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New York Musical Gazette

(New York, 1866-1874)

Prepared by Ruth Henderson
Online only (2015)

The New York Musical Gazette [NYO] was published monthly from 1866 through 1874 in New York City, first by the Mason Brothers, then, beginning with Vol. IV, by the firm of Biglow and Mason, following the untimely death of Daniel Gregory Mason in 1869. The price was $1 per issue, except for volumes V and VI, which cost 60 cents each. For the first six of its eight volumes, the journal was edited by Theodore Frelinghuysen Seward (1835-1902), a music educator and composer, who was the son of prosperous farmers in Florida, New York. Educated at the Seward Institute, which was founded by his great uncle, father of William Henry Seward, Theodore Seward also studied music with Lowell Mason and George F. Root. His transcriptions of spirituals sung by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers remained the most influential of versions in use until after 1920. In 1887 Seward founded the Music Department at the Industrial Education Association, which became the New York College for the Training of Teachers (later Teachers College) in 1889, and was affiliated with Columbia University in 1892. Seward compiled and edited a number of sacred music collections, including The Temple Choir, which sold more than 100,000 copies. He was a proponent of the tonic sol-fa system for teaching musical notation to singers and founded the Brotherhood of Christian Unity, among other societies. Chester G. Allen (1838-1878) succeeded Seward as editor of NYO beginning with volume VII, number 4 (April 1873). Allen, born in Westford, New York, was a teacher, composer, and music writer. He edited and compiled several collections of sacred music that included many pieces of his own composition.

Each issue of NYO contains at least twelve quarto pages. The journal’s year runs from November through October until volume 4, which offers two additional issues; successive volumes correspond to the calendar year. The June 1872 issue is a reprint of the previous volume’s June issue, with the exception of a single piece of music by Seward, probably an indication of mounting pressures that soon led to his resignation. NYO’s contents include articles on music history, composers, musical instruments, extracts from composers’ letters, reports on musical conventions and festivals, news and reviews of musical events (particularly from New York, but also from Boston, other American cities, and Europe), listings and reviews of books, music, and of other music journals, obituaries, letters from contributors, poetry, anecdotes, and humor.

An “Answers to Correspondents” column, which provides replies to questions submitted by subscribers on music topics, is the longest-running feature. Reports from the annual summer normal music schools conducted by Seward, together with Lowell Mason, George Webb, and William Mason become a prominent contribution, beginning in 1870. The “Music Pages,” which begin as four pages per issue, and then increase to various numbers of pages, include primarily sacred music for choirs, with occasional solo pieces for piano or cabinet organ. The “Music Pages” ─ sheet music of hymns, songs and organ and pianoforte pieces ─ appear following the journal’s articles until volume V, at which time they are placed in the center of each issue, but are returned to the end of each issue in volume VIII.

Articles are occasionally reprinted from other journals or books, some are unsigned, and still others are written expressly for NYO by various contributors, including George W. Birdseye and the well-known pianoforte pedagogue W. S. B. Mathews. A correspondent using the initials “J. B.” submits a series of reports from London in volumes II and III. Dexter Smith contributes regular reports on musical events in Boston. He is temporarily replaced by “General Boum” (the pseudonym presumably adopted from the character in Offenbach’s La Grand-Duchesse de Gérolstein) for seven months in 1869, and succeeded by “Ranger” in February 1871. “Balto” serves as the Baltimore correspondent beginning in March 1873.

An important series by Lowell Mason, “Lessons in Harmony,” begins in June 1868 (Vol.II), continues through Vol. IV and ends in August 1871 (Vol. V). Vol. III features a series of reports from Seward, who was traveling in Europe (his substitute as editor during his absence is unidentified). A one-page feature, “Sunday School Department,” that includes pertinent articles and two pieces of music, is instituted with volume IV; this feature lost its title with volume V and was moved, along with the “Music Pages” that it followed, to the center of the journal; it was ultimately reduced to a sole article by volume VIII. A directory of New York and Brooklyn churches appears for several issues in volume VIII.

Throughout its existence the New York Musical Gazette promotes the importance of congregational singing, music education, singing schools, and low-cost concerts, its intended audience being singing school teachers, church choir members and leaders. NYO offers present-day readers invaluable insight into the musical life and public opinion of its time. It ceased publication due to the failure to achieve the number of subscribers needed to maintain economic stability. Copies examined were from the collections of the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.