A Mirror of Ages Past: The Publication of Music in Domestic Periodicals

By Miller, Bonny H. | Notes, March 1994 | Go to article overview

A Mirror of Ages Past: The Publication of Music in Domestic Periodicals


Miller, Bonny H., Notes


Thousands of songs and piano pieces have been published in the pages of nonspecialized household magazines issued throughout Europe and the Americas, yet an overall history is lacking for this large repertory of music published in periodicals not devoted to music or music journalism.(1) The publication of complete compositions in music journals, such as Etude Magazine, is familiar to many musicians. While less familiar, serial publications consisting entirely of music constitute another example of music publishing in a periodical format.(2) Music journalism--that is, writing about music, including reviews of concerts, music reviews, regular music columns, reports, essays, and biographical information on composers and performers--is common in newspapers and magazines of the popular press. Less well known, however, is the tradition of music publication in household periodicals as familiar to us as the Atlantic Monthly (music in 1876 and 1877), Harper's Monthly Magazine (songs in 1883 and 1884), the Ladies' Home Journal (about two hundred fifty pieces from 1893 to 1925), Vogue Magazine ("Saint's Song," from Gian Carlo Menotti's The Saint of Bleecker Street in 1954) and Newsweek (a Christmas carol commissioned from Walt and Kathleen Kelly in 1955), to cite only a few examples. Although music was sometimes incorporated as examples in reviews or articles about music, this study focuses on music that was included in household periodicals simply as a feature for readers to perform and enjoy at home.

The breadth and age of this little-known publishing tradition is perhaps surprising.(3) Journals devoted to music and music study date from the early eighteenth century, but music compositions have been published in periodicals of general interest from as early as 1678, actually predating the earliest music periodicals by several decades. The spectrum of nonspecialized periodicals that included music is diverse, ranging from literary journals and general cultural periodicals, to weekly newspapers and newspaper supplements, as well as family miscellanies meant to entertain and inform the household. Other genres of periodicals that featured music were magazines for children, religious periodicals, political publications, gift-book annuals, and so-called "little magazines" (i.e., magazines of avant-garde poetry, fiction, and criticism). Of special interest to musicians are those compositions published in the periodicals of literary or artistic movements, such as German romanticism, art nouveau, and expressionism. Although the importance and value of contemporaneous music journalism published in belletristic reviews, household magazines, and newspapers is fully recognized, little notice has been given to the compositions themselves, although published in many of the same periodicals. Scant value has been placed on this music, presumably because the repertory was for the fireside rather than for the concert hall, the forms being modest and the styles frequently popular. Many pieces, however, are unique to the magazines, and some were even composed by commission.(4) The composers include men and women whose work we regard as serious, or "classical" music, as well as popular song writers and amateurs. This music presents a unique mirror of changing musical tastes during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, yet this rich and broad publishing tradition has been largely forgotten. While there is some secondary literature describing music in specific periodicals or within a narrow genre, an overview of this once-common method of music publishing is needed.(5) After a historical sketch of this publishing phenomenon, this study will identify the major categories of general periodicals publishing music, thereby providing a historical context for more detailed examination of specific journals. Music historians and librarians need to be aware that this tradition of music is to be found not in music libraries but rather in periodicals and microfilms in general collections. …

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