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The Musical Worlds of Victor Herbert

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Portrait of Victor Herbert, c. 1906, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Today we’re excited about the opening of a new exhibit in the Performing Arts Reading Room’s foyer, this one dedicated to the music and legacy of composer Victor Herbert (1859-1924). Herbert was born in Ireland but developed his reputation as a world-class cellist in Germany and later immigrated to the United States in 1886 with his wife, soprano Therese Förster, to pursue careers at the Metropolitan Opera. In New York City Herbert’s conducting and composition careers blossomed. Herbert’s Suite of Serenades was an immediate success with music critics and in 1894 he composed Prince Ananias, his first operetta. His initial operettas did well, though his first real hit came in 1903 with Babes in Toyland. Altogether, Herbert composed 43 operettas and was instrumental in making operetta relevant in American society. Herbert composed two full-scale operas, the more noteworthy being Natoma which premiered in 1911 with Mary Garden and a young John McCormack. Herbert was also the principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1898-1904 and it was under his direction that the orchestra gained critical acclaim. After leaving his position with the Pittsburgh Symphony he started the Victor Herbert Orchestra and directed the ensemble for most of the remainder of his life.

Victor Herbert, Irving Berlin, John Phillip Sousa, April 17, 1924. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

While he left a legacy in the great variety of musical works he produced and conducted, many remember Herbert more for his major contributions to the protection of American composers’ legal rights, most notably in the founding of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1914. One night at a restaurant in New York City, Herbert heard the dinner orchestra playing his music in an effort to draw in more customers. At the time, however, Herbert was getting no monetary benefit from this performance. Consequently, the inspiration for ASCAP was born and the society has been protecting the composer’s right to earn royalties from broadcasts and public performances of copyrighted work ever since.

“The Musical Worlds of Victor Herbert” will be on exhibit in the foyer of the Performing Arts Reading Room (James Madison Building, room LM-113) until January 26, 2013 when it will travel to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles for a 6-month stay. The exhibit displays original scores, audiovisual recordings of his works, photographs, Enrico Caruso’s sketch of Herbert and even Herbert’s plaster death mask – materials all culled from the Music Division’s Victor Herbert Collection. The Performing Arts Reading Room is open Monday-Saturday from 8:30am to 5:00pm – be sure to visit and explore Herbert’s life and music!

Until your visit, take some time to browse and listen to the over 100 other recordings of Herbert’s music in the National Jukebox. Hope to see you soon at the exhibit!



Comments (2)

  1. Can you fix the photo caption to read Irving Berlin instead of Berling?

    • Thanks for the note, Terry. Slip of the finger!

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