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Church's Musical Visitor

(Cincinnati, 1871-1897)

Prepared by Richard Kitson, Vashti Gray, and Randi Trzesinski
Introduction by Richard Kitson
Online only (2017)

An important American music periodical of the second half of the nineteenth century, Church’s Musical Visitor. A Journal devoted to Music and the Fine Arts [CMV] was published in Cincinnati, Ohio from October 1871 to December 1897 by the John Church & Co., music publishers, and printed by Robert Clarke & Co.; both were business enterprises in Cincinnati. In 1875 the journal was consolidated with Root’s Song Messenger (Chicago, 1863-1875), an association that continued to 1897. In 1880 the journal’s title changed to The Musical Visitor: An Independent Journal of Music while remaining a Church & Co. publication. Throughout its publication run, each issue comprises twenty-eight pages, with additional pages for supplements of sheet music and advertisements. From 1871 to 1880 the twelve yearly volumes begin with issue no. 1 in October and conclude in September of the following year, with the independent page numbers assigned to each issue (Volumes I through X). Volume XI begins in October 1881 and runs to December 1882. Volumes XII through the final Volume XXIV begin in January of the given year and conclude in December of that year, the page numbers of each volume are continuous. The pages are arranged in two- or three-column format: three columns from 1871 to 1873; two- and three-columns for 1874 to 1893; two columns from 1894 to 1897.

This music journal is of enormous importance for gaining an understanding of the successes and triumphs in establishing a music journal, and the trials and tribulations in the attracting and gathering of a supportive group of interested readers (subscribers), problems that generally beset the establishment of music journals in the United States during the nineteenth century. CMV was published uninterruptedly for twenty five years, attracting 13,000 subscribers by 1876 and many more in succeeding years. The attraction was brought about by the close attention paid to local musical activities and the high degree of readability in articles and reviews. This unique journal provides quality selection of relevant articles, those both reprinted from other journals and those newly written, as well as quality reporting of local musical news and thoughtful reviewing of musical events. Moreover, there are extensive reports containing interesting news from many midwestern American locations, giving details about the growth of music in recently established cities and towns.

At the outset of publication, Frank H. King is named in the journal’s pages as editor. King is followed by a Mr. Hay and then by F. N. Scott for several months in 1873, but Hay resumes the editorship in January 1874. James R. Murray is appointed editor in May 1881, a role he continues to perform until the journal’s demise after the twelfth issue of 1897, “in order that another plan for accomplishing the same ends ... may be inaugurated.” Details of a new undertaking are not specified. Each issue of the journal is divided into three large sections. In the first part are articles, reviews and poems written by a variety of writers both local and from abroad. The articles cover a wide spectrum of topics, but predominant are those dealing with methods and the training of performance skills for both solo and choral singers and instrumentalists; articles about the establishment of musical institutions in Cincinnati and other cities; important newly-composed instrumental, vocal and operatic compositions, written in both Europe and the United States and scheduled for performance in local venues. In addition to practical offerings there are many short stories and novelettes based on musical themes. Biographies of the great composers and performers of the past as well as sketches of contemporary composers and performers abound. A goodly number of articles in the first large section are, in many cases, reports written by American expatriates about musical activities in London, Paris, Milan, Berlin, Vienna and St. Petersburg, in which appearances by American artists particularly noted. Particularly interesting are reports of the progress of young Americans studying at important European institutions, and severe warnings about unscrupulous European music teachers in their dealings with American students.

The second large sections begins with an announcement of the journal’s full title and information about subscriptions. Following are unsigned reviews of local musical events, reports of the activities, programs, meetings and rehearsals of local Cincinnati and other midwestern musical societies, institutions and individual performers. Reviews of newly published compositions and books on musical subjects follow. As the musical interests of the residents of the midwestern states developed, detailed reports of the musical activities of the major cities of the Atlantic seaboard, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington are also given. The third section is devoted to printed musical compositions, supplements of solo vocal numbers, choral works, and pianoforte and organ pieces, all publications of John Church & Co. Advertisements, often containing specimen pages of new musical compositions, precede and follow the main body of each issue.

The geographic area of the journal’s coverage of musical activities is enormous, encompassing the central portion of the North American continent. The many villages, small towns and cities of nine midwestern states—Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas—receive regular notices concerning the work of local music teachers and organists, rarely encountered players of stringed instruments and public and private teachers of music. Fairly regular reports are published featuring concerts and operas and educational activities in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Columbus, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Kansas City. Less frequently reports are given from Salt Lake City, San Francisco and New Orleans. Other centers of musical activities are Montreal and Toronto, both reported by local correspondents. Apart from local musical endeavors such as pupils’ concerts and church choral concerts, these reports are a fund of information concerning Colonel Mapleson’s Her Majesty’s Opera Company, concert parties and the extraordinary travelling orchestra of Theodore Thomas.

The activities surrounding the planning and building of the splendid Music Hall of Cincinnati (still an important concert and operatic venue) serves as an example of the journal’s close attention and interest in local activities. In 1875 such an building, gifted to the city by generous local businessmen William Greasbeck and Robert Springer was announced; architectural plans were discussed in 1876; the building and design of the hall’s organ appeared in 1877 with a list of the instrument’s stops and manuals in 1878; a dedication ode written by Frederick Albert Schmidt and composed by the conductor Otto Singer was prepared and performed in the building at the opening of the 1878 Cincinnati May Festival; the seating capacity and floor plan of the interior of the hall appeared in the same year. Finally a March, entitled the Cincinnati Music Hall, composed by M. H. Strong, was included in the journal’s musical supplements.

The development of an orchestra capable of performing major symphonic and operatic compositions took place throughout the journal’s run. Performances of orchestral music by Theodore Thomas’s orchestra were given in Cincinnati as early as 1871 and continued, performing a long series of outdoor concerts during the summer months and winter concerts given at Pike’s Opera House and the Music Hall. Thomas was appointed conductor of the May Festival Orchestra in 1875. Other attempts to create a permanent orchestra include William Grossmith’s orcheatral concerts of 1871-73 and the Orpheus Orchestra of 1875. CMV reports on the many other attempts to establish a permanent symphony orchestra throughout the many years that led to the establishment of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1895.

Music education in American public schools, developed as early as 1842 by Lowell Mason, receives considerable attention in CMV. Another area of great concern in the journal is the establishment of Cincinnati’s several music schools, The Cincinnati Conservatory of Music founded by Clara Baur on the model of the Stuttgart Höchschule für Musik dates from 1867, the College of Music of Cincinnati founded in 1878, and many other local schools provided a strong local source of training in music. The programs of student concerts are a rich source for comprehending musical education in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The establishment of the Music Teachers National Association, the Ohio Music Teachers Association and the continuing activities of these and other like societies are important parts of the journal’s reportage. Particularly interesting are the many instructional meetings known as “musical conventions,” at which knowledgeable instructors toured throughout the vast region giving short normal school instruction about the teaching of instruments and voices.

The famous biennial Cincinnati May Festival modeled of the Birmingham, Leeds and Bradford musical festival and the Festival of the Three Choirs in England, and the Lower Rhenish Musical Festival in Düsseldorf, first reported in 1873, is given extensive space throughout the journal’s pages. The appointments of Theodore Thomas and Otto Singer as conductors, the auditioning of amateurs for choral singing and their subsequent rehearsal activities, the repertory and engagement of internationally known soloists in addition to local American performers receives considerable attention. Lithographic portraits of the principal performers become common in the 1880s.

George F. Root (1820-1895) a music eductor and composer, promoted Mason’s pedagogical methods; associated with publisher Root & Cady 1868 to 1871, Root “remained a layman’s musician, thinking of music primarily as music in the classroom and the home.” A composer of sentimental and patriotic songs and cantatas, Root contributed about 200 articles in CMV. Root’s autobiography is reprinted in CMV. Frederick W. Root (1846-1916), son of George F. Root, an organist and composer, also contributed articles to CMV, including in 1876 and 1877 detailed articles about the musical life of Chicago. The publisher John C. Church (1834-1890), trained in the music publishing business in Boston by Oliver Ditson, straightened out the business affairs of Truax & Baldwin in Cincinnati (1859), bought one half of this business and changed its name to John Church, Jr., and bought out Ditson and established John C. Church & Co. in 1869. The company is notable as publisher of patriotic compositions by John Philip Sousa and operettas by Reginald De Koven. Church also organized the Everett Piano Co. in Boston (1883).