"STRONG ON MUSIC: Vol. II, Reverberations 1850-1856" by Vera Brodsky Lawrence

"STRONG ON MUSIC: Vol. II, Reverberations 1850-1856"

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

An engrossing panorama of New York concert life in the middle of the last century, when the latest Verdi opera was still a subject of hot debate and America had not yet ""museum-ized"" good music. George Templeton Strong was a New York City lawyer from ""good society"" who kept a meticulous diary of social, political, and artistic events during a long life; viewers of the PBS documentary series The Civil War will remember frequent quotations from Strong's diary setting forth the Unionist point of view. Strong was also a passionate, knowledgeable, and opinionated music lover whose diary recorded -- in exquisite detail -- the vitality and range of public performances in New York City at the mid-point of the 19th century. In this volume, excerpts from Strong's diary are skillfully fitted into a running narrative created by music historian Lawrence (who also edited Strong on Music, Vol. I, not reviewed). This framework includes separate, alternating chapters by Lawrence. Using contemporary newspaper and magazine reports and criticism, she provides an enlarged context for Strong's own observations. Any notion that New York City's musical life in the 1850s was a reflection of a youthful, unsophisticated republic is quickly dispelled: Amid the minstrel shows and opera parodies, the city offered real opera in Italian, German, and English, the first appearances of the rising vocal meteor Adelina Patti, frequent concerts by the still infant New York Philharmonic Society orchestra, ""monster concerts"" by lionized virtuoso pianists like Sigismund Thalberg and the native-born Louis Moreau Gottschalk (whom Strong abhorred as an overly mechanical technician). Strong knew his Mozart and Haydn and managed to be amusing even when his conservative taste led him into serious errors of judgment: ""La Traviata is utter drivel. I could write as bad an opera myself."" Pretty wonderful, a treasure trove for lovers of music or American social history.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1995
Page count: 790pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago