Early Twentieth Century Orchestrations: Herbert and Saddler

We cannot find an image of Frank Saddler, so we will use a stored image of Victor Herbert.

As the great orchestrator, Robert Russell Bennett said to Victor Herbert’s biographer Edward Waters:

“Jerome Kern once made an arrangement for orchestra of about 16 bars of one of his melodies while we were on the road together.  That night, after we had played the arrangement, he said to his music director, ‘Did you notice the 16 bars that I arranged?  They were no good—and that’s why that old fellow over there was the greatest of them all,’ pointing to a picture of Victor Herbert on his piano.”

Bennett also had a great deal of respect for Herbert and his orchestrations.  Bennett was quite a good musician and composer himself. With that in mind, here are Bennett’s thoughts about Herbert:

“Victor Herbert was a great musician in every sense of the word—his knowledge of the classics was such that he conducted symphony orchestras for many seasons without reference to scores during rehearsal or concert, and his feeling for the structure of a sound orchestration was infallible.  His only concern in the arrangement of his operettas was the simplest, most effective method of presenting his charming melodies, and his technical contributions to our formula were the result of no search for unusual sounds, but merely of his desire to make his music sound as beautiful as possible. *** The main addition of Victor Herbert was the dividing of the violins into three or more expressive parts, the high vibrant ‘cello just beneath the melody, and the dramatic, full-sounding brass choir at the climaxes.  He detested the usual variations of the flutes and clarinets and kept them low, simple and sonorous.”

Victor Herbert actually lived longer than Frank Saddler (1859-1924), but Herbert’s work ended, for all intents and purposes, with the creation of his immortal Eileen in 1917.

Saddler (1864-1921) is the one who influenced the more modern Broadway comedy sound from 1900 to 1921.

It was no mere coincidence that the man who kept showing up as their orchestrator was Frank Saddler.  After Victor Herbert, Saddler was the next master of stage orchestration in “turn-of-the-Century” New York.  He understood the size of the theatrical houses in New York, the talent of the musicians and the type of sound that was pleasing to the theatergoer.  Thus, he became indispensable to two, new rising stars, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin.

Bennett saw that Frank Saddler, who worked closely with Jerome Kern, was not at home with “the broader beauties of a Victor Herbert style of arrangement.  He was a champion of small orchestras, filling up his refrain with the charming tricks of muted brass, unexpected brass progressions, pizzicato effects, duets for two violins against the melody in the lower instruments and many other devices.”

If Herbert and his colleagues represent the first generation of orchestrators on Broadway, then Saddler was the leading, second generation orchestrator on Broadway until his death in 1921.  This is how Bennett (third generation orchestrator) described Saddler’s approach: “He’d have two violins playing a duet against the melody, and then some whimsical bass progression, or he’d come up with a low woodwind that was just right for some little looker with a little voice. One fine idea after another.”

Composers such as A. Baldwin Sloane, John Raymond Hubbell and Louis Hirsch were prolific writers for the Broadway stage after the turn of the twentieth century.  Shortly, we will provide Hirsch’s “Just a Little Love Nest” to give you a flavor of the music.