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Watson's Art Journal

(New York, 1864-1874)

Prepared by Ruth Henderson
Introduction by Ruth Henderson
Online only (2020)

The scope of Watson’s Art Journal, a Weekly Record of Events in the World of Music, Art and Literature [WAJ] includes all the arts, but its strength lies in the reporting of music and musical life in the United States. This RIPM project records only the musical content of the journal. WAJ was founded and edited by Henry Cood Watson (1816?-75), a London-born music critic and editor, a member of a family of musicians, who launched his musical career as a child performer at the Covent Garden Theatre, where his father was musical director. In 1840 Watson, his mother and siblings emigrated from London to New York. He soon became involved in a journalistic career, succeeding William H. Frye as music critic for the New York Tribune, a position he held from 1863-66. Both Henri L. Stuart and W. S. B. Mathews rank him as the leading American music critic of this era. Watson was one of the founders of the New York Philharmonic Society, instrumental in creating the American Musical Fund Association for the aid of elderly and indigent musicians, and developed the Mendelssohn Society (originally the Vocal Society of New York). He was the first editor-in-chief for Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (until 1861).

The musical content of the journal includes articles about music and musicians, reviews and announcements of forthcoming concerts in New York and other locations, letters from correspondents residing in both American and European cities providing reports of musical events. News and reviews are reprinted from other journals, in particular, the London Musical World. Features of WAJ are reviews of new books about music and printed music, illustrations (usually accompanying articles about contemporary musicians), printed music of short compositions, and advertisements relating to music.

While the content of the journal remained consistent over the eleven-year span, its organization varied over time. Local New York news, including announcements for forthcoming concerts and reviews, is organized under the rubric, “Editorial Glances” from late 1870 through 1874. Brief news items are grouped together under “‘Musical Gossip,” from 1864 through 1867, and subsequently foreign news appears under “Waifs” from various sources, such as English or European journals during the years 1868 through 1874. A rubric, “Olla podrida,” meaning Spanish stew, containing odd bits of information about music, appears primarily in 1872. Various correspondents contribute occasional letters to the editor, the most frequent from Margaret Cecilia Cleveland, an American studying in Paris, 1865-70, who wrote in 1873 an article describing a musical evening in Rome in the company of Franz Liszt.

Among the series articles are excerpts from Max Maretzek’s first book of memoirs, Crotchets and Quavers, Elise Polko’s Musical Sketches, Achille de Lauzières Thémines’s Donizetti; His Life and Works and F. W. Rosier’s eight-part series, Random Reminiscences of musical life in London. The Boston National Jubilee and Musical Peace Festival, 15-19 June 1869, receive extensive coverage. Reviews of New York musical events, although unsigned, appear to have been written almost exclusively by Watson, despite his occasional allusions to guest reviewers.

Watson was merciless in his criticism of his bitter foe, the New York Herald music critic Myron A. Cooney (1872-73), and, to a lesser extent, New York World music critic Andrew C. Wheeler. An American contemporary described Watson as unsparing in his abuse, sarcasm, and ridicule of Cooney, yet, at Watson’s death, Cooney wrote a kind, sympathetic obituary in the Herald and served as a pall-bearer at Watson’s funeral.

The RIPM copy was assembled from originals held by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Brigham Young University, and the Buffalo Public Library. Additional missing issues and pages were supplied from copies held by the Library of Congress, the American Antiquarian Society, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and personal copies belonging to Karl Merz. Missing materials that could not be located, all from 1871, includes three complete issues: v. 15, no. 7 (June 17), v. 15, no. 23 (October 7), v. 16, no. 9 (December 30), and pages: v. 16, no. 3 (November 18), pp. 26-29, 34-35, and v. 16, no. 4 (November 25), pp. 44-45.