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Superstar is a powerful word but also one we Americans toss around rather lightly and all too frequently today. Charismatic figures abound in athletics, entertainment and politics; yet few if any of today's superstars can match the breadth and depth of Victor Herbert's achievements. Since time is always of the essence on the net, let's cut to the chase quickly before we look with any detail at the life of Victor Herbert.
Looking at a resume of this artist, one would find: America's finest cello virtuoso from the 1880s well into 1910s; composer of hundreds of popular songs and marches, composer of 3 major classical works for cello and orchestra, including a Cello Concerto almost as famous as Dvorak's Cello Concerto; numerous major symphonic works including a Suite for Orchestra included on the same program with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue; 54 produced operettas, 3 operas (including the 2nd American opera), numerous movie scores (including the first fully original American film score, Fall of A Nation); founder and member of the New York String Quartet; member of the New York Philharmonic Society for 11 consecutive seasons; director of the 22nd Regiment Band of the New York National Guard (Gilmore's Band); conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (taking them to their first Carnegie Hall appearances); founder and conductor of the Victor Herbert Orchestra; one of the first musical artists to be recorded; extraordinarily talented orchestrator and arranger of both his own work and that of others; one of nine founders of ASCAP; major proponent and testifier for the 1908 Copyright Law; winner of a law suit against a critic; major contributor to the Ziegfeld Follies every year from 1917 to 1924; member of the Lambs Club; member of the Friars; and member of numerous American Irish organizations. Victor Herbert was a household name from the 1890s until well into the 1930s and 40s. It's time to reacquaint ourselves with this marvelous American musical giant.
Born on February 1, 1859 in Dublin, Ireland, Herbert came by his musical ilk naturally through his maternal grandfather, Samuel Lover, poet, painter, novelist, and composer. The two men were cut of the same cloth. Each shared an eminence pride of country, keen intelligence, love of peers, pure talents, and tremendous versatility. Each man became an expatriate, had uncommon wit, imagination and eloquence attracting loyalty and admiration from almost every person they touched. Both believed wholeheartedly in their creations and were quick to take offence at any injustice. In short, the two men could have been twins. The major difference was the size of their venues and the times in which they lived. Samuel Lover existed in Ireland from 1796 to 1868 while Victor reigned in America for the majority of his life which spanned from 1859 to 1924. The times were vastly different and so, therefore, was the impact of the grandchild upon his times.
Herbert's sojourn in Ireland was actually quite short because of the early death of his father, Edward Herbert, when Victor was no more than two or three years old. This unfortunate circumstance led to a direct exposure of the grandchild to all that comprised the grandfather as Victor and his mother spent the next three years at Lover's estate in the Irish countryside. Victor's favorite memories of this period were of watching his grandfather paint for hours and the constant exposure of music to his daily life. Lover's was the sort of intellect which attracted a constant stream of writers and musicians to his home creating a salon effect which planted the first seeds of what would become Victor Herbert's career of choice.