Link to home page

The New Music Review and Church Music Review

(New York, 1901-1935)

Prepared by Elizabeth Crouch Fitts

Published monthly in New York City from November 1901 to September 1935, The Church Music Review—from November 1904, The New Music Review and Church Music Review [NMR]—was founded by H. W. Gray, the United States representative of the British publisher Novello, Ewer and Co. When Gray established his own firm in 1906 he took over control of the journal—which he likely edited—while continuing to represent the Novello firm. The journal consists of 404 issues in thirty-four volumes; each volume contains twelve issues—with the exception of volumes 31 (eleven issues) and 34 (ten issues); each issue contains thirty to forty-four pages printed in a two-column format.

NMR contains six sections: 1) “Editorials” treating current and historical matters and reviews of books about music; 2) three to five feature articles on a broad range of topics; (3) regularly appearing columns, “Foreign Notes,” “Facts, Rumors and Remarks” and “Ecclesiastical Music” interspersed among the feature articles; 4) American Guild of Organists (AGO) news and reviews of organs and sacred music, and suggestions for the selection of music appropriate for the liturgy of particular Sundays; 5) reviews of new and reprinted music; 6) advertisements. Sheet music supplements consisting of anthems and solo songs were distributed with each issue from NMR’s inception until March, April, May and December of 1907. From 1908 on sheet music appears only occasionally.

During its initial years almost all of NMR’s articles and reviews are devoted to sacred music, choirs, choral societies and church organs. At the end of 1904, the journal expands its scope to include secular subjects with diminished importance being placed on church music. Until the beginning of World War I, the journal offers concert and opera reviews treating musical performances in New York. Thereafter, reviews and from other locations both national and international appear.

The “Editorials” section features opinions, musical gossip and remarks on a variety of musical matters including reviews, recent and forthcoming performances, and books. The principal topics treated in articles focus on American music and musical life and particularly the struggle to define the characteristics of American music, the use of Native American music and folk-song in original compositions. Interest in the reform of sacred music is regularly in evidence: the use of appropriate service music, congregational participation in services, sacred music’s history and purpose, the restoration of plainchant and the choral service, the growing use of both mixed choirs and boy choirs, the challenges of eliminating secular music influences from the service, and suggestions for organists and choirmasters for the improvement of choirs and congregations’ musical expectations. Developments in organ building, including progress toward the creation of a standard pedal board, the question of standardization, changes in the console and tonal design are explored, as is the debate over the Unit Organ built by Robert Hope-Jones.

NMR documents the establishment and goals of the American Guild of Organists and the progress made by the organization in raising church music standards. Articles and notices explain the process of and need for AGO examinations that test the proficiency levels of organists and choirmasters, and certify that members have adequate skills to hold church positions. Many authors underscore the need for musical education, elucidating new teaching methods in public schools, while emphasizing the need to learn musical fundamentals in elementary schools and to have a wider selection of music courses in high schools. NMR’s series of articles on musical appreciation by Thomas Whitney Surrette and Daniel Gregory Mason became one of the first widely-circulated American music appreciation textbooks.

More than 140 articles examine the lives and works of American and European composers and performers. Among these are American composers Frederick Stock, Charles Martin Loeffler, Edward MacDowell, David Stanley Smith and Henry Hadley. Twenty-one articles treat prominent American organists important to the development of sacred music in the United States, including Channing Lefebvre, Norman Coke-Jephcott, Clarence Dickinson, and T. Tertius Noble. European composers such as Debussy Strauss, Stravinsky and Sibelius are featured in both articles and reviews. Gustav Mahler’s association with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Elgar as choral conductor at the Cincinnati May Music Festival, and Alexander Scriabin as piano soloist with the New York Russian Symphony Orchestra also receive attention as do, for example, the works of Busoni, Bantock and Honegger.

Thousands of concert and opera reviews of performances in New York City and in eastern and mid-western locations, including Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago appeared in NMR. From 1905 through 1914, reviews of most major concerts in New York— by the Philharmonic Society of New York, the New York Symphony Orchestra, the Russian Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra—are featured. Chamber music concerts by the Kneisel String Quartet, the Boston Symphony String Quartet, the Flonzaley String Quartet, and the Olive Mead String Quartet are regularly reviewed, as are choral concerts by the Oratorio Society of New York, the Musical Art Society, and the Mendelssohn Choir of Toronto. A number of concert reviews of recitals by well-known singers and instrumentalists are offered each month in the journal’s editorial and review sections. Among them are the pianists Ignace Jan Paderewski, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler, Josef Hofmann and Raphael Joseffy; the violinists Misha Elman and Fritz Kreisler; and the singers Emmy Destinn, Mary Garden, Geraldine Farrar, Luisa Tetrazzini, Enrico Caruso, Johanna Gadski, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, and David Bispham and Fedor Chaliapin. The struggles between Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera House for the supremacy of opera production in New York are reported. There is also the column “Brief News” giving reviews of events in Chicago—dealing with musical groups such as the Apollo Club, the Evanston Musical Club and the Chicago Orchestra—and in Boston, of performances by the Cecilia Society, the Handel and Haydn Society, and Boston Symphony Orchestra. An average issue contains twenty to thirty short reviews of musical works and books in the “Reviews of New Music” section, focusing on sacred music, organ music and choral music.

Beginning in 1906, G. Edward Stubbs (1857-1937) contributes a monthly “Ecclesiastical Music” column concentrating on church music reform, and topics related to service music, the choral service, boy choirs, congregational singing, musical festivals, and other issues of interest to organist-choirmasters. Daniel Gregory Mason (1873-1953), a member of a famous family of American musicians was the most prolific contributor to NMR. Over 100 articles by Mason are found in the journal between 1902 and 1931; they deal with a diverse number of topics including music criticism and aesthetics, harmonic theory, Beethoven’s Mass in D, Mozart’s compositional style and orchestration. Henry F. Gilbert (1868-1928) writes about developments in American music, Native American music and Edward MacDowell. The composer Arthur Farwell (1872-1952) writes about the use of folk-song and the influence of nationalism on composers. Oscar Sonneck (1873-1928)—a prolific writer on American music and Director of the Music Division of the Library of Congress from 1902 to 1917—discusses, in many articles, early concerts and opera in the United States, music and the first presidents, the Library of Congress, and Anton Beer-Walbrunn.

A number of American critics well-known for their work in other publications also contributed to the NMR. Richard Aldrich, a critic for the New York Tribune and the New York Times, writes about productions in New York, the Worcester Festival, Grieg, MacDowell and Mendelssohn. Olin Downes, a critic for the Boston Post and the New York Times, reviews Converse’s operas and discusses the music of Sibelius. Philip Hale, critic for the Boston Herald and author of program notes for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, provides news about musical events in Boston, as well as articles on modern French composers. William James Henderson, critic for the New York Times, the New York Sun, and the Herald, discusses singing, opera, and works by the composers Loeffler, Wagner, Broekhoven, and Wullner. Henry Edward Krehbiel, a critic for the New York Tribune writes about the history of church music in New York, Beethoven, the Worcester Festival and the Cincinnati Festival.