Music Magazines

In the mid 19th century, a number of music periodicals emerged that gave new as well as established composers the opportunity to showcase their music and get it circulated to relatively large numbers of musicians and music fans. These magazines allowed teachers, scholars and performers to connect and share ideas and the latest techniques. Publications such as, The Musician, Perry's Music Magazine and The Echo were quite popular and though there were many that were published, most lasted only a few years. The greatest of all music magazines is perhaps arguably, The Etude, published continuously by Theodore Presser & Co. from 1883 till 1954.

This month we will share with you some musical examples from various issues of some of these publications and also give you some insights into the articles published, the opinions of some of the experts and a little of the content so you can gain a feeling for the flavor of the magazines. In one issue, it will be impossible to cover all of the wonderful music and ideas that these magazines brought to the homes of people over the years but we do hope that it will give you a good sampling.

Also this month we introduce a new composer biography for Anna Priscilla Risher. Ms. Risher was a talented composer and pioneering female orchestra conductor who was a regular contributor to the Presser Etude magazine from before 1920 till her death in 1945. Thanks to one of her relatives, we have been provided with copies of some of her music, photos and her biography. As well, we have some selections from Etude magazine of her work. We think you will find her music enjoyable and we are providing six of her works as a part of the biography. Be sure to visit the Anna Priscilla Risher biography page before you leave us this month!

Sing Me A Song Of A Lad That Is Gone

From Etude, March, 1908

Music by: E. MacLean
Lyrics by: Robert Louis Stevenson
Cover artist: Rudolf Stuven

Etude Music Magazine premiered in October of 1883, published by the Theodore Presser company It was continuously published for almost 100 years, ending its incredible run in 1954 after serving millions of musicians. The Presser company is hailed today as the longest existing continuous publisher and they have an interesting history. Presser traces its origins to 1783, when Batelle’s Book Store (later the Oliver Ditson Company), began a music publishing business in Boston. Read more about Pressers history here. Here is an image of the first Etude magazine and you can see from the above image, Etude covers evolved to rival some of the best sheet music covers of the day.

Each month, Etude magazine published from fifteen to twenty or more scores of piano etudes, grand master's works and songs from contemporary composers and the masters. The songs published in Etude, though musically of very high quality were often quite different from the popular songs being published. In many cases, they are more classical in form and require higher levels of pianistic and vocal skills. Keep this in mind as you work your way through this month's issue. This song from the March, 1908, is a song with a Scottish flavor based on a poem by the great Robert Louis Stevenson. It was used by several songwriters as a basis for a song, including one titled Over The Sea To Skye by Annie Macleod as well as one by John Leavitt. You can find numerous mentions of the song in various forms and often it is listed as a traditional folk song The poem is number 42 from an extensive Stevenson work titled Songs of Travel and Other Verses. The music is quite typical of the works I have encountered in Etude, very polished and high quality, I think you will enjoy this romantic setting of Stevenson's poetry.

Some of the contents items for this 1908 issue were:

  • Why We Should Support American Music, an appeal to look to American music with less emphasis on European influences.
  • Poor Pay For Musicians, an appeal for more public funding for the musical arts and to stimulate and encourage musicians.
  • Humor In Music, an interesting dissertation on how some music depicts the emotion of humor.
  • The Business Man and Music, a double edged editorial that both criticizes businessmen as rather unsophisticated musically and praises their contributions that help develop symphonies and venues for performance.

For those of you who remember the type of puzzle called a rebus, there is an interesting musical rebus on page 199 of this issue. If you can solve it, send me an e-mail with your answer, and I'll e-mail you a free PDF copy of the score to this song as your "prize". (Your e-mail system must be capable of accepting PDF attachments)

Enjoy this original song now (SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version


The Time I've Lost In Wooing

The Musician, August, 1911

Music by: John H. Dunsmore
Lyrics by: Thomas Moore
Cover artist: Reg. Bolles

The Oliver Ditson Company of Boston also created a magazine for musicians. Very similar in presentation, size, design and content, this magazine was a direct competitor of Presser's Etude. Ditson was purchased by Presser in 1931 so the Musician Magazine was discontinued then and if anything, merged with the Etude. Ditson were perhaps the longest running publishing house in the country and were the premiere publishing house in America for well over a century and a half. The Ditson Musician magazine has no relationship to current magazines with the same or similar titles.

The song I have selected from this magazine also has a Scottish flavor and, like our first example, has as its basis a poem by a famous poet, Thomas Moore (1779 - 1852). This poem is from Moore's Irish Melodies, volume 6. Just as with Stevenson's poem, this one was also set to music by a number of composers over the years. One setting has found itself classified as a seafaring song, to hear an alternative melody for this work, you can find it at Lesley Nelson's site, just click the link above. Musically, this work is complex but very enjoyable. It is, again, a work that elevates to an art or classic song rather than being in the form and sound of the more popular songs of the era.

The August, 1911 issue of the Musician featured an article about the violin makers of Mittenwald, Germany, calling it the "German Cremona" (Cremona, Italy was the home of some of the greatest violin makers in history, including Stradivarius.) There is also an interesting article titled Popular Taste In Music, Is It Bad? In this article, the writer says:

It is a generally accepted premise among those who call themselves Musicians, and spell the word with a capital initial letter, that the fact that a piece of music has attained a wide popularity goes far to prove its lack of artistic merit. It is undoubtedly true that a very large portion of the music that takes the public fancy is scarcely worth the paper on which it is printed.

OUCH! The author goes on to agree with this premise and attributes our lack of taste to a poor education. He adds insult to injury by mentioning that no self respecting musician would play this music and that those who do are plebeian, recreational composers! He mentions that, musicians of serious aim are usually possessed of sensitive natures and unpractical character and thus are unpopular fellows. The sentiments in this one article, unfortunately define the rather elitist nature of the music magazines of the day. Throughout the collection I have, I find similar articles critical of popular music and those who play and listen to it. This reached it's height with the August, 1924 issue of The Etude which really tears into jazz, you'll see that issue later in this months edition.

Hear this 1911 song (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version


Maying With You

From The Etude, June, 1915

Music by: D. Spooner
Lyrics by: Elizabeth Gordon
Cover artist: unknown

Over time, the Etude magazine covers rivaled those of the greatest sheet music covers. I have tried to select some of the best for this feature and this cover is one of the most striking. A portrait of Beethoven contemplating a sunset, it offers a colorful and pastoral scene of beauty. By this time, advertising in the Etude had also reached a high level and contained within it are a number of colorful and interesting historical ads. One advertisement that began appearing in the Etude with regularity were those for Cream Of Wheat. Around the turn of the century, the CREAM OF WHEAT Company began an advertising campaign that enlisted the talents of America's finest illustrators. It is important to remember that prior to the electronic age, magazines were a primary source of entertainment, and good artists were in demand to fill the advertising needs of the time. In those years, often termed "The Golden Age" of American illustration, many leading artists were hired by companies to illustrate for newspapers, magazines, books, and posters. These images bring high prices on the collectors market and are a favorite for framing and displaying. This particular ad was painted by "Brewer".

This song, is a typical Etude, artsy song from yet another composer who, according to the above issue, must have been of a serious nature and with a personality that was impractical for he did not seem to make the hit parade with any of his songs. Nonetheless, it is a very musical work and I think you will enjoy it as a newly discovered treasure from the past.

This issue of Etude had a very interesting article about teacher competency that proves that no matter how much times change, they stay the same. This quote from 1915 could well have been written by a politician or teacher from 2001:

Teachers in some states have been working to secure laws requiring every teacher to pass examinations leading to certificates entitling the teacher to teach. In other words, a certain standard of proficiency is set and then the teacher is expected to come up to the standard.
The article goes on to tie that effort to the concept of standardized texts and teaching materials and states their "unequivocal" opposition to the employment, adoption and advocacy of any proprietary material of any kind whatsoever in any State system or other system of standardization. Like I said, the more things change...
Other issues discussed in this issue include an article about "hack" piano players called Blacksmiths at The Piano, How to remedy hand cramps and how to practice staccato.

Listen to this 1915 song (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version


With You In The Land of Love

From The Etude, April, 1920

Music by: Geoffrey O'Hara
Arranged by: T.E.B. Henry
Cover artist: Wm. S. Norten Heim

I think this is one of the most beautiful Etude covers I have seen, the art by Heim is a beautiful depiction of spring. You can clearly see with this edition why collection of these magazines has become almost as popular as collecting sheet music from the period. Competitive bidding for early editions of The Etude can become quite intense and some have gone for prices that astound me. You can find hundreds of issues up for bid on-line.

The song I have featured is one by a composer who was a popular one of the time. Geoffrey O'Hara wrote the famous World War Song, K-K-K-Katy as well as other popular hits of the period. As such, though O'Hara has written a song that extends beyond the evil depths of popular song, it still has that sound and flavor of one. The preface to this piece in the magazine states: A fine modern ballad with a strong and flowing refrain. Mr. O'Hara's musical activities in connection with our Nation's War Camps during the World War have added much to his fame.

Etude magazine this month was full of tips on how to practice and "secrets of success". In addition to focus on the piano, Etude magazine had sections dedicated to Organists, vocalists, violin and even a children's section. For April of 1920, the violin section sadly announced the death of Ms. Maude Powell, the foremost woman violinist in America. Ms. Powell had been ill for a few months and suffered a breakdown at a concert in Uniontown, PA on the night of January 7. She died the next day. The violin section also announced that now that the war was over, shipments of fine European made violins were again finding their way into the United States. O-Cedar polish was advertised as "harmony" of taste and care for your piano in a full page color ad and Ingram's Milkweed cream was said to have beauty in every jar. Actress Jane Novak said;

I studied toilet aids as I study my roles and I chose Ingram's milkweed cream after a very critical selection. It has fully proved its very unusual qualities to me.


Hear this great old song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version


A Dream of Yesterday

From Etude Magazine, December, 1920

Music by: Kate Vannah
Lyrics by: Vannah
Cover artist: unknown

The December, 1920 issue continued with the beautiful cover motif that had been a hallmark of Etude for several years now. A huge two page spread advertisement offered holiday gift offers for "Music Lovers". Of interest were items such as Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians with an American supplement for the princely sum of $20 (it costs over $2,000 now) and The Standard History of Music for $1. More Christmas gifts are listed on the last page including violin outfits for $15, music rolls for $1 and lithographs of famous composers for 30 cents each. A full page ad featured a picture of Rachmaninoff playing the piano advertising the "New Edison, the phonograph with a soul". Amid a number of Christmas themes and stories about the origins of some carols, a program for a suggested Christmas festival was offered as one that "may be given with very slight expenditure of money, time and effort, but with most pleasing results." The teacher's round table featured articles about overeating, professional courtesy and coping with performance nervousness.

Included in the nineteen musical works in this issue were a number of works by Mendelssohn, Wagner and other great composers as well as a Christmas work by Anna Priscilla Risher. Among the vocal works is this rather pleasant but complex love song by Kate Vannah (1855 - 1933) Little can be found about her other than some listings of songs such as Good Bye Sweet Day, Cradle song, Titania's Cradle and Separation. I did discover that some of her music was performed at the World's Fair in 1893, but could find little else about her (another casualty of attitude?). The introduction to this song by Etude editors states: "An artistic song with a broad and expressive melody. A real singer's song by a well known woman composer."

Enjoy this great 1920 song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version


There's More Music and Covers in this month's issue, go to part B.

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