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Victor Herbert: Collected Songs

Various Artists

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Victor Herbert (1859-1924) was one of Twentieth Century America's first musical stars. A composer, conductor, lyricist, and cellist, his orchestrations were featured in dozens of Broadway productions, some staged even decades after his death. He wrote music for the Ziegfeld Follies, composed the melodramatic standard "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life", and wrote the songs for the operetta Babes in Toyland. He played cello for the Metropolitan Opera, conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for six years, and later his own Victor Herbert Orchestra was a huge draw in national tours.

His father died when Herbert was very young, and he spent several years in the custody of his grandfather, novelist Samuel Lover. Early in his career he played in the private orchestra of Edward Strauss, brother of noted waltzman Johann Strauss. He composed the first original musical score for a movie, 1916's The Fall of a Nation, the now-lost sequel to D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, and his "Gypsy Love Song" was featured in the Marx Brothers' The Cocoanuts and Duck Soup. Several of Herbert's stage plays were adapted into movies, including Naughty Marietta, The Red Mill, and of course, Babes in Toyland. Herbert's music for Babes, however, has been largely rewritten and replaced by more modern tunes in most recent productions. Only two of his tunes were featured in the 1986 adaptation starring Drew Barrymore, and the last filmed version of Babes that was generally faithful to his songwriting was 1961's Disney adaptation starring Annette Funicello and Ray Bolger.

In 1909 he sued a New York restaurant, Shanley's, after hearing one of his own compositions performed there. The lawsuit led to a Supreme Court verdict that enforced copyright owners' rights to royalties. In 1914, Herbert and John Philip Sousa founded the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, and he served for ten years as ASCAP's first Vice President. On 24 May 1924, suffering chest pains, he rushed to his doctor's office, where he died of a heart attack in the waiting room.

He was played by Walter Connolly in the 1939 film The Great Victor Herbert, but despite the title Herbert was only presented as a minor supporting character whose tunes were cheerfully sung as romance blossomed between Allan Jones and Mary Martin. The Music of Victor Herbert, an album of his compositions, won a Grammy for Beverly Sills in 1976. His cello concerto is still a standard for orchestras, and a statue of Herbert stands in New York's Central Park.

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