17 Salon Composers and Their Compositions

The light, graceful and melodious style of music known as “salon” music, is so widely favored, that it may be interesting to know something of some of the writers who specialize in its composition. It bears the same relation to the larger, more serious forms, such as the symphony, the overture, the concerto, and the various orchestral modes of composition, that the light, summer novel bears to Thackeray, James, Milton, Shakespeare. Salon music has its indubitable place in music, and it gives pleasure to its hearers, if not any very deep intellectual gain. Not every composer, however great his gifts, has the “knack” of writing in this style, and steering his musical boat successfully between the shoals of the merely “popular” and the stern rocks of the severely classic.

What makes a salon piece popular? That is a question which very few people can answer. The critics employed by publishing firms, no matter how greatly they may admire the art masterpieces of the immortals, always keep their eyes and ears open for good salon pieces. It is said that when Nevin’s famous Narcissus was first played by the composer for a group of friends, he was advised to remove it from the group of pieces in which it was originally published, as it was considered inferior to the rest. Yet, Narcissus sold by the hundred thousand while the other pieces are scarcely known.

The taste in salon music advances slowly, but it is progressing very certainly despite its glacial speed. The salon pieces of fifty years ago were often so very mediocre that they could hardly hold the attention of the average beginner today. On the other hand, some of the compositions of Schulhoff, Mayer, Jaell and others were so pyrotechnical that they properly went out in a blaze of glory now long since forgotten. Like the over gorgeous embroidery of other days the salon music of the middle of the last century has become old fashioned, while the delicate laces, the old Irish point, the Cluny and the old Italian remain as art pieces prized highly by the connoisseur to this day.

Just to look at a page of the old fashioned salon piece with its cascades of runs, trills and palpitating octaves must have afforded some of our ancestors great excitement. Herz, who one time was considered a formidable rival among the great pianists of the world, turned out variation by the ream, occasionally shaping some original passage, but for the most part binding the melody up with scales and arpeggios until its beauties were very successfully concealed.

The salon music of today has undergone a reformation of a peculiar character. Harmonic and melodic originality combined with cleverness and an understanding very greatly to the charm of modern music. Indeed, much of the piano music of the salon type is often more pianistic, that is more idiomatic than many of the classics written for the instrument.

In some cases the dividing line between what is salon music and what is not is so uncertain that its determination depends upon the critical judgment of the individual. Some, for instance, would consider the Mendelssohn songs without words and classics, while to others they would be in the class of salon music. Poldini’s Dancing Doll is representative of music that has great worth and is likely to be permanent and is nevertheless salon music, as is much of the music of Schutt, Moszkowski and others.

In each biography we have given the name of the pianoforte piece by which the composer is best known.

1. Gabriel Marie

Gabriel Marie was born in Paris, January 8, 1852. He studied music at the Concervatoire, later becoming assistant teacher there. His métier was conducting. He directed the concerts at the Havre Exposition in 1887, and those of the Societe Nationale de Musique, as well as Alexandre Guilmant’s grand organ concerts at the Trocadero in Paris and many other concerts and choruses. His work as a composer is limited to a few orchestral compositions and many songs and piano pieces of a graceful and pleasing nature. Most of his compositions achieved popularity, but probably the best liked is Cinquantaine .

2. Erik Meyer-Helmund

Meyer-Helmund was born at Petrograd, Russia, April 25, 1861. His father gave him his first lessons in music, later sending the boy to Berlin to study composition with Kiel and singing and Stockhausen. Meyer-Helmund was a successful concert singer, and in composition he devoted himself to some of the larger forms, principally opera. But his reputation rests chiefly upon his songs. These were graceful and melodious, and in some cases written to words of his own. His operas, Margitta, Der Liebeskampf, and a short, one-act burlesque, Trischka, were produced without success, as was also his ballet, Rubezahl. The Daily Question was probably the first among his songs to achieve popularity, while of his piano music the Nocturne in G flat is the most favored.

3. Cornelius Gurlitt

Cornelius Gurlitt was born at Altona, in the southern part of Germany, near Hamburg, on February 10, 1820, where he died June 17, 1901. He studied music with the father of Carl Reineke, the composer. He also had lessons of Weyse. He was for some years organist at Altona and a director at the Hamburg conservatory. Gurlitt composed operas and much chamber music, but his reputation rests chiefly upon his melodic and instructive pianoforte music. He was pre-eminently a pedagog, and his intimate knowledge of “the forming of the hand” made his piano compositions of special value to the student, while his gifts as a melodist insured their welcome to the musical audience. The set of pieces, Op. 101, containing The Sunshiny Morning, The Fair, etc. is perhaps in the highest favor with the student.

4. Carl Bohm

When one hears the name of Carl Bohm, he is very likely to think at once of the song, “Still as the Night,” which has been so widely sung by all classes of musicians. This force of association is perhaps the best index of his success as a composer in writing music that has appealed to so many people. He has written prolifically for the pianoforte such pieces as Silver Stars, Polacca Brillante, Salon Mazurka, La Zingara, The Fountain, Murmuring Spring, and many other favorites. He was born in Berlin, September, 11, 1844, studied music at an early age and later became a pupil of Bischoff and of Mme. Reissmann, touring as a concert pianist.

5. Arnold Sartorio

Arnold Sartorio is of Italian ancestry, though he was born at Frankfurt-am-Main, 1853. His musical studies were carried on entirely in Germany, under August Buhl and Edward Mertke. He is a very prolific writer of the light and graceful salon music. In 1912 he completed his 1,000th opus. His compositions have gained a wide audience, the favorites among them being Overture Comique (for four hands) and I Think of Thee; as well as his many books of melodic studies.

6. Carl Koelling

Carl Koelling was born in Hamburg, February 28, 1831. He was the son of a well-known flute player, and began himself to evidence a taste for music while very young. He studied with J. Schmidt, and at the age of eleven he appeared in public. The reigning sovereign of Buckeburg, a blind man, heard the boy play and took a personal interest in him, offering to pay for his education in music. This offer his mother was obliged to decline, since she needed even the small amount the boy could earn. Later, in spite of the drawback of poverty, Koelling managed to study with Marksen, the teacher of Brahms. He became the leader of the band of the Eighth Battalion of the Army of Hamburg and founded and directed several choral societies. In 1878 Koelling came to Chicago, where he devoted himself to teaching and composing. An industrious writer, his works include many well-known pianoforte pieces, an opera, Schmetterlinge, and other compositions which achieved success. His best known work, however, is piano pieces of an educational nature. Of these latter, the favorites are Hungary, Two Flowers, Eight Measure Studies in all Keys, Duets for Teacher and Pupil, Flying Leaves and From Norway.

7. Paul Wachs

Paul Wachs, pianist and composer, was born in Paris in 1851. He studied music while a small child and later attended the Conservatoire, where, in 1872, he won first prize for organ playing. His work as a composer has been mainly along the line of salon music, for the solo piano, sacred pieces for the organ, anthems, etc. His best known salon pieces are Shower of the Stars and Ballet Mignon.

8. Carl W. Kern

Carl W. Kern was born at Schlitz, Hesse-Darmstadt, 1874. His father, an organist, gave him his first lessons in music, and later sent the boy to Friedrich Lux, organ virtuoso at Mayence. Kern came to the United States in 1893, where he took a position (at Elmhurst College, near Chicago) as teacher. Later he removed to St Louis, where he devoted himself to teaching and to composition. His works consist of salon music, songs, anthems and a few compositions for the organ. His best liked piano pieces are Told at Twilight, Ariel and Valse Episode.

9. Marie Theodore Lack

Marie Theodore Lack, pianist and composer, was born at Quimper, Finistere, France, on September 3, 1846. Bazin and Marmontel were his teachers at the Paris Conservatoire. Since 1863 he has been teaching in Paris, and is an officer of Public Education, an office he has held continuously since 1887. His work as a composer includes many salon pieces, notable for their charm and individuality. He was also written great numbers of educational and technical compositions. His best known works are Caprice Elegante and the Valse Arabesque.

10. Carl Heins

Carl Heins was born at Tangermunde, June 8, 1859. He is one of the most popular of the German salon composers, and has an easy style and an unfailing gift of melody. In early childhood he gave evidence of marked musical talent. At twelve he began to study the violin and the cornet a-piston, and later appeared as a virtuoso of the latter instrument. He studied composition with Taubert and Redecke, at Berlin and also took up voice culture with Heinrich Dorn. In Franfort-am-Main, where he went in the summer of 1883, he studied with Julius Stockhausen. Returning to Berlin he began a successful career as a teacher. Here also he directed compositions and works for the orchestra, as well as several maritorius choruses.

11. Streabbog

Streabbog, whose melodious piano pieces have pleased many, was in reality J. L. Gobbaerts, who was born in Antwerp in 1835 and died in 1886. He received his musical education at the Brussels Conservatory. He wrote more than 1,200 compositions some of which became widely known. Gobbearts wrote also under the names of Ludovic and Levi. Streabbog is Gobbaerts spelled backward. His Melodic Studies, Op. 63 and the set of piano pieces, called Little Fairies, are probably more used than any others.

12. Leo Oehmler

Leo Oehmler, born at Pittsburgh, 1867, is one of the most prolific of writers. At the age of six he took up the study of music and of painting, having showed, even at this early age, marked talent in both arts. Shortly after his seventeenth birthday he went to the Conservatory of Schwartzburg-Sonderhausen, in Germany, where he took up the study of the violin under Gruenburg, piano under Ritter and composition with Schultze. Later he attended the Conservatory at Berlin, studying with such teachers as Keyser, Erlich, Sauret, and Radecke. The latter teacher was at one time a friend of Schumann. On the completion of his studies, Oehmler returned to the United States, where he taught with much success. He has written upon musical subjects and has composed much music for the piano. His work, while along valuable, pedagogical lines, has been written with a view to getting all possible beauty into the composition. Two favorites with the public are Balcony Serenade and Dream Visions.

13. Cecile Chaminade

Cecile Louise Stephanie Chaminade, pianist and composer, was born in Paris, August 8, 1861. She studied with Lecouppey, Savart, Marsick and Godard. At eighteen she made her debut as a concert pianist, with very great success both in France and England. As a composer she is known for the peculiar charm and grace of her musical mode. While Mlle, Chaminade has composed in the larger forms, symphonies, choruses, she is known best by her ballet, Callifhoe, and by numerous pieces for the pianoforte, The Scarf Dance, Serenade, Butterflies, Flatterer.

14. Benjamin Louis Paul Godard

Benjamin Louis Paul Godard was born in Paris, August 18, 1849. He studied violin with Richard Hammer, entering the Conservatoire in 1863. He was a pupil of Henri Reber. Although Godard is best known by his salon music, he was also a successful composer in the large forms. His opera Tasso, received the prize offered by the City of Paris for musical compositions, and was later performed with success. A one-act opera, Les Bijous de Jeannette, was given in Paris in 1878, and his grand opera, Pedro De Zalamea, was performed in Antwerp, but without much success. His suite, Lanterne Magique, met with a warm reception in England, and is still played there. He wrote other operas – Le Dante, Jeanne d’Arc, La Vicandiere, Les Guelphes, Ruy Blas, and Jocelyn, this latter being best known because of the charming Berceuse, which is a favorite with singers, and which is, perhaps, the only excerpt from any of his operas to achieve marked success. One really notable triumph attained by Godard was in a series of five tone poems for orchestra, musical settings of poems by Victor Hugo, de Lisle, de Chatillon. To one of these poems, Les Elephantes, Godard contrived a musical description that gave the impression to the listener, of ponderous weight.

Godard was a composer with fine gifts, but he was content with a first reading of his compositions, and he let much work go out to the public, which merited careful revision, and which in a measure failed of its effect, because he did not give it that minute scrutiny which made the works of great composers (notably Beethoven) so perfect.

He died at Cannes, January 10, 1895.

Of his songs, the best liked are the Berceuse form Jocelyn, Embarques Vous, and Florian’s Song. The Second Mazurka, of his piano pieces, has been played more than any other, because of its brilliancy ad melodic content.

15. Geza Horvath

Geza Horvath, composer, was born in Komeron, Hungary, May 27, 1868. He studied with Schytte and other well-known teachers a Vienna, where later he became director of the Vienna Music School. He wrote many – about sixty – pianoforte pieces, easy and melodious. Two favorites among his compositions are Waving Scarves and Marionettes.

16. Hans Englemann

As more of Englemann’s life was spent in America than in Europe and since practically all o fhis productive work was done in this country, he is thought of now as an American composer. Born in Berlin, June 16, 1872, of a fine family, he was a pupil of Reineke, Loeschorn and Mashel. Coming to America at an early age, he studied with Mohr in Philadelphia; and it was to this teacher than Englemann during his lifetime gave the credit for his musical proficiency.

Establishing himself in Philadelphia as a teacher, he soon found that his remarkable ability to turn out attractive pieces which teachers and students admired would also afford him an income. Thus as a young man he commenced turning out new pieces in a never ending stream – sometimes three and four pieces a day. Indeed his compositions came so fast that many nome-de-plumes were employed, so that too many compositions by the same man would not appear at the same time. This often brought about laughable results, as musicians who professed not to like the pieces of Englemann would often hold up the composition of the same man, published under an assumed name, as models which Englemann should follow if he would write in an approved manner. Englemann wrote in all under various names over 3,000 compositions, the most popular of all being the Melody of Love. However, others, such as Apple Blossoms, In the Arena, When the Lights are Low, were almost as highly favored. Englemann died in Philadelphia, May 5, 1914.

17. Anton Schmoll

Anton Schmoll was born in 1841, in Fromberg, Germany. Though a Teuton by the accident of birth, he is a French citizen by choice, having been naturalized at the age of twenty three, on the completion of his compulsory service in the German army. He studied civil engineering at the age of eighteen, but on removing to France he took up the serious study of music. He has written a large number of piano studies, sonatas and much salon music. His works are well known and extensively used in France. His avocations are astronomy and psychic research. On Flammarion’s invitation he became one of the twelve founders of the Societe Astronimique. His statistics of sun spots received favorable notice by the Academie des Sciences in 1887 and 1892. He also write for the psychological journals and has furnished numerous reports upon telepathy to the British Society for Psychical Research. His sonatinas and his pianoforte methods are highly favored, as well as his piano pieces, such as Mocking Echo and March of the Crusaders.