Thank you, Frank Damrosch

The New York Public Library has specialty branches and yesterday I was at the Music Division of the Performing Arts branch at Lincoln Center researching Haydn.

I was also looking into a guy named Frank Damrosch. Damrosch wanted to give working men and women opportunities to sing, and so he gave classes all over New York for 10 cents and in 1898 he started the People’s Choral Union (I have to double check that date).

I came across a 1918 letter from Richard Fletcher, the editor of a newspaper called The Chronicle. He had recently published an editorial by Mrs. William Jay, the only woman on the Board of Directors at the New York Philharmonic, and she was calling for a ban of all German Music. (This was the last year of WWI.) Fletcher was asking Frank for his support for this ban.

Sigh. I don’t know if this is going to make it into my book, but I wanted to post sections of Damrosch’s response, who I now love. (Also because of a poem his singers wrote for him. He made those hard working people’s lives better, and the poem is very touching.)

“Why deprive ourselves of the things that are good and beautiful at a time when the world cannot have too much of just such things … I refuse to believe that the American people are so unintelligent as to be unable to distinguish between the German militaristic government and Beethoven’s music, or that they would cease to hate the former because they love the latter. It is so silly a contention that one wonders that supposedly intelligent people can utter or believe it.” [I immediately thought of “freedom fries.”]

“In my opinion American patriotism should express itself by living up to American ideals of freedom … [You tell ’em Frank!] German militarism will not be defeated by the exclusion of the masterworks of German music but by the strength of our army and navy … by the righteousness of our cause. Nor will it be defeated by the persecution of harmless German artists, nor by efforts to incite a mob-spirit against works of art which have nothing to do with German autocracy or militarism [Al Qaeda vs Islamic Community Centers] … let us preserve our dignity and fairness and appreciation of what is true, beautiful and noble … ”

Yeah. Apparently we interned a bunch of members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera banned Wagner for two seasons, and I’m sure there’s a lot more like this.

Anyway … puppies!  (From my night shots experiment.)


Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

3 thoughts on “Thank you, Frank Damrosch

  1. I like this guy.

    To me, music is a social thing…and the music I love sort of levels the social playing field. We have a dentist, a nurse, a couple of IT workers, a farmer, a machinist and an unemployed busker. When I pick with my friends there are no TV’s blaring, no one is checking their cell phones, and rarely a point of disagreement. We laugh and joke between tunes and have a shared victory when we get one right. It’s a great thing.

  2. That’s interesting. Wagner was very controversial because he was one of Hitler’s favorites. One reason may have been because of Wagner’s Aryan Christ portrayed in Parsifal.

    Hitler rejected Christ because he said that Christ voluntarily gave his life up at the crucifixion out of altruism and love for humanity.

    Hitler had decided on the battlefield (WWI) that that highest virtue was discovered in the struggle for survival and the unwillingness to let anyone deprive you of your life as a matter of self-preservation. Therefore, Jesus was seen as someone who abandoned Hitler’s idea of the finest virtue. A triumph of the will.

    right now I’m reading an autobiography of the composer Cyril Scott entitled Bone of Contention. He was admired by Debussey (my favorite composer) and also knew Ravel and a host of other dignitaries like Bernard Shaw, etc., etc. In addition to this, he was also an early Theosophist and had a friend who was a medium in touch with Theosophical masters. He also had a guru and was initiated into a Tantric order. An interesting character, Cyril Scott.

    Oh, by the way, as long as I’m posting, what’s up with the UFOs over New York City?

  3. Ha! But they’re balloons! (That sounds like I’m trying to cover up but they even really look like balloons.)

    I’ve been reading a lot of really bad biographies. I’m not going to name names, but it seems to be a common theme that a lot of biographers can’t write very well. Obviously there are exceptions, but still.

    Steve, amen to what you said.

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