Today in History

Today in History: February 1

Victor Herbert

Toyland, Toyland,
Little girl and boy land
While you dwell within it
You are ever happy then.

Childhood's Joy land,
Mystic, merry Toyland,
Once you pass its borders
You can never return again.

Babes in Toyland
Book and lyrics by Glen MacDonough,
Music by Victor Herbert, 1903.

Babes in Toyland
"I Can't Do the Sum
from Babes in Toyland
Book and lyrics by Glen MacDonough,
Music by Victor Herbert,
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

Victor Herbert was born on February 1, 1859, in Dublin, Ireland. He studied music in Germany, where he became a cellist and composer for the court in Stuttgart and joined the faculty of the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music. In 1886, he and his wife, opera singer Therese Foerster, immigrated to New York where they worked for the Metropolitan Opera and became active in the musical life of the city.

Herbert, a composer of symphonic music and chamber string pieces, joined the faculty of the National Conservatory of Music. In 1893, he became  bandmaster of the 22nd Regiment Band of New York after the death of the celebrated Patrick S. Gilmore, “Father of the American Band.” Herbert wrote a number of marches while he was the band’s conductor.

From 1898 to 1904 he directed the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and then formed the Victor Herbert Orchestra which performed lighter music. Herbert was most famous as a composer of light operetta. Between 1894 and 1924 he composed more than forty comic operettas which had lengthy runs on Broadway and on tour around the country. His best known remains Babes in Toyland, which opened in 1903, a fantasy inspired by Frank L. Baum's popular The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The Ameer
The Ameer,
Music by Victor Herbert,
Book by Frederic Rankin
and Kirke La Shelle,
copyright 1900.
Theatrical Poster Collection
Prints & Photographs Division

The Fortune Teller
Alice Nielson's Production of
The Fortune Teller
Music by Victor Herbert,
Book by Harry B. Smith,
copyright 1905.
Theatrical Poster Collection
Prints & Photographs Division

Other popular operettas composed by Herbert included The Serenade, The Fortune Teller, Mlle. Modiste, The Red Mill, and Naughty Marietta. All were characterized by frothy romantic plots with happy endings.

Valse a la Mode
"Valse a la Mode,"
Music by Victor Herbert,
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

The music from Herbert's theatrical pieces became standard recital repertory pieces and his instrumental waltzes were popular dance music. Later in his life Herbert wrote for musical revues such as the Ziegfeld Follies.

Through his friendship with Thomas Edison, Herbert was one of the first to record his music on the newlyinvented phonograph. He made and issued early recordings of some of his works in orchestral versions, including "Petite Valse," "American Fantasie," and "Indian Summer."

Herbert wrote a full symphonic score for the film The Fall of a Nation, which  premiered in New York on June 6, 1916. This was to have been the first complete original score written to accompany an American film (earlier film scores tended to combine new music with older pieces) but Victor L. Schertzinger's original score for the Thomas Ince film Civilization  premiered in Los Angeles on April 17. For many years only disparate segments of Herbert's score, arranged in no particular order, were available. When a piano score was discovered in the Victor Herbert Collection of the Library's Music Division it became possible to establish the order of the segments. As a result, a condensed version of the film's full symphonic score was restored and performed in 1984.

Victor Herbert on the Deck of the Ship Imperator
Victor Herbert on the Deck of the Ship
copyright 1914.
Prints & Photographs Division

Langston Hughes

Portrait of Langston Hughes
Portrait of Langston Hughes,
February 29, 1936.
Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes,
"The Negro Speaks of Rivers (external link)."

Poet and writer Langston Hughes, famous for his elucidations of black American life in his poems, stories, autobiographies, and histories, was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902.

Hughes' parents separated shortly after he was born, and he spent much of his childhood in the company of his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas. She filled his imagination with stories, such as the tale of her first husband Sheridan Leary, a freedman who went to Harper's Ferry in 1859 to fight alongside abolitionist John Brown.

Panorama of Joplin, Missouri,
Joplin, Missouri,
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

Hughes's poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," written the summer after he graduated from high school in Cleveland, Ohio, was published in Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP, in 1921. After attending Columbia University for a brief time, Hughes spent several years working odd jobs and traveling abroad. His reputation received a boost in 1925 when Hughes, who was working as a busboy at the Wardman Hotel in Washington, D.C., slipped three poems into the satchel of guest Vachel Lindsay who was famous for his public readings or performances of poetry. Lindsay's enthusiastic rendition of and response to Hughes's hastily written poems led to a scholarship at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. By 1930, Hughes had earned his degree from Lincoln and published two collections of poetry and one work of prose.

Marked-up typewritten page of a poem
Langston Hughes, "Ballad of Booker T.,"
poem, second and final drafts, 1941.
Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

Hughes is closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance or New Negro Movement, a flourishing of artistic expression that emerged from the community of Harlem in New York City in the 1920s. Critic Carl Van Vechten recognized early the fresh approach of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance and the importance of the addition of African-American voices to literature. Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964 includes portraits of many of Hughes's contemporaries in the movement, such as Countee Cullen, Arna Bontemps, author of Drums at Dusk, and writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston.

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years features drafts of Langston Hughes' poem, "The Ballad of Booker T." In this 1941 poem, Hughes writes sympathetically of educator Booker T. Washington, whose reputation remains a subject of controversy and debate.

In collaboration with Kurt Weill and Elmer Rice, Hughes also created the opera Street Scene. Originally developed by Rice as a play, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Street Scene was first performed in 1929. Based on a libretto by Rice, the operatic version of Street Scene opened on Broadway in 1947, with music by Weill and lyrics by Hughes.

Langston Hughes died in 1967. Among his most well known works are The Weary Blues, a 1926 collection of poetry; The Ways of White Folks, a 1934 collection of short stories; The Big Sea, an autobiography of his early life, published in 1940; and the 1956 A Pictorial History of the Negro in America.