American Instrumental Music
The collection includes many forms of instrumental music, primarily for piano. There is also much music for guitar, music for harp, music for organ, and a smaller amount of music for other instruments, including a mysterious instrument known as the aeolian piano, which is not the same as the twentieth-century player piano. There is also a small body of chamber music in the collection.
Much of the collection's piano music was originally written for band (such as Dodworth's Band or orchestra (such as the Germania Society). During this period, however, it was not economical to publish individual band or orchestra scores in America. A small number of pieces for band in their original form may nonetheless be found in this collection. More band music from the period in its original scoring may be found in Dodworth's Brass Band School in the American Memory collection, Band Music from the Civil War Era.
Most of the piano music in the present collection is written for amateurs. There are numerous marches and various dance forms, such as waltzes (including a modest number of waltzes in 5/4), mazurkas, schottisches, set of dances such as quadrilles, and cotillions. Beginning in 1844, there also are pieces of piano music for the exciting new dance known as thepolka, which had been introduced in Europe in 1837. Some publications include instructions for dancing. Not all the dance pieces are for amateurs--some, often distinguished in their titles as "de concert," are virtuoso display pieces.
There are also numerous sets of "brilliant variations" on popular themes. These pieces gave the amateur pianist a chance to show off his or her ability, since the "brilliance" of the variations was usually adjusted to accommodate those with only a moderate technique. Further, these pieces gave publishers a chance to profit from a well-known tune. The champion producer of "brilliant variations," Charles Grobe (1817-1897), is represented by more pieces in this collection than is any other composer. Grobe also is one of the composers who appears most often in Music for the Nation: 1870-1885. He also shows up in this collection occasionally as dedicatee. Other extremely prolific producers of instrumental music include James Bellak, Gustave Blessner, William Dressler , William Iucho, J. C. Viereck, and Charles Zeuner.
Somewhat more challenging to play than the "brilliant variations" are the numerous operatic fantasies. Indeed, some of these fantasies are true virtuoso pieces for concert performance. Also walking the line between music for the home and music for the concert hall are several sets of songs without words.
The two best-known American composers who aspired to write piano music for the concert hall are the colorful New Orleans composer-pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) and Franz Liszt's premier American pupil, William Mason (1829-1908). Others who wrote important piano music during this period include Richard Hoffman, George William Warren, and Frederick Brandeis. For reasons explained later in this essay, Anthony Philip Heinrich (1781-1861) produced the most ambitious and most puzzling American piano music of the period.
A considerable amount of piano music for children was published during this period, although it was after the Civil War that such publications became a regular branch of the industry. There is also a small amount of harp music for children.