The following is a guest post from Xavier Zientarski, an intern working on music cataloging, and Senior Music Catalogers Sharon McKinley and Mary Wedgewood.
No compact discs. No vinyl records. No equipment to record music, and definitely no way to listen to it online or through an electronic device. The only means to listen to music was through performances. This was the music world in the 19th century. Certainly, the American music industry worked differently then.
Advertisement in the 1800s was as important to the music trade as it is today. Ads were often aimed at local audiences and would change according to where the music was published and/or sold.
Customers often bought sheet music for a name. Many of the title pages named or pictured popular performers or dancers who performed the piece. Others showed events or locations where the piece was performed. Many of these pieces showed dedicatees, or even named the people who hosted an event. By the 1830s, lithographed covers had become very decorative in an attempt to attract people’s attention.
Before 1787, most music scores in America were imported from England. This made printed music a luxury in the early years of the country. As the 19th century brought economic growth, more publishing houses were established in the United States. Prices went down, and sheet music became more accessible to the rising middle class. Music training was also within reach of more people; piano lessons were even offered in some public schools.
Easy-to-perform melodies, written with amateur performers in mind, were much in demand. American music publishing concentrated on songs and pieces that did not require a high performance level. Musicians were sometimes employed by music stores to perform the music that customers were interested in buying to demonstrate how it would sound.
“Hewitt’s Quick Step” is one example of pictorial advertisement. The lithograph on the cover is a handsome depiction of Lt. Hewitt, and the work is dedicated to Hewitt and the New York Light Guard. The cover also indicates that the piece was previously performed by the Jefferson Guards Band. This publication would appeal to fans of popular military music of the day, to people who had attended concerts of the band, and to friends and followers of the various people and military units mentioned.