Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Reports and comments on daily events in newspapers provide an invaluable tool in the study of a particular period or area of research. This study is concerned with the music reviews in two New York newspapers, the Times and the Tribune, between 1851 and 1876. This period in the history of the United States was above all one of transition. Social upheaval prevailed as a result of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. In addition, America was rapidly gaining ascendancy in science, technology, and as a major political power. This evolution at the broader national level was accompanied by changes in the cultural and musical life of New York. Although the transitions at these two levels may have been contemporaneous, we may observe a certain paradox in the fact that, as Americans were boasting of their advancements in the fields of science and literature, musically, they were being drawn more closely to Europe, especially Germany. Despite America's chauvinistic claims concerning the superiority of its "home-grown" artists, such as soprano Adelina Patti and pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk, its citizens who were serious in their pursuit of a musical career still looked to Europe for final acceptance. Although musical life in New York during the period of this study was varied and complex, it was dominated, socially at least, by Italian opera. The term "Italian opera" during this period was used to denote any work in the "grand opera" tradition. Major opera companies in New York routinely performed even French and German operas in Italian. During the course of the period, New Yorkers witnessed a transition from the vocally florid music of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti, through the more declamatory mature works of Verdi, to a positive public and critical reaction to Wagner's "Music of the Future." The course of this transition was temporarily altered by the brief, yet intense, vogue of French opera bouffe during the late 1860s. Despite this definite direction toward German music in New York, we may perceive a certain irony in the fact that the acceptance of Wagner's operas in New York was effected only after they had been presented in Italian, the language which composer-critic William Henry Fry had called "the only great method and style.". In orchestral music, the period was dominated primarily by the New York Philharmonic Society and the Theodore Thomas orchestra. It was through the efforts of these German-oriented organizations that the seeds of acceptance of the "Music of the Future" were first sown. The consistent programming of Wagner's orchestral music and excerpts from his operas, often despite initial harsh reactions from the critics, resulted in a gradual appreciation, if not a total understanding, of Wagner's music, and made possible the eventual acceptance of full performances of his music dramas. The most fascinating aspect of such an examination as this lies in the opportunity it affords the reader to witness first-hand the day-by-day occurrences in the musical life of a city, as well as a broader overview of a particular period. In this particular study, the writer discovered, amid the occasional tedium of the myriad "Trovatores" and "Piano Soirees," an active and vigorous musical community, one that was an integral part of the total fabric of life in New York, and one whose musical tastes were both reflected and guided by the music criticism of the period.