Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Thursday, May 11

Offenbach in America

Synopsis

On today date in 1876—America's Centennial Year—the popular French composer Jacques Offenbach came to New York and Philadelphia for a series of concerts. The newspaper announcement read as follows: "Mr. Offenbach, the illustrious maestro, assisted by a grand orchestra of one hundred skilled musicians, will inaugurate a series of twenty concerts at Gilmore's Gardens."

Offenbach's promoter jacked up ticket prices to double their usual amount—general admission was $1 and private boxes $5. Even so, on May 11th, 5000 people crowded into the hall to see and hear Offenbach, billed as "the most fascinating composer of the age, the Operatic Puck."

Offenbach was given a standing ovation when he mounted to podium, but half the audience left, disappointed, before the concert ended. Apparently pre-concert hype had led New York audiences to expect singing and dancing at the concert, and maybe even a rendition of that naughty French dance, the Can-Can. What they got was an orchestral concert—admittedly well-played and conducted—but no sign of any leggy dancing girls.

Offenbach was crushed, and offered to tear up his contract, but instead, the promoter suggested they just pep up the program with more variety, and Offenbach even wrote a special waltz for the remaining concerts, titled "The American Eagle Waltz." The waltz—and the remaining New York concerts—proved a great success.

Music Played in Today's Program

Jacques Offenbach (1819 - 1880) American Eagle Waltz Gulbenkian Orchestra; Michel Swierczewski, cond. Nimbus 5303

Additional Information

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