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Saroni's Musical Times

(New York, 1849-1852)

Prepared by Ruth Henderson
Online only (2013)

Saroni’s Musical Times, a Weekly Journal Devoted to Music, Literature and the Fine Arts [SAR] was published in New York City from 29 September 1849 to 20 September 1851 (vols. 1-3), and renamed simply as The Musical Times, from 8 November 1851 to 10 July 1852 (vols. 4-5). Herrman S. Saroni, gave the journal his name, when he assumed control of Henry C. Watson’s year-old journal, The American Musical Times, in September 1849. The indefatigable Saroni edited 106 of the journal’s 140 issues, and thirteen with a co-editor, Eugene Liés, 19 January to 13 April, 1850. Saroni severed his association with the journal in 1851, and J. S. Black became associate editor. Within two issues, Saroni’s name as editor disappeared entirely from the masthead, and Daniel M. Cole and Black were listed as editors and publishers for thirteen issues. Cole and Black’s search for a new editor resulted in the appointment of the American composer Richard Storrs Willis, beginning in 21 February 1852, for the final twenty-one issues. The Musical Times united with the Musical World and Journal of the Fine Arts with the 15 July 1852 issue to become the Musical World and New York Musical Times, with Willis continuing to serve as editor.

The first volume consists of fifty-two issues, volumes 2-4, twenty-six issues each, and volume 5, ten issues. The number of pages in each issue is variable: Vol. 1, twelve pages; Volume 2, ten pages; Volume 3, from nine to sixteen pages; Volume 4, sixteen pages for eight issues, twelve pages for the remainder and Volume 5.

Saroni used the journal to promote causes that he championed, including the building of a New York concert hall dedicated to musical purposes alone, which probably led to the construction of Tripler (later Metropolitan) Hall in 1850. Other prominent advocacies included the need for a national music conservatory (preferably, in Saroni’s opinion, headed by a European, because, he argued, no American-born musician was qualified ─ a point of view that provoked controversy), and the need for a musical art union to assist domestic composers (through member contributions) with publication and distribution of their works, and funding for the education of young composers. SAR sponsored a series of three chamber music concerts for subscribers (1 December 1849, 10 January and 24 April 1850) that were instrumental in whetting the appetites of New York audiences for more chamber music and laying the groundwork for Theodore Eisfeld’s important series of chamber music soirées that followed in 1851. Saroni’s successor, Richard Storrs Willis, introduced the prominently-featured “Musical Studies” column (beginning 8 May 1852), offering instruction in the rudiments of music, together with exercises for self-study. The most valuable general feature of the journal was its coverage of domestic music in the United States, particularly New York, including reviews of concerts and operas, news of local and visiting musicians, and the contemporary perspective it now offers on the musical life of its time.

The first volume contains five musical supplements, placed at the end of their respective issues and given page numbers independent of the issue’s page numbers. Printed music appeared regularly beginning with the second volume, placed at the end of the issue without page numbers, but accounted for with the preceding and following numbered pages. Beginning with volume 4, music supplements were moved to the interior of each issue and assigned consecutive page numbers of the issue. Some pieces were published more than once, presumably because of production difficulties encountered in the preparation of another piece. The music included primarily songs or music for vocal ensembles of up to four voices and piano music (often dances). Some of the music was written expressly for the journal, while other pieces were songs popularized by current performers or arranged from music popular for another medium.

Under Saroni’s editorship (1849-51), each issue is organized in three parts. The first part, is a series of articles about music, short stories often based on musical incidents, and poems. The second part, announced by a header repeating the journal’s title, the date of the issue and the name of the editor, consists of editorials, reviews and announcements of concerts and operas performed in the principal cities of mid nineteenth-century United States (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington); foreign (European) musical news including reviews of performances in the principal music centers; miscellaneous musical news; reviews of books about music and current publications of books on many different subjects; reviews of published music; and reviews of fine arts exhibitions. The second part (1849-51) consisting mainly of unsigned reviews articles, must be attributed to Saroni himself, owing to the personal manner in which they are written. The third part consists of one or five pages of advertisements that include notices of sales of musical instruments and music publications in the principal eastern American cities.

Biographical information is scarce concerning Saroni, an enterprising figure whose strong personality permeates the pages of his journal. Born near Leipzig, Germany, in 1823, he studied with Felix Mendelssohn and was an aspiring pianist and composer when he emigrated to New York in 1844. Directories throughout his life list his profession as Professor of Music. After leaving New York, he founded the Columbus (Georgia) Symphony Orchestra in 1855 and became a naturalized American citizen in 1859 while living in Huntsville, Alabama; he later moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was actively involved in the invention of steam engines, and spent the last fifteen years of his life in Marietta, Ohio, where he died in 1900 at age 77.

His feistiness as the youthful editor of Saroni’s entangled him in quarrels with Anthony Philip Heinrich, John Hill Hewitt, and George Frederick Bristow over criticism of their works, and Signor La Manna and his orchestra at Niblo’s Garden, which he described as the “worst in New York.” His forthright remarks concerning other journals, usually their music criticism, led to frosty exchanges with their editors. He was an outspoken critic of minstrel music as a cheap and vulgar distortion of the music of African Americans. In addition to the complimentary chamber series, he offered subscribers to the first volume who lived outside of New York a complimentary engraving of a painting of St. Cecilia and, to all subscribers to volume 2, a portrait of Jenny Lind. He conducted a subscribers’ contest, offering a $25 prize for the best musical setting of a poem (also initially the object of a contest, but for which Saroni elected to use a poem of his own composition—and was roundly criticized). In addition to poetry, he wrote fiction and nonfiction articles for the journal. Despite a weekly publication schedule, Saroni occasionally absented himself from his post for travel purposes. He submitted reports on musical events in Boston, Hartford, and Washington in the spring of 1850, at which time Liés left his post for health reasons upon Saroni’s return. Saroni made another visit to Boston in September of the same year and an extended trip of seven months to Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville, Niagara Falls, and Albany from February to August 1851, submitting reports from each city he visited. The third volume of the journal was completed soon after this last trip, followed by a brief hiatus during which no issues were published. Although Herrman Saroni terminated his association with the journal in 1851, his brother Adolph S. Saroni, who had become a Boston organist and music teacher and whose name was the first to be associated with the journal outside of New York (as Boston Agent beginning with the second issue), continued to be listed as “Proprietor” throughout the journal’s existence. Subscription cost remained at $2 per year for the entire run.

Richard Storrs Willis, younger brother of journalist and author Nathaniel Parker Willis, was a composer and music journalist, who had formed a friendship with Mendelssohn while studying in Germany, where he was a classmate at the Conservatory of Leipzig of composer and pianist Otto Dresel, who had immigrated to the U.S. in 1848 and become a member of the New York musical circle of German émigrés to which Saroni belonged. Willis’s straitlaced New England upbringing brought a new perspective to the editorial post (“We do not believe in Sunday concerts”) and, in addition to his previously-noted “Musical Studies” feature, he introduced a “Glee Corner,” consisting of humorous anecdotes, riddles, and sayings. He reprinted several articles by his sister, feminist writer Sara Willis, who wrote under the pseudonym of Fanny Fern.

In addition to features already mentioned, the seven to eleven pages of each issue of Saroni’s included poetry, fiction, nonfiction, domestic and foreign news (which was much less comprehensive than domestic), announcements, and reviews of concerts, printed music, and books (on both music and non-music topics). Correspondents from various cities, particularly Boston and Philadelphia, submitted news of musicians and musical events from their respective cities; William Mason reported his observations from Dresden, Prague, and Berlin. Charles Grobe’s “Musical Almanac” feature listed the week’s significant events in music history for several issues of the first volume. Jenny Lind’s visit to America occurred during this period and received prime coverage. In addition to Willis’s “Glee Corner,” humorous anecdotes and pithy sayings appeared as fillers throughout.

The editorials, domestic news, and reviews, although unsigned, appear to have come primarily from the pen of the editor. Correspondents from various cities tended to sign their submissions with pseudonyms or initials. Some of the poetry, fiction, and nonfiction articles were written for SAR (sometimes unsigned), whereas many of the articles and virtually all the foreign news were reprinted from other sources (often unidentified); London’s Musical Times was an important source. The scope of the journal ostensibly included literature and the fine arts in addition to music, but its greatest strength lay in its coverage of the latter.

The RIPM copy examined was based on copies at the Harvard Musical Association (volume 1), the Library of Congress (volumes 2-5), and Yale University and the New York Public Library for material missing from v. 2-5.