Victor Herbert (1859–1924) was an Irish-American composer, conductor, and activist whose greatest artistic legacy lies in his role as the grandfather of the American musical theater. Certainly Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, and perhaps Stephen Schwartz have more immediate name recognition. However their musicals would not have been possible without the pioneering work of Victor Herbert.
Herbert almost single-handedly moved Broadway into, through, and out of its operetta phase. Operetta is a light, usually comic, form of opera with spoken dialogue, songs, and dances that flourished during the second half of the nineteenth century and first two decades of the twentieth century. It evolved into revues such as the Ziegfeld Follies and by mid century had been largely superseded by book musicals, such as those by Rodgers and Hammerstein and others.
Herbert's operetta Prince Ananias (1894) was the first of more than forty works that dominated the American musical stage for nearly three decades, concluding with The Ziegfeld Follies of 1924. His most popular work, Babes in Toyland (1903), is still regularly produced, and "The March of the Toys" and "Toyland" have become Christmas classics.
A man of enormous energy, Herbert also served as Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, his 22nd Regiment Band, and his Victor Herbert Orchestra. As well he championed Irish causes in the U.S. and in Ireland, recorded extensively for the Edison and Victor Recording labels, and was the founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), which continues to ensure that copyright holders receive royalties for performance of their work.
Herbert's music has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, marked by new productions of the musicals, recordings of the concert works, and a new biography. Scholars now acknowledge his founding role in American musical theater and are taking a fresh look at his concert music and his important role in American culture.
The Musical Worlds of Victor Herbert examines the multifaceted life of this influential musician through materials selected from vast Victor Herbert Collection at the Library of Congress. The Library hopes that the exhibition will inspire visitors to take a look at—or better still—listen to the magical musical worlds of the great Victor Herbert.