About this Recording
8.559027 - HERBERT, V.: Columbus Suite / Irish Rhapsody

Victor Herbert (1859-1924)

Victor Herbert (1859-1924)

Columbus Suite / Irish Rhapsody

Auditorium Festival March / Selections from Natoma


Victor Herbert, beloved name in American music, was one of the most prodigiously multi-talented musicians in our history. He was a major orchestral conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony, and even a candidate to be music director of the New York Philharmonic), orchestral, opera and film score composer, presenter of pops concerts (The Victor Herbert Orchestra), a fabulously successful bandmaster (he led New York's 22nd Regiment Band which competed with Sousa), a leading composer of Broadway musicals (nearly fifty in all, including Babes in Toyland, Naughty Marietta and The Red Mill) and, to top it off, for a time he was America's premier solo cellist.


Herbert was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1859. He grew up and received his musical training in Germany, finally coming to America at the age of 27 to play principal cello at the Metropolitan Opera. Upon arrival in New York in 1886 he began a whirlwind of musical activities - composing, conducting and solo playing - that were to mark all of his brilliant career. He died in 1924. Herbert was a man of genial character, but with a quick wit and great warmth of personality. A friend described him as "full of heart ...and it is only a good heart that can produce the kind of melody that Victor put into his songs. A fine character shows in music, and his was one of the finest." * As a conductor, Herbert was known for his subtle and flexible sense of musical style. While he cared a great deal for his players, he always demanded their finest performances. This recording showcases four of Victor Herbert's "serious" orchestral compositions, several dating from his time as director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Herbert became conductor in Pittsburgh in 1898, and built the orchestra into a superb ensemble, frequently touring to New York's Carnegie Hall. Two of these works, the Columbus Suite and Auditorium Festival March, date from his Pittsburgh career. Eventually the pull of Broadway returned Herbert to New York. During the rest of his life, except for his two grand operas, his compositional efforts turned almost exclusively to musical theatre and film.


The Columbus Suite is Victor Herbert's last major orchestral work. First performed on 2nd January 1903, it had its genesis ten years earlier. Herbert was approached by producer Steele McKaye, who wished to create an enormous spectacle for the Chicago World Fair of 1893. The fair, called the "Columbian Exposition", celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage.


McKaye had raised a considerable sum of money. His "dream" included a huge auditorium or "spectatorium" housing a "spectatorio" called "The Great Discovery" or "The World Finder" to depict and interpret the physical and spiritual adventures of Columbus as he daringly sailed westward to find the

New World.* McKaye envisioned Columbus's ship sailing bravely across a sea of mechanical waves. He commissioned Herbert and Dvorak to supply the "majestic orchestral portion" of the "new Dramatic art-form".* Both agreed, but when McKaye failed to raise the balance of the money, the entire project collapsed.


Herbert's biographer, Edward Waters, suggests Dvorak may have been spurred by the commission to collect the materials that later led to his "New World" Symphony. Herbert, on the other hand, worked quickly. By June 1893 he had already completed a work called The Vision of Columbus. It is likely that another movement, Sunrise at Granada, was finished at the same time. A decade later, in Herbert's last season in Pittsburgh, he utilised these materials as the first and concluding movements of a new four movement Columbus Suite.

Two new inner movements were added in December 1902, just in time for the premiere of the Suite.


The opening, Dawn and Sunrise at Alhambra, describes an increasingly brightening morning image of the great Moorish castle of Ferdinand and Isabella. The second movement, At La Rabida (At the Convent), portrays the spiritual implications of the journey, first quietly heralded, then signaling anticipation and dread of a dangerous passage. An organ quietly invites more peaceful reflection, giving strength and inspiration for the journey. A voice of rising affirmation leads to a grand, majestic sailing motive (also the triumphant theme of the finale), here interspersed with passages of foreboding. An inspirational benediction, played softly and reverently by the organ and brass, ends the movement. Murmurs of the Sea is a gently reflective description of a long, hypnotic ocean journey. The finale, first called A Vision of Columbus, later The Triumph of Columbus, begins with low strings evoking swelling seas, eventually rising to become a powerfully surging and victorious nautical processional.


Herbert's popular Irish Rhapsody (1893) is a brilliant collection of symphonically interwoven Irish songs and dances from his native land. Composed in 1892 for the Gaelic Society of America, it was first heard at their meeting in New York with Herbert conducting. The music prompted one writer to proclaim Herbert as "The Irish Wagner". Thematic selections included are All Those Endearing Young Charms, To Sadies Eyes, Come O'er the Sea and Rich Natoma and Madeline (1913) were Herbert's only grand operas. Natoma was based on American Indian themes and was first staged at the Metropolitan Opera in 1911. Herbert wrote of it: "1 have composed all of Natoma's music, at least the greater part of it, out of fragments of Indian music, which I have collected and studied for some time past. However, I have pursued none of these melodies to their logical conclusion. If I used Indian music with all its original intervals and cadences, it would become very monotonous, and so, of course, I have adapted it. But I have fashioned melodies by using fragments of this and that Indian theme. There is also the question of harmonization. Indian music is not harmonized, and the moment a musician harmonizes it he has made it into something different. I hope, however, to have achieved the result I was striving for, to suggest the Indian character. In (one) instance, the Dagger Dance, I have introduced Indian tune almost verbatim, of course with my own harmonization."


While it is doubtful that Herbert achieved much that was Indian in character, nonetheless, the music is powerful, inventive, passionate and wonderfully melodic. These "selections" from the opera were chosen and arranged by Herbert for publication.


The Auditorium Festival March (1901) is another of Herbert's symphonic compositions created for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Herbert desired to tour his orchestra into Chicago's Auditorium Theater. This grand building, designed by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, was then the home of Theodore Thomas and his Chicago Symphony. The Chicago management appeared insecure about presenting what they thought was a much inferior orchestra. They insisted on two conditions; 1, A new “popular” piece by Herbert, and 2, at least two soloists for each concert (probably suggested so that the Pittsburgh orchestra would not be the focus of attention), Herbert was unhappy about both condition, but responded with the composition of his Auditorium Festival March. In the end, the Chicago manager actually received four soloists.


For his new composition, Herbert asked the Chicago audiences be informed that: “I have written a Grand Festival March in honour if the 12th anniversary of the Chicago Auditorium. Please make them understand that it is not a two-step, but an elaborate Grand March. I have introduced in the piece Auld Lang Syne.” “Elaborate” is a wonderful understatement. Herbert obviously wrote a piece to “get even”. It splendidly showcased the orchestra’s talents; along with great tunes and virtuosic orchestration, there are brilliant features for every section of the orchestra.


Keith Brion


* Victor Herbert, A life in Music by Edward N. Waters. MacMillan Co., New Work, 1955.






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