultural past.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1986
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ. Press