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Victor Herbert

A Theatrical Life

Neil Gould

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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p. vii-vii


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pp. ix-xi


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pp. xiii-xv


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p. xviii-xviii

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Chapter 1. Ireland, My Sireland

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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 ...

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Chapter 2. In Old New York

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pp. 18-61

Seen from the deck of the steamship Saale, 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 ...

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Chapter 3. Oh, my name is Victor Herbert—I’m the leader of the band

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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 ...

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Chapter 4. Pittsburgh — Heaven and Hell

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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 ...

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Chapter 5. Coda Brilliante—the Victor Herbert Orchestra

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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 ...

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Chapter 6. Paterfamilias

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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, ...

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Chapter 7. Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!

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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 ...

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Chapter 8. A Theatrical Musician at Work

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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 ...

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Chapter 9. Act One

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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. ...

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Chapter 10. Entre'acte I: Ace of Clubs

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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 ...

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Chapter 11. Act Two: Scene One

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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 ...

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Chapter 12. Operetta as Social Document

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pp. 342-367

With Mlle. Modiste Herbert 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 ...

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Chapter 13. Act Two: Scene Two

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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. ...

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Chapter 14. Entre'acte II: Uncrowned Kings

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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 ...

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Chapter 15. Act Three: Scene One

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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 ...

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Chapter 16. An Opera Manqué

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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 ...

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Chapter 17. Act Three: Scene Two

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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 ...

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Chapter 18. Media Vitae in Morte Sumus

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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 ...

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Chapter 19. Postlude

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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 ...

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Chapter 20. February, 2003

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pp. 547-567

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 ...


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p. 569-569


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pp. 571-595


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pp. 597-598


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pp. 599-610


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pp. 611-626

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246564
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823228720

Page Count: 512
Illustrations: 12
Publication Year: 2011