Ah, Sweet Mystery of Useful Niche Sites!

October 4, 2009

Bust of Victor Herbert in Central Park

Bust of Victor Herbert in Central Park

Victor Herbert (whose 150th birthday came around this year) was a real power in American music. A cellist of note, his concerto for the instrument has been successfully revived by Yo-Yo Ma, and he was conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra during a golden age of arts in that city. But perhaps most important of all was his contribution to the American musical theater through his sparkling operettas. Even if you don’t know a whole show (who does?), aspects of his work are part of popular culture. There was, until recently, even a very specialized store in Greenwich Village that traded on this general knowledge of Herbertiana by calling itself Toys in Babeland — a store that might have been designed for Naughty Marietta.

A new Web site for aficionados, performers, and scholars sets out to make available the scores of all of these historically important and hard-to-find stage works. At the moment, Herbert’s hit songs (like “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life!”) are well represented — with rare orchestrations by the composer. But PDFs of the original operetta scores are steadily being added as well and are not only sold there via a reasonable Pay Pal transaction, but, once purchased, can be duplicated for performance at will. There are also informative articles on the works and even the offer of a first CD of remastered Edison recordings of Herbert interpreting his own compositions.

This is one of those sites that is not at all remarkable for its attractiveness or any particular display of Web-savvy. It’s just the generous sharing of valuable information not otherwise available — a kind of activity that begins to fulfill some of the dearest hopes of us who tied our fortunes to the Web back in the ’90s.

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Tip of the hat to Steven Ledbetter, who posted concerning this site on the Society for American Music e-list

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