The Columbia Album of Victor Herbert
About This Album
Recorded in March, 1958 at Columbia's 30th Street studio in New York City.
He was something of a giant, Victor Herbert. A big, big-hearted man who wrote big-hearted melodies, he strode across American popular music for some twenty-five years, leaving behind him waltzes, marches and polkas that preserve in their innocent appeal the innocence of those years. He has been called the father of American music, but this is not true, for he was Irish born and German trained. Bit he was the first composer truly oriented toward the tastes of the United States.
Before him, American operetta—the major source of lasting popular music at that time—was largely without character in either music or plot; after him, regardless of what may be said about much of it, there was his legacy of honest sentiment and genuine musicianship. It must have been a proud feeling for Americans of his time to go to a Herbert presentation. Theretofore almost everything worthy of note had come from Europe: the brisk madness of Gilbert and Sullivan, the Viennese confections of Lehar and Oscar Straus, and before them the incomparable Strauss family of Johann jr., Josef, and Johann sr., and the French bonbons of Planquette derived from the frothier gaîtés of Offenbach. And then came Victor Herbert, with Naughty Marietta and Mlle Modiste, The Red Mill and Babes in Toyland, Sweethearts and The Fortune Teller. After that, it was never quite the same in the musical theater. The way had been paved for Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the others who have made American musicals a vibrant form of art.
In many ways, the music of Victor Herbert reflects the times in which he lived, times which today seem sunny with ease and elegance and confidence (however trying they may have been to those who lived through them). Those were the days of Rector’s and Luchow’s, of driving to the theater in horse-drawn carriages, of suppers of champagne and lobster and cold chicken, of top hats and opera capes, tiaras and sweeping gowns. Not everyone lived that way, of course, but it is agreeable to think of those times in a kind of Gibson Girl setting and not, where Herbert is concerned, without accuracy. Opera stars, such as Emma Trentini and Fritzi Scheff, appeared in Herbert’s operettas, foreshadowing the Metropolitan-to-Broadway moves of later artists such as Ezio Pinza, Helen Traubel and Robert Weede, and if the librettos were more than usually simpleminded, no one seemed to care in the freshet of charming melodies. (One of Herbert’s works, The Gold Bug, lists in its cast of characters such uninviting personalities as Lotta Bonds, Lingard Long, Penn Holder and Lady Patty Larceny, but the composer cannot be held responsible.)
This generous survey of the music of Victor Herbert, arranged and conducted by Percy Faith, draws mainly from his operettas—of which there were forty-two in various guises. There are selections, too, from his grand opera Natoma, from his serenades and from his piano music, melodies that have later become popular in other forms. Herbert is so well known as a composer for the popular theater that it is often forgotten that he composed two operas that reached the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, a cello concerto of considerable merit, and a large body of piano music, art songs and other works. He was, moreover, conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for six seasons, was the first composer in America to compose a score for a motion picture (the silent movie The Fall of a Nation) and was of course the major force in the establishment of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.
Victor Herbert was born February 1, 1859, in Dublin, Ireland. His was a musical family, and as a child he absorbed the musical traditions to which he devoted his life. Some years after his father’s death, his mother remarried and moved to Stuttgart, Germany, where Herbert spent most of his formative years. He began to study the cello early, and in time became a celebrated virtuoso on this instrument. As a youth in Central Europe, he played in many orchestras, as a member of the ensemble and as a soloist, and among those under whom he played was Eduard Strauss, brother of the celebrated Johann.
He also began to compose, and his earliest known work is the Suite for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 3, of 1883. The fate of both Opus 1 and Opus 2 remains a mystery. In 1885, he met the well-known soprano Therese Förster, and after a swift courtship they were married the following year. Shortly after their marriage, they were both summoned to New York by the then youthful Metropolitan Opera Association, she as a dramatic soprano, he as cellist, and moved to America in the autumn of 1886. Mrs. Herbert made her Metropolitan debut as The Queen of Sheba and her second appearance in the Metropolitan premiere of Aida. Although she was well received, she sang only a few more seasons of opera, retiring to devote herself to her family.
Herbert himself, meanwhile, adapted to New York with gusto, making friends with such luminaries as James Huneker, Anton Seidl and Xaver Scharwenka and finding excellent companionship in the eminently respectable beer halls of that era. He made his American debut as a soloist on January 8, 1887, with Walter Damrosch conducting, in portions of his own Suite. Later he played with the New York Philharmonic, and in subsequent years organized his own orchestra for extensive tours and concerts. An idea of his stature as a cellist may be gained from the fact that he played the American premiere of Brahms’ Double Concerto under Theodore Thomas, with Max Bendix as violinist.
Despite all these activities, however, he continued to compose, and made his initial move toward the theater with a dramatic cantata, The Captive, in 1891. His first work for the lyric theater was something called La Vivandière; no one knows quite what it was, for it was never produced and has been entirely lost. In 1893 he began a career as a bandmaster and threatened to rival Sousa, but returned to the theater with a comic opera, Prince Ananias, first performed on November 20, 1894. This was followed by a more notable success, The Wizard of the Nile in 1895, and the following year by his single dismal failure, The Gold Bug, employing the characters cited earlier.
Then in 1897 he had his first unquestioned success, The Serenade, paving the way for The Idol’s Eye and The Fortune Teller the year after. In that same year—1898—he was appointed conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and remained for six stormy seasons, musical politics being what they are. In 1899 he composed for operettas—Cyrano de Bergerac, The Singing Girl, The Ameer and The Viceroy. His symphonic poem Hero and Leander, Op. 33, appeared in 1901, and in 1903 began the endless procession of memorable operettas—Babes in Toyland, Babette, It Happened in Nordland, Miss Dolly Dollars, Mlle Modiste, The Red Mill, Naughty Marietta, Sweethearts, The Only Girl, Princess Pat, Eileen, Orange Blossoms and Dream Girl—some forty-two in all Moreover, he found time to contribute songs for interpolation in other productions, such as the various Ziegfeld Follies.
In 1911, his grand opera Natoma was produced with Mary Garden and John McCormack. It had been commissioned in 1909 by Oscar Hammerstein, but the loss of his Manhattan Opera House forced the producer to relinquish the rights. The opera was rehearsed in Chicago and Philadelphia before the premiere, and was excellently mounted, but reactions were mixed. Most of the critical fire centered on the book, but there was also a feeling that Herbert had perhaps overreached himself. Nevertheless, excerpts from the work are popular to this day. His other operatic venture, in one act, was Madeleine, produced on January 24, 1914, with Frances Alda. During this time, also, Herbert’s interest in forming a society to protect the rights of composers caught fire, and with eight others, he took the lead in the formation of ASCAP, of which he was director and vice president until his death.
In 1916, he became the first American composer to score a full-length motion picture, The Fall of a Nation, an indifferent film but the first for which a wholly originally accompaniment had been written. That same year he collaborated with an unlikely associate, the young Irving Berlin. The score they turned out was for The Century Girl, and extravaganza for which Herbert wrote most of the instrumental music and some of the songs. With changing tastes in theatrical entertainment, not a few of the Herbert shows of this era were only modest successes. This is surely less his fault than that of the men who compiled the jokes to piece out the time between melodies, but it is also clear that the days of operetta as Herbert knew it were numbered. Still, there was Eileen to come, and Orange Blossoms and The Dream Girl, as well as the celebrated “jazz” concert by Paul Whiteman at Aeolian Hall, for which Herbert composed his A Suite of Serenades. That the Suite was overshadowed by the premier of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on the same program was perhaps to be expected, but the music is nevertheless brimming with the familiar Herbert warmth and charm.
Victor Herbert died on May 26, 1924, collapsing during a visit to his doctor. In a eulogy printed two days later, Deems Taylor wrote: “He is not dead, of course. The composed of Babes in Toyland, The Fortune Teller, The Red Mill, Nordland and Mlle Modiste cannot be held as dead by a world so heavily in his debt.”
The Columbia Album of Victor Herbert, arranged and conducted by Percy Faith, includes the following numbers:
SPANISH SERENADE (1924) is derived from A Suite of Serenades, written for Paul Whiteman and his orchestra and introduced at the famous Aeolian Hall concert that also introduced George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
DREAM GIRL from The Dream Girl (1924), Herbert’s last operetta. Fay Bainter was starred as the heroine.
BECAUSE YOU’RE YOU from The Red Mill (1906) starring Montgomery and Stone. The original production ran for 274 performances, and a 1945 revival in which Fred Stone’s daughters participated—one as a producer, the other as a performer—ran for 531 performances.
TOYLAND and MARCH OF THE TOYS from Babes in Toyland (1903) an extravaganza intended to duplicate the success of The Wizard of Oz.
GYPSY LOVE SONG and ROMANY LIFE from The Fortune Teller (1898). The first song was introduced by Eugene Cowles. Alice Nielsen was the star of the production.
A KISS IN THE DARK from Orange Blossoms (1922). Edith Day introduced this song, one of Herbert’s finest.
I WANT WHAT I WANT WHEN I WANT IT from Mlle Modiste (1905). Fritzi Scheff was the star of the production, having deserted opera for Herbert’s earlier Babette. This number was not hers, however; it was sung by William Pruette.
WHEN YOU’RE AWAY from The Only Girl (1914) was introduced by Wilda Bennett. One of Herbert’s most successful works, The Only Girl followed the opening of The Debutante by only five weeks.
CUBAN SERENADE is also from A Suite of Serenades written for Paul Whiteman in 1924.
INDIAN SUMMER was originally composed for piano in 1919. It was later orchestrated, and some twenty years later was adapted as a popular song with unusual success.
EVERY DAY IS LADIES’ DAY WITH ME from The Red Mill (1906). It was introduced by Neal McCay as the Governor of Zeeland.
KISS ME AGAIN from Mlle Modiste (1905). This was Fritzi Scheff’s greatest success, part of a number called “If I Were on the Stage.” Legend—fairly well substantiated—indicates that she originally detested the song, and that it remained in the production only at Herbert’s insistence.
HABANERA from Natoma (1911). Herbert’s grand opera was produced with a cast headed by Marty Garden and John McCormack. Burdened by a soggy libretto, it nevertheless contained many memorable moments, among them this richly atmospheric selection.
TO THE LAND OF MY OWN ROMANCE from Sweethearts (1913). Christie MacDonald was the star of the production, which ran for 136 performances. A revival in 1947 achieved 288 performances.
DAGGER DANCE from Natoma (1911) is yet another atmospheric excerpt from Herbert’s grand opera, building to a dramatic climax. The opera remained in repertory for three seasons, something of a disappointment to its well-wishers but a distinguished effort in American opera of its time.
ITALIAN STREET SONG from Naughty Marietta (1910) was a showpiece for Emma Trentini of Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera Company. She, and the score, helped make the production a classic of the operetta stage.
SWEETHEARTS from Sweethearts (1913) is a typically Herbertian waltz, and one of the most popular he ever wrote.
YESTERTHOUGHTS (1900) was composed for piano, later orchestrated and, like Indian Summer, transformed into a major popular song in the late Thirties.
STREETS OF NEW YORK from The Red Mill (1906) demonstrates another type of Herbert waltz—light-hearted, rollicking and tuneful as always.
I’M FALLING IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE from Naughty Marietta (1910). Orville Harrold, of the Manhattan Opera Company, introduced this song, one of the high spots of Herbert’s finest score.
THINE ALONE from Eileen (1917). This production was Herbert’s heartfelt tribute to the land of his birth, one of his loveliest scores and a curiously neglected one. Its most famous excerpt, presented here, was introduced by Walter Scanlan and Grace Breen.