Moses Asch, Harry Smith, and the Anthology of American Folk Music

A dreamer and an eccentric, working together, turned the American music industry on its ear. They issued a revolutionary recorded anthology. In the first half of the twentieth century, so-called Tin Pan Alley composers, who mostly lived in New York, produced the bulk of America’s popular music. Their sophisticated, urban music did not satisfy all the musical needs of the entire country. The singing and fiddling of rural musicians made no impression on the country’s city and town dwellers until the appearance of the Anthology of American Folk Music. Moses Asch, the dreamer, had made it his life’s goal to … Continue reading

The selling of Gounod’s Faust

Who can think of Charles Gounod without thinking of Faust, one of the most successful operas of the entire nineteenth century? And yet it looked for a while like its London premiere would be a dismal failure. Impresario James Henry Mapleson learned a few days before it was scheduled that only 30 pounds worth of seats had been sold. The cashier told him that there was no sense in performing it four successive nights as scheduled, because it had attracted no interest from the public. Mapleson had another idea. No tickets to the first three performances would be offered for … Continue reading

Vienna, 1800: the divergence of classical and popular music

Revised February 27, 2017 What kind of music do you think of when you think of Vienna? Classical music, of course. Extra credit if you thought of Johann Strauss and realize that his waltzes aren’t classical music. But did you know classical music was hard to find in Vienna in 1800? Mozart had been dead for nine years. Haydn was an old man close to retirement from composing. The young Beethoven had made a strong start in establishing his reputation. Schubert was only three years old. And most of the public idolized musicians you’ve probably never heard of. In fact, … Continue reading