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Musical America

(New York, 1898-1899, 1905-1945 [-1964])

RIPM Preservation Series: European and North American Music Periodicals (2013)

Editor: John C. Freund (1898-7 June 1924), Milton Weil (14 June 1924-2 July 1927), Deems Taylor (20 August 1927-10 July 1929), A. Walter Kramer (August 1929-10 May 1936), Oscar Thompson, Executive Editor (25 May 1936-10 November 1943), Ronald F. Eyer (25 November 1943-)

Periodicity: Weekly

Publisher: Musical America Co.

Language: English US

Forthcoming: Vol. 66-112 (1946-1964)

Founded by the English-born editor John C. Freund in 1898, Musical America was one of the longest-running and most widely-read music periodicals published in the United States. Some one hundred thousand pages and eighty-four volumes appeared before the journal merged with High Fidelity in 1964. Musical America was published weekly until 1929, thereafter the journal was published semi-monthly and monthly, with an annual directory issue appearing from 1930 onwards. Issues generally ranged from 30 pages to 64 pages with the annual "Special Fall Issue" containing two hundred or more pages.

Freund, by 1898 a well-known and opinionated editor, founded Musical America to appear alongside his concurrent The Music Trades, published since 1890. As stated by Freund in his prospectus for the journal, in a formula perhaps presaging Carl Sandburg:

Musical America!

The very idea would have been greeted as preposterous but a few years ago.

Then the outside world knew America where they “struck ile,” America where the dollars grew, America of the big wheat crops and plentiful pork, America of crazy inventors, America of cocktails and slang, of shrewish women who talked through their noses, of politicians ignorant and corrupt, but of “Musical America” the world of art and letters had not heard. To it we were only an unwieldly aggregation of money grabbers and vulgarians, too fond of the dollar to resent an insult, a people with a problematical political future and no intellectual or aesthetic life whatever.

Things have changed!

As such, Musical America was established to promote music, artistic and commercial, throughout the United States. In the first two years, Musical America divided its pages between general musical and music trades news. Following a publication interruption from June 1899 to October 1905, Musical America returned with the trades department removed and the amount of iconography, especially photographs of musicians, increased. Portraits of individual musicians, composers, and ensembles proliferated; musical news and concert reviews from throughout the United States were an omnipresent feature. Freund’s editorial column, “Mephisto’s Musings,” was a wide-ranging forum for Freund’s opinion on all matters musical, with a special focus on the development of music in the United States. Musical America established foreign bureaus and published musical news from around the world. Although ostensibly an American journal, the geographic range of its coverage is remarkable. The model set in these early issues of 1905 would continue throughout Freund’s editorship which lasted until his death in 1924.

Milton Weil, Freund’s longtime assistant editor, took over in June 1924, largely continuing in the same model as Freund, followed by Oscar Thompson for a short period in 1927. The composer Deems Taylor assumed the editorship in August 1927 and quickly renovated the journal, putting greater emphasis on longer articles and analysis of musical trends, composers and compositions, construction of musical venues, and musical events in Europe. Unfortunately, the onset of the Great Depression affected the journal, such that the fifty-two issues per year were reduced to twenty in the 1930s, a period in which A. Walter Kramer and Oscar Thompson served as editors and the journal shifted from a newspaper-like format to that of a magazine. Significant writers contributed during this decade, including Gian Francesco Malipiero, Paul Stefan, Basil Maine, Gilbert Chase, Gerald Abraham, Winthrop Sargeant, Roy Harris, Alfred Einstein, and Victor Belaieff. Covers were adorned with a photograph of a musician, often a prominent singer. During the war years of the 1940s, the journal was further shrunk in page size but the scope of content remained as broad as possible given the broader geopolitical circumstances. Though a wide-ranging publication, Musical America largely focused on the “musical establishment,” that is, performances of concert music, opera, and chamber music, both professionally and at higher education institutions. Recordings and popular music, including jazz, are seldom discussed.

This RIPM full-text publication was assembled from copies of the journal held by the Library of Congress, Curtis Institute of Music, Boston Public Library, and New York Public Library.

"Briefly stated, the principal function of [widely-distributed American music journals in 1931] was to supply musical information to a general, rather than musically unsophisticated audience: articles, when not communicating news, most often were neither technical nor scholarly; pictorial material was plentiful. Correspondence, editorials, biographies, and advertisements usually appeared, forming, in their cumulations, volumes of prodigious size. ...

"Musical America accomplished even more [than the Musical Courier]. While covering musical events much in the same fashion as the Courier, it provided more detailed, substantial reports. Essays were more numerous and consequential."

Charles Lindahl, "Music Periodicals in U. S. Research Libraries in 1931: A Retrospective Survey Part III: The United States." Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association 38, no. 2 (December 1981): 322.