American Music Review
Formerly the Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter
H. Wiley Hitchcock for Studies in American Music
Inside This Issue:
Inside This Issue
Musard: Bernard Ullman at the
A cover story in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (10 April 1858)
showcasing a debonair Alfred Musard
had started as a successful and profitable opera season was looking grim. Bank
failures, rising unemployment, plummeting stock values, and a generally
gloomy outlook now presented seemingly insurmountable challenges for even the
most hardened music manager as ticket sales fell and stars cancelled their
bookings. No, not a report from next week’s New York Times arts
section. But you could have followed this story in the Times 151 years
ago during the Financial Panic of 1857. The current state of economic affairs
As the head of the New York Academy of Music in
the fall of 1857, Bernard Ullman reacted to the Panic as only the most
self-assured entrepreneur might: he reevaluated his position, revised his
business plan for the spring 1858 season, and pressed forward with a new
agenda. For a six-week season in April and May, Ullman drew large audiences
with diverse programming, cheap tickets, and a flair for the outrageous. The
spectacle wasn’t always onstage, however. To promote his new and
colorful entertainment, the “Little Napoleon of the Academy” used
marketing tactics that had never been tested at the Academy. His sometimes
uncouth, yet ultimately successful approaches would forever change the way
business was done at the opera-minded
Ullman took the reins of the Academy just as the Panic escalated in the late summer of 1857 and managed the venue with a singular focus: financial success. He initially concentrated his efforts on producing a season of foreign operas (primarily Italian) with mostly foreign stars (German bass Karl Formes debuted in December). These were the types of programs the stockholders and the box-seat tenants of the Academy expected: programs that reinforced a sophisticated musical image and bolstered the Academy’s reputation as a place to see and be seen.
During the lean winter of 1857-58, Ullman changed course by contracting French conductor and composer Alfred Musard for a six-week spring season to compensate for the losses that staging opera would likely create. In bringing a star showman to his stage with an elite and “monster orchestra” (more than 100 of the city’s top players!), Ullman was following a money-making model.1 Musard had already established an international reputation as a successful entrepreneur-conductor, leading promenade concerts and balls in Paris with his own talented ensemble.2 Furthermore, Ullman shamelessly patterned his 1857 venture on the paradigm of musical showmanship in the United States: the extraordinarily popular 1853-54 American tour of Louis Antoine Jullien and his orchestra, which had included forty-eight Manhattan concerts.3
Ullman replicated the diverse programs of these earlier successes with a large and well-rehearsed orchestra playing a variety of light pieces including overtures, virtuosic instrumental solos, waltzes, quadrilles, and programmatic potpourris. Unlike previous managers of the Academy, most of whom were conductors and performers, Ullman had no musical training and much less concern for prioritizing Italian opera. A writer for the New York Tribune applauded the programs of “[p]opular music . . . in every shape and form. . . . Effects regular and irregular—serious and grotesque—sentimental and stirring—loud and soft, and every way.”4 The regularly changing programs of entertaining music coupled with rock bottom prices—fifty cents to all parts of the house or $1.00 for a reserved seat—not only attracted people from all echelons of New York society but swayed them to return again and again.5 The same Tribune writer calculated “120 performers for 50 cents! What cheaper entertainment could be asked?”6 Ullman’s programming strategies enlarged his target audience by reaching beyond the Academy’s usual opera-going crowd and encouraged repeat attendance with Musard Concerts scheduled nearly every day of the six-week run.
Ullman was already
bucking some traditions by replacing the Academy’s usual fare of
foreign-language opera with concerts of dance music and ophicleide solos. His
unique managerial style became even more apparent in his marketing of the
Musard Concerts. Column-long advertisements with paragraphs of fine print filled
P. T. Barnum had made elaborate ads and puff pieces a
normal part of the entertainment business more than a decade before
Musard’s arrival, but until Ullman no manager had tried marketing the
Ullman turned next to the Academy itself in his
construction of the greatest musical spectacle
Not wanting the
accoutrements to outdo the musical offerings, Ullman also turned to his
roster of virtuoso solo performers to dress up Musard’s programs of
mostly dance music. For over a decade before acquiring the Academy lease,
Ullman had managed the American tours of star singers and instrumentalists.
He now manipulated the tour schedules of several contracted performers to bring
The opening week was, as one critic described it, “attended with success; not a wild tumultuous success, but a quiet, appreciative one.”11 Despite the all-around commendations of the press, the sharp-eyed Ullman was not one to stand by as the novelty of the monster concerts wore off. In response to several critics who balked at the banality and silliness of such works as Musard’s Beef and Mutton Quadrille, Ullman immediately went to work. To make the remainder of the season more widely appealing the manager introduced his opera conductor, Karl Anschutz, who would lead a “Grand Classical” portion of each Musard program. Ullman’s initial focus on light entertainment was meant to reach beyond the usual Academy attendees, but in the process it alienated the musical connoisseurs. The mid-season modification attempted to make amends for that imbalance. Of particular interest were several “Composer Nights” that featured works by Beethoven, Berlioz, and Mendelssohn on separate programs. The “Lounger,” writing for Harper’s Weekly, praised the change: “Mr. Napoleon Ullman certainly understands his business. Quite undismayed by the moderate success of the pure Musard music, he has not betaken himself to denouncing the public taste, but has somewhat changed his programme. For the Berlioz night he is to be heartily thanked.”12
In typical Ullman
fashion, however, he found a way to incite the objections of the press along
with their cheers. His advertisements bluntly referred to the more
classically-minded portion of each program as a “Philharmonic
Concert”—a clear move to capitalize on the upstanding reputation
of the Philharmonic Society of New York. To make matters worse, on 24 April,
the Philharmonic Society gave their final concert of the 1857-58 season at
Ullman had earned a
reputation for underhanded tactics long before this squabble with the
Philharmonic. Several writers reported that Ullman had announced—and
subsequently intentionally canceled—a masquerade ball to be conducted
by Musard as part of his concert series. Masked balls had been outlawed in
the city of
As head of the
1The orchestra Musard would lead at the Academy consisted of
ten of his best players from Paris plus the top performers Ullman could
2 For more on the role of entrepreneur-conductors in the nineteenth century, see John Spitzer, “The Entrepreneur-conductors and Their Orchestras,” Nineteenth-Century Music Review 5, no. 1 (2008): 3-24.
3 Katherine K. Preston, “‘A Concentration of
Talent on Our Musical Horizon’: The 1853-54 American Tour of
Jullien’s Extraordinary Orchestra,” paper presented at “The
19th-Century American Orchestra,”
5 The cost to attend a Musard concert was
one-third the cost to attend a New York Philharmonic Society concert that season.
Tickets to attend an opera at the
6 “Academy of Music – Musard’s Concerts.”
7 New York Times, 6 April 1858.
8 Ullman’s advertising style was so characteristic it inspired a parody by a writer for the Philadelphia Evening Journal; reprinted in “Musical Chit-Chat,” Dwight’s Journal of Music (1 May 1858): 39.
9 Details appeared in many advertisements, including New York Times, 1 April 1858.
10 Raimond, “Music,”
11 New York Times, 19 April 1858. The writer is likely Charles Bailey Seymour.
12 “The Lounger,” Harper’s Weekly (1 May 1858): 275.
13 The circular “To the Members and Patrons of the New York Philharmonic Society. May 1, 1858” is reprinted in Porter’s Spirit of the Times (15 May 1858): 176. The complaint was also registered in the Philharmonic’s annual report that year, “16th Annual Report of the New York Philharmonic Society,” New York Philharmonic Archives. Excerpts reprinted in Dwight’s Journal of Music (9 October 1858): 219-20.
14 See in particular “Scraps—Musical and Dramatic,” New York Times, 2 March 1858, and the follow-up article “The Masquerade Ball,” New York Times, 12 April 1858. The New York Tribune also carried extensive coverage of the masked ball debacle during the same period.
15 The critic involved wrote for Porter’s Spirit of the Times. Their coverage, beginning with the initial fracas on 26 April 1858, is particularly lively.
16 New York Times, 10 May 1858;
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