Listening and Longing: Music Lovers in the Age of Barnum

Listening and Longing: Music Lovers in the Age of Barnum

by Daniel Cavicchi

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Winner of the Northeast Popular Culture Association’s Peter C. Rollins Book Award (2012)
Winner of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award (2012)

Listening and Longing explores the emergence of music listening in the United States, from its early stages in the antebellum era, when entrepreneurs first packaged and sold the experience of hearing musical performance, to the Gilded Age, when genteel critics began to successfully redefine the cultural value of listening to music. In a series of interconnected stories, American studies scholar Daniel Cavicchi focuses on the impact of industrialization, urbanization, and commercialization in shaping practices of music audiences in America. Grounding our contemporary culture of listening in its seminal historical moment—before the iPod, stereo system, or phonograph—Cavicchi offers a fresh understanding of the role of listening in the history of music.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819571625
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 12/15/2011
Series: Music Culture
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

DANIEL CAVICCHI is an associate professor of American studies and head of the Department of History, Philosophy, and the Social Sciences at Rhode Island School of Design. He is the author of Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning among Springsteen Fans and coeditor of My Music: Explorations of Music in Daily Life. His public work has included “Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom,” an inaugural exhibit for the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt


"P. T. Barnum, Introducing Madelle. Jenny Lind to Ossian E. Dodge"

Capitalizing on Music in the Antebellum Era

* * *

Dodge's Bid

At the end of September 1850, Ossian E. Dodge, a writer of comic songs and sketches, attended a ticket auction in Boston for an upcoming concert series featuring the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. One can only imagine the scene: the auction, devised by famed impresario P. T. Barnum, took place at Tremont Temple, an old theater that had been purchased by a group of Free Baptists several years earlier and was still rented out for public events. Its large rectangular hall was necessary to accommodate the gathered crowd of merchants, speculators, clerks, lawyers, writers, teachers and music lovers, all of whom were humming with excitement about the possibility of hearing Lind and, even more, about personally participating in the public sensation swirling around her impending appearance. Only weeks earlier, in New York City, a hatter named John Genin had bid $225 for a ticket in a similar auction; the story of his bid had become the latest sensation in cities up and down the East Coast. For the citizens of Boston, who were always suspicious of the outrageous ambitions of New Yorkers, it was a matter of civic pride that they best Genin's bid and thereby demonstrate their own appreciation for "the Swedish Nightingale."

Bidding started high — at fifty dollars for what would have been a three- or four-dollar ticket. At a time when the average worker made seven dollars a week, even a one-dollar ticket was beyond the reach of many. Dodge had earlier told an acquaintance that he was interested in the auction merely out of curiosity; he sat quietly, scanning the crowd, as if mentally composing a sketch for The Literary Museum, a small-circulation magazine he wrote and edited. A boisterous crowd of top-hatted men lunging up into the air with urgent bids during a public auction was not altogether unusual in a northern antebellum city, but this auction was tied not to a banking venture but to a musical event, as well as to a female performer whose blemish-less Christian character had been exceedingly advertised in the national press. Dodge would likely have much fun poking at the contradictions in a short observational piece. When the bidding reached seventy-five dollars, however, Dodge — either stirred by the competitive atmosphere or acting on a hidden plan — suddenly took off his top hat and lurched up onto the seat next to him. To everyone's surprise, he shouted "Two hundred and twenty-five dollars!" to the auctioneer, a bid that outdid all the rest and precisely matched Genin's amount in New York. The crowd turned toward Dodge with a murmur. After a pause in which they assessed his sincerity, everyone again began to bid furiously, with rivals, including Dodge, moving the amounts upward by leaps of fifty dollars. Before long, the top bid had moved past five hundred dollars.

While major cities of the United States had hosted tours of European performers before Lind's, the announcement of her American tour had been met with unprecedented enthusiasm. During her premiere in New York City, weeks earlier, she was cheered in the streets by thousands of onlookers, and her concerts, held on multiple nights to overflowing audiences, were the news of the day, attracting immense, roaming crowds outside of the Castle Garden venue and inviting intense press coverage. Lind was, by most accounts, a gifted singer who radiated a "sweetness" and "purity" that differed starkly with the day's cut-throat business competition and scheming. But the extent of her notoriety came from a campaign orchestrated by her tour manager, Phineas T. Barnum. Barnum was well known by the 1850s for his sideshow antics — exhibiting an old African American woman as George Washington's nurse and running a museum of curiosities in New York City. By the time he arranged Lind's tour, he had developed an array of sophisticated promotional maneuvers, all designed to use the expanding communication networks of the time to create a public "sensation." In addition to auctions, like the ones in New York and Boston, the arrival of Lind in America had already been "puffed" for months, by means of seemingly ubiquitous editorials and biographical sketches of Lind and Barnum, as well as endless testimony from those who knew her (or claimed to know her). Barnum arranged songwriting contests, held massive public rallies, and secured Lind's endorsement for products in local shops. "We had Jenny Lind gloves, Jenny Lind bonnets, Jenny Lind riding hats, Jenny Lind shawls, mantillas, robes, chairs, sofas, pianos — in fact, every thing was Jenny Lind," Barnum wrote later.

The Boston auction itself was rapidly taken over by Lindmania as soon as the bidding started. As if watching a parade from the side of the street, people lifted themselves on top of one another, craning their necks to get a view of the top bidders, turning their heads side to side as offers were shouted to the auctioneer onstage. When the price passed $225, the crowd knew that Boston would be forever remembered as part of Lind's historic visit to the United States, and that Ossian Dodge — "Is he from Boston originally?" "He's a penny writer of some sort." "Didn't he put on a vocal exhibition a few months ago?" — would serve as its representative. People became more and more agitated as they waited to see whether the cheerful, now-hatless Ossian Dodge, still standing above them on his seat, would best the latest bid.

"Five hundred fifty dollars!" a man cried. A groan issued from the crowd. "Five hundred and seventy-five!" answered Dodge.

They clapped and shouted wildly at each of his bids, releasing the tension created when the men paused and weighed their options. When Dodge's main competitor suddenly froze at the bid of $575, they thought, with some relief that the duel was over, but the competitor failed to sit down. After a moment rather too long, his challenge went out, annunciated carefully, hinting at both a reluctance to go further and a bristled sense of pride: "Six hundred dollars."

The crowd turned to Dodge and waited, tense, hopeful. Dodge just smiled calmly. He sensed his competitor's limits and looked out over the faces of the crowd, savoring their anticipation. Then, with a triumphant crescendo, he responded, "Six hundred and twenty-five dollars!"

With relief and astonishment, the crowd exploded with a howling, uproarious applause. Ossian Dodge had pledged nearly two years of what would have been someone's annual salary for a chance to see Jenny Lind perform, on one night, and from the seat of his choosing. Dodge reached down for his hat, waved it triumphantly above his head, and, with a slightly embarrassed smile that was meant to exhibit his humility and gratitude for such a response, formally bowed to the cheering audience.

The ensuing events were fairly bizarre, even for those fully caught up in the humbug and hysteria for Jenny Lind. Over the next week, Dodge worked hard to make certain that everyone remembered his winning bid. In particular, he commissioned a lithograph from Boston's James H. Bufford and Co. that depicted Barnum humbly introducing "Mademoiselle Jenny Lind" to him in a well-furnished parlor. It was an event that had not, to anyone's knowledge, actually occurred, something that allowed Dodge to play around with the facts of the situation. In particular, Dodge placed himself in an imaginary world of refinement and respectability: he is dressed in a suit coat with tails and an elaborately ornamented waistcoat; on the table behind him is a top hat, which he presumably had just placed there. Barnum and Lind are elegantly dressed; Lind, especially so, attired in an off-the-shoulder, multi-layered gown and white gloves. The room in which they are shown appears to be an expensive parlor: the figures stand on a detailed oriental rug, corners of large and highly ornamented furniture just into the picture, and scrolls — indicating the ornate edges of mirror or painting frames — contain the figures at shoulder level. In addition, the image implausibly depicts Dodge, leaning patiently on the table behind him, looking confidently — even smirking — at his companions, waiting for them to come to him. While Barnum humbly gestures Lind toward Dodge, Lind herself is clearly bowing, with downcast eyes. Indeed, the caption reverses the protocol one would expect in the circumstance of an unknown audience member being introduced to a star: "P. T. Barnum, introducing Mad-elle Jenny Lind to Ossian E. Dodge, The 'Boston vocalist,' & purchaser of the $625 Ticket for the first Concert of the Sweedish [sic] Nightingale in Boston."

All of this was fantasy, but it was plausible enough and worked as a brilliant stroke of advertising. It built on Dodge's word-of-mouth reputation as a slightly crazed highest ticket bidder and transformed it into something bigger and more important — that he was on personal terms with both Barnum and Jenny Lind. By capturing that fiction visually, he enabled its quick apprehension even by those who did not know of, or understand, the circumstances on which he had based the portrait in the first place. If anyone missed the message, Dodge also appeared in an advertisment on the inside front-cover of Lind's 1850 Boston concert program, titled "That First Ticket," which read:

As the sum of SIX HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS premium was paid for the first choice of a seat to this Concert, and as it is a higher one than was ever before paid upon any like occasion in the world, it is with pleasure that we announce the name of the purchaser to be OSSIAN E. DODGE, a vocalist and musical composer of much celebrity and worth. It is believed that he paid this sum in order to show respect to jenny lind, who is justly regarded as being at the head of the profession to which Mr. D. belongs.

Shortly after the appearance of the advertisement, Dodge's ultimate goal became clear: to become as successful a musical performer as Lind herself. Indeed, in the month following the ticket auction, Dodge featured the lithograph in advertisements for a newly announced concert tour in which he planned to sing his own vocal repertoire, accompanying himself on guitar. Not only that, but he reproduced the print as the cover illustration for a re-issued edition of the sheet music for "Ossian's Serenade," a song he had published only a year before, in 1849. The image of him meeting Lind seemed to be everywhere; soon after the ticket auction, stand-alone versions of the lithograph festooned walls, shop windows, and billboards all over the Boston area, helping to cultivate Dodge as a celebrity, "The Boston Vocalist." Believing that he, in some way, had to be a musical peer, or at least an acquaintance, of Lind's, the music-loving public of New England flocked to his vocal concerts in the winter of 1850 and 1851, forcing him sometimes to put on two shows a night to handle the demand and enabling him to make enormous profits (some estimates put his take as high as $11,000).

Dodge didn't remain in Boston for long; in the wake of his concert tour, he was made a delegate to the "World's Peace Congress" in London in 1851, and then he worked as a roving correspondent and editor for his own publication, The Boston Museum, until 1858, when he left to open a music store in Cleveland. In the 1860s, he invested in real estate in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he settled into a life as a wealthy gentleman. Dodge's successes, though, all stemmed from that one moment in Boston, in 1850, when his bid to acquire a seat for a Jenny Lind concert launched him into the world of musical celebrity. As late as 1859, almost a decade after the Lind ticket auction, famed writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in an Atlantic Monthly short story, described several unframed prints pinned up on the wall of the apartment of one his characters, familiarly referring to one of them as "that grand national portrait-piece — P. T. Barnum presenting Ossian E. Dodge to Jenny Lind."

Dealing Music, Making Markets

Dodge's actions and success seem curious today. What did his fellow Bostonians think about his audacious use of the Lind ticket auction to advance his own singing career? Clearly, Dodge's fictional lithograph had appeal long after his brief foray into the world of concert performance had ended — Holmes even referred to it as a "national portrait-piece." But why? To understand the meanings of Dodge's bid, we have to examine more closely the historical circumstances of public music performance before 1850. A concert, featuring a program of music, was not new at that time, of course; it was an event in which members of the elite in the United States had had the leisure to indulge since before the American Revolution. Tradesmen, mechanics, and artisans, too, generally had been able to hear shorter performances of music, as paying audience members in urban theaters since the early 1800s. And music was present more generally at church services, singing schools, parades, and dances, all of which enjoyed widespread participation in the national era.

Much of this activity, however, was local and ephemeral. Urban theater was the most professionally oriented, regularly offering plays and music to a range of social classes. Still, only major cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia had standing theaters in the early 1800s. And before the 1820s, such theaters relied on stock companies of local actors and singers to fill most parts and support the occasional traveling star in a production. Even when touring troupes became more prevalent, staying at a theater for an "engagement," there was no regional or national booking system; individual theater owners contracted with troupes directly, something that maintained the localism of any production.

Outside of the world of musical theater, most musicians performing before an audience in American cities of the early 1800s were groups of devoted local amateurs. Many formed music clubs and societies, which enabled interested members in a community to gather regularly to make music; they occasionally opened such performances to non-members as well. Church choirs and sacred music societies sometimes offered one-time concerts and festivals. Or a wealthy patron might arrange for an itinerant teacher/instrumentalist to perform in a private residence for those in society, either at a party or to commemorate a special occasion. Such performances were not part of a sustained commercial enterprise, open to all, as we understand it today. Most concerts were one-time happenings, offered by invitation-only, or through costly subscription prices that severely limited the social breadth of the audience. Indeed, Kenneth Silverman summed up concerts in the early Republic as "little more than social gatherings for the eligible followed by dancing."

For a majority of Americans living in smaller towns and rural communities in the early 1800s, attending a commercial public performance was more than likely a special, marked occasion. Military-inspired bands could be heard periodically in local parades; singers and minstrels might be seen in the circuses or traveling shows that might occasionally roll through town, and one might watch the musicians at a community dance. While instrumental concerts of music had connotations of aristocratic excess and elite sociability, vocal performances, which were more in line with religious traditions of hymnody, generally enjoyed more widespread support. In particular, singing schools, offered by itinerant teachers once or twice a year, created highly anticipated exhibitions. But most American communities simply did not have the musical and physical resources to maintain a regular series of music and theatre productions. Besides, many Americans believed that regular attendance at public amusements was dangerous since it appealed to uncontrollable emotions. Theater, especially, which was associated with numerous vices from simple deception to prostitution, challenged deeply held religious and moral principles. In general, those outside of elite social circles believed that music could be made more respectably, regularly, and easily in the privacy of one's home, as a pleasant pastime among friends and family.

Even for those who did have the means to attend concerts regularly, attendance had more to do with the wider ritual of coming together in a shared space rather than purposely witnessing the presentation of a work; concerts were not considered exclusively musical as much as social, an opportunity for the fashionable members of society to see and be seen in order to affirm the symbolic contours of the local community. Audiences' attention to such performances could best be described as distracted. Eliza Quincy, a young member of one of Boston's most prominent nineteenth-century families, humorously described an 1816 Handel and Haydn Society concert at King's Chapel solely in terms of her curiosity about the audience:

During the performance my mother's attention was attracted by the appearance of a gentleman standing in the broad aisle. Calling my father to her in an interval of the music she said, "Can you tell me who that man is in the broad aisle. His head is very fine, he must be something remarkable." Mr. Quincy looked sharply at the lady. "Now are you certain you do not know who that man is?" "No, I never saw that gentleman before. I have no idea who he is, but I am sure he is a remarkable man from the shape of his head." "To be sure he is very remarkable," said Mr. Quincy, "that man is Nathaniel Bowditch, the eminent astronomer, the author of the 'Practical navigator,' the translator of La Place's 'Mecanique Celeste.' I am surprised you never saw him before, as he is a favorite friend of mine but he lives in Salem & is now in town as a member of the Council."


Excerpted from "Listening and Longing"
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Copyright © 2011 Daniel Cavicchi.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

“P. T. Barnum Introducing Madelle. Jenny Lind to Ossian E. Dodge”: Capitalizing on Music in the Antebellum Era
“I think I Will Do Nothing... But Listen”: Forming a New Urban Ear
“Music Is What Awakens in You When You Are Reminded by the Instruments”: Hearing a New Life at Mid-Century
“How I Should Like to Hear It All Over Again & Again”: Loving Music, 1850–1885
“Attempering This Whole People to the Sentiment of Art”: Institutionalizing Musical Ecstasy

What People are Saying About This

Dale Cockrell

“Cavicchi’s book is a richly detailed, lucid account of how and why music-listening is an active, participatory aspect of music-loving. Listening and Longing has changed fundamentally the way I think about the development of America’s musical culture.”

Holly George-Warren

"Impeccably researched, Listening and Longing shows us how Jenny Lind was the Lady Gaga of her day. Cavicchi's excellent use of primary materials, such as 19th-century diary entries and periodicals, documents how the seeds were germinated for today's music-fan culture."
Holly George-Warren, coauthor of The Road to Woodstock

From the Publisher

"Impeccably researched, Listening and Longing shows us how Jenny Lind was the Lady Gaga of her day. Cavicchi's excellent use of primary materials, such as 19th-century diary entries and periodicals, documents how the seeds were germinated for today's music-fan culture."—Holly George-Warren, coauthor of The Road to Woodstock

"Cavicchi's book is a richly detailed, lucid account of how and why music-listening is an active, participatory aspect of music-loving. Listening and Longing has changed fundamentally the way I think about the development of America's musical culture."—Dale Cockrell, author of Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World

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