Listening and Longing
Music Lovers in the Age of Barnum
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Wesleyan University Press
Series: Music Culture
This book began with research on uncatalogued sheet music binders at the John Hay Library at Brown University during the summer of 1999. While I never published the paper I wrote based on that research, I soon became interested in the nineteenth-century music culture of the United States. Having an “interest” in a subject and actually writing a book about it, however, are very different things, and I am grateful to all who, during the past decade, have offered their time and insight to help me do the latter. ...
In Edward Bellamy’s 1887 utopian novel, Looking Backward, an elite nineteenth-century Bostonian, Julian West, accidentally sleeps until the year 2000 and wakes up to find a wondrous new society. Boston in 2000 is peaceful and efficient, with an industrial economy tempered by rational organization, choice, and self-fulfillment, all of which West interprets as a stark contrast to the poverty and class violence of urban life in the 1880s. ...
1. “P. T. Barnum, Introducing Madelle. Jenny Lind to Ossian E. Dodge”: Capitalizing on Music in the Antebellum Era
At the end of September 1850, Ossian E. Dodge, a writer of comic songs and sketches, attended a ticket auction in Boston for an upcoming concert series featuring the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. One can only imagine the scene: the auction, devised by famed impresario P. T. Barnum, took place at Tremont Temple, an old theater that had been purchased by a group of Free Baptists several years earlier and was still rented out for public events.1 ...
2. “I Think I Will Do Nothing … But Listen”: Forming a New Urban Ear
In the mid-1840s, around the time that Ossian Dodge first began hustling for renown in Boston, another young man on-the-make was working furiously as an editor, writer, and printer for a variety of newspapers in New York City. Walt Whitman was an aspiring novelist and poet from Brooklyn, New York, who had lived in and around Long Island, Brooklyn, and New York City since his youth. ...
3. “Music Is What Awakens in You When You Are Reminded by the Instruments”: Hearing a New Life at Mid-Century
In the exploding urban concert market of the 1840s and 1850s, those interested in music found themselves having to actively manage their leisure time. Nathan Beekley, for example, a young clerk in Philadelphia, wrote in his diary of 1849 about regularly attending shows and concerts across several different establishments, including Philadelphia’s Musical Fund Hall, Chestnut Street Theatre, the Walnut Street Theatre, the National Theatre, McGuires’s Dancing Rooms, and the local Barnum’s Museum. ...
4. "How I Should Like to Hear It All Over Again & Again”: Loving Music, 1850–1885
On 14 April 1884, twenty-four-year-old Lucy Lowell attended the opening of a Wagner festival at Boston’s Mechanics Hall, sponsored by famed conductor Theodore Thomas and his Orchestra. The festival was opening its national tour in Boston, and it featured some of the greatest Wagnerian opera singers of the time, several of whom were performers in the annual Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, Germany. ...
5. “Attempering This Whole People to the Sentiment of Art”: Institutionalizing Musical Ecstasy
In a nation where the main preoccupations had always been politics and real estate, and where many remained skeptical of the grandeur of European performance culture, music lovers at mid-century were targets for ridicule. In fact, given the increasing spectacle surrounding urban concert life, music lovers were difficult to ignore. As the most peculiar behaviors of dedicated audiences—obsessively attending every performance on a tour, evaluating the acoustics of concert halls, collecting sheet music as souvenirs, or lingering outside hotels to catch a glimpse of touring stars—started to become more public, society wits and cultural critics discovered plenty of new material. ...
In 1964, virtuoso pianist Glenn Gould, at the height of his career, ceased performing. Gould disliked the narrow expectations of audiences and promoters during concert tours, something that would likewise motivate the Beatles to eschew performance two years later. But Gould had another, deeper motivation: he was convinced that the future of musical creativity lay not in the role of the performer but in the role of the listener. ...