Victor August Herbert (February 1, 1859–May 26, 1924) was a popular composer of light opera, and an accomplished cellist and conductor. He was a founder of ASCAP.
Life and career
Herbert was born in Dublin and at age three, shortly after the death of his father, moved to stay with his playwright grandfather, where he received encouragement in his creative endeavours. However, after his mother remarried a physician, his music was put on hold until a relatively late age.
Herbert received his early musical training in Europe at the Stuttgart Conservatory, where he developed into an outstanding cello player. He played cello in the orchestra of Johann Strauss in Vienna before emigrating to the United States, where he joined the Metropolitan Opera Company, again as a cellist, and eventually became a American citizen. He and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1886 to join the Metropolitan Opera—she as a soprano to sing the title role in the American premier of Verdi's Aida and he as principal cellist.
In 1892, Victor Herbert exhibited another side of his musical life when he became conductor of the 22nd Regimental Band of the New York National Guard, succeeding the great Patrick Gilmore; the following year he took over leadership of Gilmore’s civilian band following Gilmore’s death. Herbert conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1898 until 1902, building that orchestra into a major American ensemble, with tours to major cities, including New York and Chicago, where his Auditorium Festival March celebrated the twelfth anniversary of Chicago's Auditorium Theatre (1901), designed by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Six years later, Herbert founded the Victor Herbert Orchestra and conducted programs of light orchestral music on tours and at summer resorts for many years.
Among other works, Herbert composed two operas, one cantata, 43 operettas, incidental music to 10 stage productions of others (including several of the Ziegfield Follies, 31 compositions for orchestra (including the Auditorium Festival March (1901)), nine band compositions, nine cello compositions and five violin compositions with piano or orchestra, 22 piano compositions, one flute and clarinet duet with orchestra, 54 songs (not including those from other works), 12 choral compositions, and numerous orchestrations of works by other composers.
In 1894, Herbert composed the first of his operettas, Prince Ananias, and it was soon followed by The Serenade and The Fortune Teller. Starting in 1903, Babes in Toyland, Mlle. Modiste, The Red Mill, Naughty Marietta, and other successes made him one of the best-known figures in American music. He finally realized his long-standing intention to compose an Irish operetta, Eileen, produced in 1917. Herbert's last operetta was Dream Girl in 1924. His most successful operettas include:
Herbert's operettas are still performed and recorded today by light opera companies, as well as occasionally by the larger opera companies.
Herbert's 1894 Cello Concerto # 2 in E minor, op. 30 is featured on a recent Yo-Yo Ma recording with Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic, adding weight to Herbert's reputation as an underappreciated composer of his era. An early rare recording with Bernard Greenhouse and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Max Schoenherr displays a warm cello sound and a virtuoso technique produced by one of the greatest American cellists of the 20th century.citation needed
In the early years of the twentieth century, Herbert championed the right of composers to profit from their work and worked closely with John Philip Sousa, Irving Berlin, and others in founding the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), the organization that even today protects the rights of creative musicians. Herbert served as the organization's Vice President for a decade.