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Collection Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885

European Music in America

Not all the music in this collection was written in the Americas. A good proportion--more than a third, less than a half--was written in Europe by European composers. A very few items are copyright deposits by European publishers, deposited in America to secure American copyright. (Johannes Brahms's publisher was the most careful about this.) There are also a few deposits by Canadian publishers, and a small amount of Mexican music, most of it published in New Orleans. But most of the European music that appears here was published in America by American publishers, encouraged by the lack of copyright agreements with Europe.

"H.M.S. Pinafore"
Composer: Arthur Sullivan
Published: 1879
(Music Division, Library of Congress)

American music students were eager to try their hands (and voices) at the masterpieces of the European repertory. Thus, those works of the nineteenth-century European canon for solo performers are well represented here. Editions published from1870 to1885 retained their importance for later generations of American musicians; in particular, the edition of the Beethoven piano sonatas published in 1877, the "Bülow-Lebert edition" with notes translated by J. C. D. Parker (who was himself an important writer of choral music), remained the standard American edition of these sonatas until the mid-twentieth century.

"Angels, My Loved One Keep"
Composer: R. Schumann
Published: 1873
(Music Division, Library of Congress)

Works in large forms, such as symphonies, were not profitable for American publishers, nor was chamber music; the demand for these could be supplied by importing European editions. But piano works, songs, and small-scale choral works sold in large enough numbers to make the American publication of them feasible, and the major nineteenth-century composers in these genres--Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Liszt--are widely represented in this online collection. So are the minor composers who formed the bread-and-butter-fare of American pianists and singers--Stephen Heller, Moriz Moskowski, Paolo Tosti, and their like. Franz Abt, who toured America in 1872, is perhaps the minor composer most represented. Earlier generations of composers are less well represented, though there is a fair amount of Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. For users interested in piano music, songs, or choral pieces by any European composer who made even a modest stir in the middle third of the nineteenth century, this collection is a good beginning source for exploration.

"Carmen Grand Potpourri de Concert"
Composer: Georges Bizet
Published: 1878
(Music Division, Library of Congress)

European composers for the operatic stage fared even better than composers for the concert hall. Music from the operas had two buying publics, singers and those who wanted to play the principal tunes of an opera on the piano. For singers, professional, student, and amateur, the major arias and ensembles of the operas in standard repertory were published in accurate voice-and-piano format, almost invariably with an English singing translation as well as the original words. These translations were often done by musicians of some stature, including Harrison Millard and the music historian Louis C. Elson. For the pianist there were arrangements ranging from simple dance-and-march versions of principal tunes to elaborate "fantasias" and "reminiscences." There were arrangements of principal numbers for theater orchestra and for band. For the most famous numbers from the most popular operas, Carmen and Aïda in particular, there were even easy arrangements for children to play. For the current music student it is the vocal excerpts from the operas that are of the most interest; practically any moderately well-known aria from any opera in the repertory during the period 1870 to1885, including many arias now hard to locate in music stores, is presented in this online collection in a good edition.

"Long Since"
Composer: Franz Abt
Published: 1877
(Music Division, Library of Congress)

Light music from Europe is also bountifully represented in this collection. Johann Strauss Jr. is perhaps the composer with the most music (some of it concealed under the name of the arranger). Emile Waldteufel is close to him in popularity. Operetta was a particular staple of American music publishing; as each new show by Johann Strauss, Jacques Offenbach, Felix Andran, Charles Lecocq, Robert Planquette, Franz von Suppé, or Carl Millöcker opened in New York it would be processed by American publishers into medleys, potpourris, "medley overtures" (which might or might not be the same as the actual overture to the operetta), dances, quadrilles, and easy piano versions.

These works all appeared on the American stage in English translation. However, the work that most thoroughly conquered the American public in this period required no translation: it was Sir Arthur Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. Pinafore opened in London in May 1878; by 1879 there were eight different versions of the show running in New York alone. On December 1, 1879, the D'Oyly Carte company, the London producers of H.M.S. Pinafore, opened their version of the "authentic" H.M.S. Pinafore in New York. H.M.S. Pinafore is one of the two works which are represented in this online collection by sets of published parts (the other is Edmond Audran's Olivette). These parts do not represent Sullivan's original orchestration, but are a version for small orchestra done from the published vocal score by Boston composer E. N. Catlin. The existence of this set of parts helps to explain the multiple productions of Pinafore in America during the late 1870s and early 1880s. They also make possible a reconstruction of early American pirated performances of Pinafore in the admittedly unlikely case that this would interest a present-day producer.

Pinafore inspired the sheet-music publications usual for a popular operetta: the principal songs in voice-and-piano versions, selections for piano, dances and marches based on the tunes of the show. It also inspired songs commenting on the show, especially on its tag lines "'What, never?' 'Hardly ever.'" Songs from Pinafore appeared with different lyrics; at least one medley of "all of the latest popular melodies of the day" proved to be almost entirely a medley from Pinafore; and there is even an interpolated song for Hebe, Sir Joseph Porter's principal cousin, who in the authentic H.M.S. Pinafore sings only in ensemble.

In an attempt to avoid such unauthorized American editions of their next work, Gilbert and Sullivan's producer Richard D'Oyly Carte gave the premiere of Sullivan's next operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, in New York. This online collection is the best documentation of just how little effect this had on the publication by American publishers of excerpts from The Pirates of Penzance. Later Gilbert and Sullivan operettas (with the exception of Princess Ida) were much published in America as well; Patience, whose 1882 premiere coincided with Oscar Wilde's visit to America, did particularly well. The 1882 craze for "aesthetic" songs was a reaction in equal parts to Patience and to Wilde. Sullivan's operettas are the most represented in this online collection; next in number come, not the operettas of Strauss and Offenbach, but the homegrown American operettas of David Braham.