Dwight’s Journal of Music, the first American-based classical music criticism periodical, first hit circulation in Boston on April 10, 1852. It was a weekly periodical, and it ran consistently until the completion of volume 41 in 1881. There were 26 numbers per volume. I was surprised though–Dwight’s Journal is really interesting.
We promised some links to Dwight’s Journal of Music, so here you go:
Read Dwight’s Journal of Music via Archive.org: https://archive.org/details/dwightsjournalm20dwiggoog
You can now indulge in all 41 volumes of the first notable music journal in the United States.
I started leafing through the journal (can you “leaf” through an online PDF?) because I had to research for our last episode–I had no expectations of enjoying it. I was pleasantly surprised.
Dwight’s Journal of Music is a perfect snapshot in time. The language, the writing style, the advertisements, the history in the making–it’s fun to read. Here’s an overview of the features in Vol. 1, No. 1 below.
Dwight Starts Off With a Description of His New Gig
Dwight’s first order of business was explaining himself to his readers.
“Its contents will relate mainly to the art of music, but with occasional glances at the whole world of Art and of polite Literature, indeed at every thing pertaining to the cultivation of the Beautiful . . .”
There you have it: the purpose of Dwight’s Journal of Music. Just make sure you don’t submit any “impolite” literature to the editor.
The Local Poem on the Front Page is Gold
Dwight apparently liked to include some fine local poetry in his journal. And by “fine,” I mean really, really bad. Here’s the full poem from issue no. 1, entitled “Sonnet To My Piano” by C. P. Cranch:
Surely there is a soul within these strings,
So deeply thrills my own, when ‘mid thy chords,
Moving with eager hands, my whole frame rings
With inner music, far transcending words.
As after absence long I open thee,
Dear friend, and late here linger at thy side,
To conjure up thy hidden harmony,
A boundless joy runs through me, as a tide
Filling the sandy channels and low shores
Left by the ebb of feelings that depart,
And the dull slime of tame monotonous hours.
Thy dear delicious voice, Harp of my heart,
Hath won me back to thoughts of noble height,
And wrapped me in a reverie of delight
If this had been printed in a modern digital journal of some kind, I’m sure the comment section would have been fantastic.
Dwight’s Journal Featured Jenny Lind (and other musicians)
In what we might describe as a “feature article” in modern times, Dwight wrote about Jenny Lind, an opera singer known as the “Swedish Nightingale” in the mid-19th century.
She happened to be on a solo tour in the United States at the time of Dwight’s first publication (you may find it interesting that Lind’s solo tour was arranged by P.T. Barnum. I don’t think Jenny Lind sang from an elephant’s back or anything like that).
Dwight, who was not a musician himself, started off the article with his trademark haughtiness:
“The prime donne of the opera are seldom great musicians. Many of them have been well trained in the use of the vocal organs…”
Oh boy, there he goes. While I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with Dwight, he isn’t a musician. So he has no right to say that.
Either way, he goes on to explain how Jenny Lind is actually an exception to the rule–he thinks that the Swedish star is a miraculous musician with the voice of an angel.
Whew, he dug himself out of that hole.
Dwight Includes Extensive Musical Correspondence
Dwight’s Journal includes sections on the state of music in Boston and New York, as described by contributors to his journal and by himself. His readers in Boston enjoyed staying “in the loop,” musically speaking.
Dwight also maintained correspondence with contributors from England, France, Italy, and other European countries. They would describe the premieres of musical works, new publications, and the general state of musical affairs.
My favorite part of the European correspondence is a section called “Foreign Musical Intelligence.” Musical agent 007 must have been hard at work in the 1850s.
Dwight Listed New Publications
He liked to print announcements for new musical publications, along with a description and/or review. On the date of the first issue of the journal, he announced the first-time publication of “The Piano Forte Sonatas of Beethoven” and “Czerny’s Method for the Piano Forte.” I wonder if piano teachers back then disliked Czerny as much as they do now…
A publisher named Oliver Ditson owned both of those listings–Ditson would later buy the publishing rights to Dwight’s Journal of Music.
Lastly, Advertisements – Oh, the Advertisements
We have now arrived at my favorite section of the journal by far. Dwight included ads at the end of the issue, and they provide a striking, and comical, glimpse into the past.
Let’s look at this ad for a painting called “The Dead Christ.”
“The Dead Christ is now offered for sale at about one-third of the cost of importation; namely, the low price of fifteen hundred dollars. This is an opportunity of obtaining, at an unprecedented low price, a celebrated work of Scheffer, who is universally conceded to be one of the greatest of modern painters…”
That was only the first half of the ad. Advertising must not have been very costly back then–this ad for the painting alone took up over 100 words (in its entirety).
That concludes my play-by-play of Dwight’s Journal of Music Vol. 1 No. 1. If you haven’t listened yet, we suggest you get caught up with episode 7 of Backstage Podcast (it features Dwight and a number of American composers). Oh yes, it features Dvorak too.
Thanks for joining me!
Also published on Medium.