Monday Morning Post–Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going

The featured image is a group picture that does not fully fit into the long, horizontal frame. It is a photo from Larry Fehrenbacher’s 80th Birthday Party, which I recently attended.

I met Larry at Wright-Patterson AFB in 1970 when I went on active duty; he was a Major and head of the Materials Lab. He now has his own company in Annapolis, called Technology Assessment & Transfer, Inc. He specializes in ceramics and is widely recognized for his expertise in material science in the United States. Notwithstanding his expertise, Sharon is CEO of  the company and keeps him from spending all of the money on his pet projects.John, LLF ans breast bank

Sharon’s maiden name is Edler, and she has four sisters, three of whom are in the picture. Robyn was cut out from the featured image, but you can see her on the top right; Kris, Larry and his wife, Sharon, are featured in the middle row; and Molly and I were cut off at the bottom on the featured image but we managed to make it into the frame of the full picture. Larry and I have struggled valiantly over the years to keep the male honor intact, but all to no avail. The women rule the roost. But they are considerate rulers and a heck of a lot of fun to be with, besides being very smart. As you can see, Larry and I are permitted to join in the fun!

OK, back to work. It is Monday, and through no great plan of ours, we have fallen into a good pattern. We have used Mondays to write a lengthier post and set up the week ahead. Well, after looking at the pattern, we think it makes sense. In fact, every now and then we will use the Monday post to take a look back and a look forward to see where we have been, where we are and where we would like to go.

The funny thing is that we thought we would run out of musical examples a long time ago; however, we keep recycling the music by emphasizing a different point of view. For example, we have looked at duets and chorus work in opera, operetta and Broadway musicals. We have looked at humor in all three categories. We have looked at music from the standpoint of composer, orchestrator, music director, choreographer, dancer, singer and star performer. What we are finding out is that the amount of good music may be limited, but we have an unlimited number of ways to present it to you.

We have been using a chronological path in the last few months to show you that no one form of music can dominate the arena of public performance. Opera lasted for two centuries, but was replaced in Europe by the operetta, mainly in Vienna and London. At first America imported opera and operetta from Europe, but in the late 1800’s developed its own operettas, as Victor Herbert took center stage. However, even as Victor was perfecting his art in 1903, up came a brash American upstart named George M. Cohan. Both men were Irish-American, but their musical styles were as different as night and day.

By 1912, another newcomer had made his way onto the Broadway stage; his name was Jerome Kern. But he was not alone; Rudolf Friml joined him, albeit without the same degree of success. Irving Berlin had a wonderful popular song hit the charts in 1912, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and his revues on Broadway started to turn the critics heads. By 1916, Cole Porter saw his first Broadway show hit the boards, only to fail miserably. But trust us, he would come back stronger than ever.

We have just finished looking at a joint revue, named The Century Girl, composed by Victor Herbert and Irving Berlin; and it marked Herbert’s foray into the area of popular song.

Since 1700, other forms of music were being developed; the Scot-Irish in Appalachia and the Carolinas were transforming jigs and reels into country music. They added an instrument brought over from Africa by slaves called the banjo; when this instrument was added, with its five-string, syncopated sound, country music turned into bluegrass.

The same banjo became the basis of minstrel songs, blues and eventually the piano rag. When ragtime music and the blues fused together, we had jazz. Ragtime music was reintroduced to America in 1973 in the soundtrack of the movie, The Sting.

At the same time, the misery of slavery became the bedrock for the birth of spirituals and later gospel music. Mahalia Jackson single-handedly made this music popular again to millions of Americans in the 1950’s to the 1970’s.

With the advent of the passenger train and the motor car, the 1920’s saw a flood of jazz musicians move north from New Orleans to Memphis, Chicago and then New York.

With the advent of the telephone and the typewriter, jobs opened up in the major cities for women who did not have a college education. Women were starting to experience economic freedom; and by 1920, they would experience political freedom with the right to vote.

It was America’s turn to shine; what had been a rural, agricultural country in 1900 blossomed into an industrial giant by 1916. We were exploding onto the world stage in music and the arts; in science and engineering; in trade and commerce.

On Broadway and in the New York concert halls, George Gershwin was about to take jazz into the world of classical and popular music. From Rhapsody in Blue to Lady, Be Good, Gershwin turned the American music world upside down. By the 1970’s, it was time for Kander and Ebb to take a nostalgic look back at the Roaring Twenties, with their great musical, Chicago.

Kern was overcome with joy when the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s brought Negro Spirituals back to the concert hall; they formed the basis of his song, “Ol’ Man River.”

As the calendar years pass, we will move into all of these new forms of American composition; however, we are still in 1917, and we need to say goodbye to the last great Victor Herbert operetta, Eileen, and say hello to the intimate, new musical comedy format pioneered by Jerome Kern and his collaborators, P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton.

We will start with the magnificent farewell operetta, Eileen, before we move on to Kern and his miracle year of 1917. Tomorrow, we will start posting songs from Eileen; today, we are going to delve into the history of Ireland and the Easter Rising of 1916, as a way to explain the timing of Herbert’s last great project.

The Enemy of My Enemy

In August 1914, the major powers of Europe chose sides in what would become the bloodiest and cruel war to date. On the western front, France and England stood together; on the other side, Germany and Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia and then on France and England. This all occurred between August 1 and August 4, 1914.

Irish-Americans were caught up in the sentiments of Irish republicans, who, according to Edwin N. Waters, Victor Herbert’s main biographer, “thought their great moment had arrived. They hoped that England would be soundly thrashed by Germany, that their own independence would be won, and that, from being Britain’s despised dependency, they would take their place among the nations of the world.”

As late as March 1916, Herbert shared in these hopes and dreams. “On Saturday March 4, there was an assembly of patriotic Irishmen in the ballroom of New York’s Astor Hotel. Nearly 2,000 delegates from places as distant as Alaska and Florida came together to plan the achievement of Irish Independence. They called themselves ‘The Friends of Irish Freedom,’ and they decided to ‘encourage and assist any movement for the national independence of Ireland and to aid in the industrial development of the country as well as in the revival of the language, the literature, the music, and the customs of the Gaels.’ “

On the following day, Herbert was elected president, adding to his title of president of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. In this atmosphere, anything short of absolute and total independence was viewed by the Irish as a betrayal. Two Irishmen, Sir Edward Carson and John Edward Redmond suggested quasi-independence through home rule. On March 26, 1916, Herbert wrote a “fiery essay” for the New York Sun in which “he castigated England in no uncertain terms, heaped opprobrium on the head of Redmond, denied the sincerity of Carson’s interest in Ireland. He wanted Germany to beat England expeditiously, and he hoped America would take no part in the war.”

We need to remember that this demonstration of enmity against England was occurring nearly a year and eight months after the war began and almost a year after the sinking of the Lusitania.

Then came the April 24, 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin: “In the fighting that lasted about a week over a hundred British troops were killed. When the Government regained control it executed fifteen of the rebels, who immediately became heroes to their countrymen.”

On May 14, 1916, Herbert led an Irish mass meeting in Carnegie Hall to start a fund for the families of the men England had put to death. By the time the Irish Relief Fund Bazaar was called to order by Herbert on October 14, 1916, the crowds had thinned and at least half were of German descent. “German booths paralleled the Irish; in the basement was to be seen the model of huge German submarine…”

For Irish-Americans, like Herbert, these were trying times. However, as Waters points out: “Herbert had never a thought of opposing American policy. He was undoubtedly regretful when the United States became allied with England, but his allegiance to America was stronger than his affection for Ireland.”

Born during this period of his support for Irish independence in 1916, Herbert wrote perhaps the most beautiful score of his life—Eileen. It opened on Broadway on March 19, 1917, before America declared war on Germany. The operetta was intended to highlight the romantic and patriotic activities of Barry O’Day, as he tried to win freedom for Ireland in the 1798 risings and woo the lovely Eileen, in his spare moments. The show failed to pay attention to historical accuracy, but no one came to see the show for its libretto. We will highlight the Overture in tomorrow’s post.