The American Orchestra and Theodore Thomas

By Charles Edward Russell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
"Giants, Dwarfs and the Like"

SUPERFICIALLY, this was a task to daunt the stoutest heart. The New York of 1862 was not the New York of 1845, that is true enough; it had become citified to the extent of banishing the pigs and of sprucing its looks. But the deliberate judgment of many a foreign visitor1 condemned it to a hopeless barbarism about music. The only question in the minds of these judicious critics was whether the Esquimaux had better musical taste than the New Yorkers. Joseph Gungl, who in 1849 brought hither a band of German musicians, went back to his native land and voted in favor of the Esquimaux on The charitable ground that he did not know them. Many a combination of foreign artists landed with high hopes, toured the country, and had to be helped from the financial reefs, or stayed upon them, as might be. The loud complaints of such castaways added nothing to the glamor of art life in America.

Extant records seem mostly on the side of these acetic commentaries. Years afterward, George William Curtis,2 who had been in a position to speak with feeling and knowledge, said that the average musical taste in 1862 reached its apogee in a rhapsody for tin pans known as "The Battle of Prague." To judge by the programs of notable musical events of the best order, other classics contested for this palm. "The Skinners' Quickstep" was highly esteemed, "The Firefly Polka" had

____________________
1
"Often where a liberal spirit exists, and a wish to patronize the fine arts is expressed, it is joined to a profundity of ignorance on the subject almost inconceivable." (Mrs. Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans, Chap. XXX. She is writing here about New York.)
2
Address at a banquet to Theodore Thomas at Delmonico's, New York, April 22, 1891.

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