Dvořák In America

The great Czech composer arrived on these shores a century ago and wrote some of his most enduring masterpieces here. Perhaps more important, he understood better than any American of the day where our musical destiny lay.

I did not come to America to interpret Beethoven or Wagner for the public. That is not my work and I would not waste any time on it. I came to discover what young Americans had in them and to help them express it.”

Antonín Dvořák was very clear about his mission in the New World. He never wanted to be an ambassador representing the music of the Old World but rather a discoverer of what the New had to offer. Read more »

The Man Who Knew Mozart

Lorenzo Da Ponte, New York bookseller and Pennsylvania grocer, was a charming ne’er-do-well in the eyes of his fellow Americans. He happened, also, to have written the words for Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro .

It was to be a historic moment, the opening of the very first authentic production of an Italian opera in America, in November 1825. A tall, gaunt old man, with dark eyes, a hawklike nose, and sunken cheeks, nervously approached the New York hotel room of the Spanish tenor who would lead the performance, Manuel García.Read more »

The Sound Of Silents

The men and women who labored in the ghostly light of the great screen to make the music that accompanied silent movies were as much a part of the show as Lillian Gish or Douglas Fairbanks

If I ever kill anyone,” D. W. Griffith once exclaimed, “it won’t be an actor but a musician.” He had been arguing with Joseph Carl Breil, his collaborator on the score for The Birth of a Nation. Griffith wanted to change some of the notes in the music they were planning to borrow, and Breil was outraged. “You can’t tamper with Wagner!” he cried.Read more »

Selling The Swedish Nightingale

Jenny Lind and P.T. Barnum

When it comes to the performing arts, Americans have often suffered from a sense of cultural inferiority. Foreign artists are considered somehow better—more glamorous, more gifted, more refined—than our own. We have lavished our applause on the likes of Bernhardt, Burton, and Garbo, reserved our stormiest bravos for Paderewski, Chaliapin, and Nureyev, and lost our national composure over Lola Montez, Anna Held, and the Beatles.Read more »

Puccini In America

New York received the great composer like a god; he responded con brio to its shiny gadgets and beautiful women and produced an “American” opera.

On a cold December day in 1906, the tiny Italian village of Torre del Lago was filled with excitement. Virtually the entire population—120 men, women, and children—milled about its little railroad station to bid farewell to its most eminent citizen, leaving that day for New York. One neighbor, with a kind heart but an abysmal ignorance of geography, had brought along a sausage for delivery to an uncle in Argentina. Others had brought armfuls of flowers, and some had composed sentimental little poems especially for the occasion.