American Music Review

Formerly the Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter

H. Wiley Hitchcock for Studies in American Music
Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York


Volume XXXVI
I I

 


No. 1 Fall 2008

Inside This Issue:

Inside This Issue

 

 

“Her Whimsy and Originality Really Amount to Genius”: New Biographical Research on

Johanna Beyer by Amy C. Beal

 

Interview with Ursula Oppens by Jason Eckardt

 

Remembering Jim Maher by Joshua Berrett

 

Ives Reimagined, review by Christopher Bruhn

Marketing Musard: Bernard Ullman at the Academy of Music

 

by

Bethany Goldberg

 

 

 

A cover story in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (10 April 1858)

showcasing a debonair Alfred Musard

 

 

 

 

 

 

What 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 in the United States reminds us of the hardships and trials faced by music managers of mid-nineteenth-century America during an even more devastating economic crisis, and points up how adroitly the best of them adapted.

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 Academy of Music.

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 the New York daily newspapers in the weeks leading up to Musard’s first concert on 12 April. He described his new engagement as “the most colossal and artistic entertainment that has ever been introduced in America.” The orchestra included several of Musard’s finest solo players—“the most stupendous ever presented”—supplemented by a “monster orchestra” comprising “the best professors of the City.” The ensemble, the ad continues, “will be the grandest, completest and most colossal that has ever been brought before the American public. It will greatly exceed, both in numbers and quality, the orchestra of the New-York Philharmonic Society and of Jullien’s concerts.”7

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 respectable Academy of Music this way. The verbosity and hyperbole of Ullman’s advertisements, which included programmatic details of “descriptive gallops” on each night’s concert, a summary of the upcoming week’s events, and rebuttals to harsh criticism, became a hallmark of his tenure.8

Ullman turned next to the Academy itself in his construction of the greatest musical spectacle America had ever seen. The building was outfitted with lush carpet in the lobbies, 100 sofas in the corridors, “twenty-five monster candelabras,” and new chandeliers. Additional indulgences were provided by “thirty colored waiters in livery” delivering refreshments to guests’ seats, “twenty young ladies, of prepossessing appearance” serving in the tea and coffee rooms, and twenty boys wearing “fancy uniforms” who would sell evening newspapers during the concerts.9 Ullman’s careful crafting of a visual spectacle was widely covered in the press. Concluding his review of the first week of concerts, the Albion writer “Raimond” gushed “Something, too, should be set down to the account of the renovation of the Academy building, which has been refreshed, adorned, and illuminated, till it has become really what is has always vainly threatened to be, the most elegant and luxurious place of entertainment in the city.”10

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 them to New York for appearances at the Musard Concerts. Pianist Sigismund Thalberg, violinist Henri Vieuxtemps, as well as the stars of his spring opera company, Elena D’Angri and Karl Formes, all appeared as soloists to enliven the programs.

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 the Academy of Music in direct competition with a Musard concert given earlier the same day. That evening, Ullman barred the doors of the Academy before the Philharmonic concert, unjustifiably demanding their rent be paid in advance. The concert went on, only slightly delayed, after the treasurer arrived with cash. In a circular the following week, the Philharmonic Society explained that Ullman had violated their contract by scheduling a second performance the day of their concert and denounced his immature handling of the conflict.13

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 New York since 1829 as immoral and crime-ridden events. Ullman quickly distanced himself from the proposal but surely profited from the free, if sometimes vitriolic, press coverage it afforded him.14 When an unsympathetic critic was ejected from the Academy, Ullman was charged with manipulating the press once again. This case brought into play the city police, a corrupt judge, and numerous defenders of the rights of the press. Nearly every newspaper, journal, and magazine in the city weighed in, providing gratis promotion of the Musard Concerts as each report recounted the Academy program around which the events had occurred.15

As head of the Academy of Music, Bernard Ullman based his managerial decisions on what was best for his business. In reaction to the special circumstances of the 1857-58 season, he decided to forego the standard Italian opera repertory in favor of the non-traditional but entertaining concerts by Alfred Musard and his monster orchestra. Since all the performers at the Musard Concerts were under contract with Ullman directly, he was in a position to profit should the concerts succeed, or lose money if the venture failed—a strong incentive for innovative marketing. Ullman’s extravagant advertising and manipulation of the press, along with his willingness to add serious programming partway through the season, reflect his entrepreneurial nature and made for a profitable run. At the end of the spring, Ullman hinted that Musard would return in the fall for another innovative season that would alternate orchestral concerts and opera.16 But when Musard didn’t appear on the schedule, it’s likely no one was surprised. Ullman had hit on the next big thing—Italian soprano sensation Maria Piccolomini. Once again, the “Napoleon of the Academy” reevaluated his position, revised his plans, and pressed forward to lead the most successful season of opera New York had ever seen, even in the depths of a financial crisis.

Bethany Goldberg

Indiana University

Notes

1The orchestra Musard would lead at the Academy consisted of ten of his best players from Paris plus the top performers Ullman could contract in New York, many of whom were members of the New York Philharmonic Society.

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,” Graduate Center of the City University of New York, 17-19 January 2008. Vera Brodsky Lawrence calculates that Jullien conducted 105 concerts in New York during his one-year stay in the United States. See Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong, vol. 2, Reverberations: 1850–1856 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), 469.

4Academy of Music – Musard’s Concerts,” New York Tribune, 12 April 1858.

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 Academy of Music that spring ranged, depending on the date and seat location, from 25 cents to $2.00 for reserved seats.

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,” Albion (17 April 1858): 187.

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; New York Herald, 10 May 1858.

 

 

 


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