Composers Datebook®

Wagner in New York (and Philadelphia)

Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) –American Centennialand Imperial Marches (Hong Kong Philharmonic; Varujan Kojian, cond.) Naxos 8.555386


Composer's Datebook - 20220622

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June 22, 2022

Synopsis

For eight summers starting in 1868, the German-born American conductor Theodore Thomas lead concerts at New York City’s Central Park. As usual with Thomas’s programs, there was a calculated mix of old and new music, and more than a few premieres.

On today’s date in 1871, for example, Thomas conducted the first American performance of “Kaiser March,” a brand-new work by the German opera composer Richard Wagner completed earlier that year to honor Wilhelm of Prussia who had just become Emperor of a united German Reich. It went over very well back in Germany, and, considering that: a) everybody likes a good march, especially at summertime pops concerts and, b) a sizeable percentage of New York’s musicians in Thomas’s day were either German-born or German-trained, we can assume Wagner’s “Kaiser March” was well-received at its American debut.

Five years later, in 1876, Thomas would conduct the premiere of another celebratory march by Wagner, this one commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the American Revolution. Wagner was paid $5000, an enormous sum of money in those days, to compose an “American Centennial March” for national festivities in Philadelphia.

Both of these marches are seldom performed today, and are regarded as pretty thin stuff, musically speaking. Wagner himself quipped that the best thing about his “American Centennial March” was the fee he received for writing it.

Music Played in Today's Program

Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) –American Centennialand Imperial Marches (Hong Kong Philharmonic; Varujan Kojian, cond.) Naxos 8.555386

On This Day

Births

  • 1763 - French composer Étienne-Nicola Méhul, in Givet, Ardennes;

Deaths

  • 1974 - French composer Darius Milhaud, age 81, in Geneva;

Premieres

  • 1911 - Elgar: "Coronation March," at coronation of King George V and Queen Mary;

  • 1926 - Walton: "Portsmouth Point" Overture, in Zurich, at Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music;

  • 1938 - Krenek: opera "Karl V," in Prague at the New German Theater.

Others

  • 1871 - Wagner: "Kaiser March" at a Theodore Thomas Orchestra concert at Central Park Garden in New York City.