Antoine Dieppo, French trombone virtuoso and teacher




Antoine Dieppo’s name is familiar as the first professor of trombone at the Paris Conservatory upon the trombone class’ official formation in 1836. He deserves to be known as more than a name on a list, however. As it turns out, he obtained that position, and also that of principal trombonist of Paris’ principal orchestra by displacing established incumbents. He wrote a method book, which was the required text for his students. It has not maintained its place in the modern teaching literature, however. Thompson and Lemke note only a volume of nine etudes still readily available. I have a … Continue reading

Home, Sweet Home, by Henry Rowley Bishop




Home, Sweet Home” was the single most popular song of the entire 19th century, both in the United States and in England. Its success may owe more to the American poet who wrote the words than to the English composer of the tune. Henry Rowley Bishop was the most respected English musician of his generation. Contemporaries even called him the “English Mozart.” Almost single-handed, he kept the tradition of English opera alive. English opera and Bishop’s reputation. “Opera” seems highbrow nowadays. In the early nineteenth century it was the popular music of the upper class–that is, if it was in … Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: Joy to the world




Who would have thought that the joyful text of “Joy to the World” would have ever been controversial? Yet when Isaac Watts published his song paraphrases, they unleashed a storm of criticism. Early Protestants were split on what constituted proper congregational singing. Lutherans sang hymns; Martin Luther himself wrote important hymn texts. John Calvin, on the other hand, encouraged only the singing of metrical psalms. The English followed Calvin’s example. English metrical psalms of the 17th century seem almost unreadable now. They must not have appealed to English congregations of that time, either. Watts later wrote, “To see the dull … Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: Hark the herald angels sing




Charles Wesley wrote more than 6,500 hymns, most of which condense a deep understanding of Christian theology into simple poetic form. Many of them maintain an important place in modern hymnals. According to noted hymnologist John Julian, “Hark the herald angels sing” is one of the four most popular English-language hymns. Except, that’s not what Wesley wrote. Here’s the beginning of the original text, written for Christmas day 1739: Hark, how all the welkin rings, “Glory to the King of kings; peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all ye nations, rise, join the triumph of … Continue reading

Divided loyalties?




My posts about Confederate music of the Civil War are all based on a spreadsheet of songs in the Library of Congress’ sheet music collection. It took a long time to compile it, and there are just under 500 items labeled as representing the Confederate side. There are 1950 pieces in the same collection identified as representing the Union side. I finally broke down and paid someone else to prepare a spreadsheet. I have just now had a chance to glance at it. Some names familiar to me from the Confederate spreadsheet also appear on the Union spreadsheet. For example, … Continue reading

The Garcìa family and a century of great singing




Spanish tenor Manuel Garcìa was the patriarch of four generations of singers. He and his children greatly influenced opera and singing in four countries for more than a century. In fact, his son lived for more than a century! Manuel Garcìa (1775-1832) Manuel Garcìa was born in Seville, Spain and educated in music in the choir school of the cathedral. He was a well-known singer, composer, and operatic conductor in Spain before his 18th birthday. His operetta El poeta calculista(1805) was successful not only in Spain, but in other countries as well. At the time, Spain was not a musically … Continue reading

The Bonnie Blue Flag, by Harry Macarthy




In its short existence, the Confederate States of America adopted two official flags. The Southern Cross flag so familiar today was adopted only in 1863 after it became apparent that the original Stars and Bars looked enough like the American Stars and Stripes to confuse soldiers in battle. No song about either flag ever approached the popularity of Harry Macarthy’s tribute to the Bonnie Blue Flag, which was never an official Confederate flag at all. The flag Search for “Confederate Flag” on Google, and you might find one or two references to the Bonnie Blue Flag, but it’s not the … Continue reading

From the New World: 9th symphony by Antonin Dvořák




Antonin Dvořák came to America because of a woman who was used to getting her own way. In 1884, a wealthy arts patroness in New York, Jeanette Thurber, established the National Conservatory of Music and hired a Belgian singer as its first director. The Conservatory was unusual for a number of reasons: She conceived and ran it as a philanthropic, not commercial venture. Therefore, it admitted students who otherwise could not have gotten a musical education. Women as well as men comprised the student body. The student body was not limited to white students. Some Native American and African American … Continue reading

A pre-history of orchestra conductors




Long ago, the leader of the instrumental ensemble at a court or large church was called the concert master. Orchestras came later. Nowadays, orchestras still have a concert master. The public notices this person mostly because he or she is the last member of the orchestra to come on stage. The conductor comes next. The earliest orchestras had no conductor the way we think of conductors. Conducting as we know it, was well known by the fairly small choirs of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In fact, some choirmasters held a rolled up sheaf of paper in their hand (or … Continue reading

The Battle Cry of Freedom: best song of the Civil War?




Several songs of the Civil War remain well known to this day. Perhaps the best known today is “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but certainly the preeminent war song of its own day was “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” by George Frederick Root. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” with its religious allusions, quickly found a place in hymnals, which it retains to this day. “The Battle Cry of Freedom” is nothing but a war song, yet many of you reading this are probably humming it right now. What is it about this song that has given it such … Continue reading