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8.559025 - HERBERT, V.: Babes in Toyland / The Red Mill
English 

Victor Herbert (1895-1968)

Victor Herbert (1895-1968)

Babes in Toyland / The Red Mill

 

Born in Dublin in 1859, Victor Herbert was, on his mother's side, the grandson of the Irish writer Samuel Lover. His father, a Dublin barrister, died when his son was very young and Herbert was later to recall the musical inspiration he derived from visiting his maternal grandfather in Sevenoaks, where one of the

many visitors, the cellist AIfredo Piatti, made a strong impression on him. In 1866 his mother remarried, taking as her husband a German doctor and settling now in Stuttgart. There he had his education at the Gymnasium, where his early musical interests were reflected in the study of the piano, flute and piccolo, later turning to the cello. His family's position suggested that music rather than medicine might offer a possible career for Herbert. In 1874, he left school and started lessons in Baden-Baden with Bernhard Cossmann, a distinguished virtuoso who had served as principal cellist in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Mendelssohn and in Weimar under Liszt. Herbert followed this with an early career as an orchestral player and as a soloist. Finally, after working in the orchestra established under Eduard Strauss in Vienna, he returned to Stuttgart, where he joined the Court Orchestra and embarked on study at the Stuttgart Conservatory, chiefly with Max Seifritz, who encouraged him to turn his attention also to composition. In Stuttgart Herbert was able to appear as a soloist and also, in 1883, perform his own Suite for Cello and Orchestra, Opus 3. Two years later he offered audiences his First Cello Concerto and in the same year started to teach at the Neuer Stuttgarter Musikschule, established in October 1885. A year later he married a singer at the Stuttgart Opera, Therese Foerster, moving with her to employment with the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York, where she had been invited to join the German company.

 

In America Therese Foerster's position was assured with her engagement to sing, in German the title role of Verdi's Aida. Herbert soon extended his activities, joining the staff of the new National Conservatory, taking conducting engagements as assistant to Anton Seidl, successor to Damrosch at the Metropolitan Opera, and, in 1894, appearing as soloist with the New York Philharmonic Society in his own Second Cello Concerto. As his career developed, he took a position as leader of the 22nd Regiment Band of the National Guard, spent a period of six years as conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and after a disagreement with the Pittsburgh management in 1904, finally established his own Victor Herbert Orchestra. In the years that followed he played an important part in the development of music in the United States through his popular concerts, his encouragement of American composers and a series of compositions that showed his great versatility and technical command. In this last field he had written a quantity of concert music for the theatre, in addition to two serious operas and composed some forty operettas, starting with Prince Ananias on Broadway in 1895. Babes in Toyland was written towards the final season of Herbert's engagement in Pittsburgh and marked the end of his career as a serious composer for the concert hall. His last work of this kind, written in 1903, was the suite Columbus. Described as an extravaganza, Babes in Toyland had its first staging in Chicago in June 1903. The text, a matter of no great substance, was by Glen MacDonough and the driving power behind the production and staging was Julian Mitchell, whose production of The Wizard of Oz was winning such success in New York. The Chicago production moved to New York in October. The entertainment, a dazzling and colourful spectacle, opened with a "Prologue" in mime, in which Jane and Alan, niece and nephew of the miserly Uncle Barnaby, survive a shipwreck and their uncle's plans for their death. In the first act they find themselves in the garden of Contrary Mary, where they meet a variety of characters from nursery-rhymes and fairy-tales, Tom the Piper's son, Little Bo-Peep, Red Riding-Hood, Miss Muffet, Simple Simon, Tommy Tucker, Little Boy Blue and others. In the second act they find their way to Toyland and to the workshop of the wicked Master Toymaker. All ends happily in the last act, as it must, for the hero and heroine, when Jane and Alan put an end to the plots that their uncle has hatched against them.

 

The selections from Babes in Toyland include the "March of the Toys," "Toyland," "Floretta," "The Moon Will Help You Out," "Jane," "Eccentric Dance," "Never Mind, Bo-Peep" and "Before and After." There follows a first performance of the evocative “Prelude," a movement of symphonic dimensions, withdrawn, because of its length, before the opening in Chicago. The other excerpts start with the "Military Ball," continuing with the Act II Finale, outside the Toymaker's castle, the "Toymaker's Workshop" from the third scene of the act, "Hang March," "Eccentric Dance," "Birth of a Butterfly" and a final "March of the Toys."

 

Stage-work followed stage-work in the succeeding years. The Red Mill was the result of a collaboration between Herbert and the writer Henry Blossom, commissioned to provide a vehicle for Fred Stone and David Montgomery, the stars of The Wizard of Oz. It was first staged in Buffalo in early September 1906, transferring to New York three weeks later. The action is set in Holland and centres on two Americans, 'Con' Kidder and 'Kid' Conner, touring Europe. The pair find themselves stranded in Europe with no money and no means of traveling home. In the small Dutch port of Katwyk-aan-Zee, they try every means possible, assuming various disguises, to achieve their ends and incidentally helping a pair of lovers, Captain Doris Van Damm and Gretchen, the daughter of the Burgomaster, to marry. The Burgomaster's objections to his daughter's marriage are finally overcome when another traveller, Joshua Pennefeather, a London solicitor motoring through Holland with his daughters, reveals that the Captain is heir to a fortune.

 

The selection from The Red Mill, the name derived from the inn at which the first act is set, starts with "In the Isle of our Dreams," a duet for the lovers Doris and Gretchen, and continues with "Whistle It," "Dance," "I Want You to Marry Me." There follows "You Can Never Tell About a Woman," in which the inn-keeper Willem and the Burgomaster are puzzled by the behavior of their daughters. "The Legend of the Mill," sung by the Burgomaster's sister Bertha, tells the story of the haunted mill, while "Good a Bye John" was seemingly an interpolation derived from another musical, inserted at the request of Stone and

Montgomery for their double act, here disguised as two Italian street-musicians.

Whatever its origin, it was never recognized by Herbert as borrowing and never aroused objections. "In Every Day is Ladies Day for Me" the Governor of

Zeeland anticipates his marriage to the reluctant Gretchen. This is followed by

"Always Go While the Goin' is Good," Gretchen's wistful "Moonbeams Shining," then "Because You're You," "The Streets of New York" and "Mignonette," in the last of which the barmaid Tina, daughter of the inn-keeper, expresses her theatrical ambitions.

 

K.A.

 

(For a more complete study of the composer the reader is recommended to the work of Edward N. Waters, Victor Herbert: a Life in Music, New York, 1955, and to the same writer's articles in Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, to which the present writer is indebted.)

 

 

 

 

 


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