In the mid-1890s the possibilities of the drawing-room ballad seemed to have been exhausted. Efforts to ensure its future led British ballad composers along the path of greater complexity, particularly with respect to harmony and the technical demands made on singer and accompanist. Composers in the United States, on the other hand, were moving in a different direction, producing ballads in a new and simple sentimental style. These flowed in abundance from an area surrounding Union Square, New York, known as 'Tin Pan Alley'. The origin of the name is attributed to Harry Von Tilzer (best known for 'A Bird in a Gilded Cage' of 1900), who said that the clatter of pianos sounding from open windows in every direction reminded him of tin pans (Shepherd 2). Among the many influential figures who set up business there was Charles K. Harris, the 'father of Tin Pan Alley', who wrote and composed the famous song 'After the Ball' (1892) and was author of the standard text How To Write a Popular Song. The emphasis in Tin Pan Alley was on speed of production, followed by aggressive marketing using bribes and 'plants' (planted supporters in an audience), and, at the close of the century, employing professional 'pluggers' whosejob was to advertise their firm's wares to suitable artistes. Pluggers also sang their publishing house's songs in music shops, restaurants, on street corners, and anywhere else they could command attention. The stimulus to all this activity was the new mass market which had been created by the US industrial revolution (c. 1860-1900). The population of cities swelled dramatically as the economy changed from rural to industrial; New York grew from 800,000 in 1860 to 2,500,000 in 1900, and had become the centre of music publishing in the United States in the 1880s (Shepherd 23).

Vaudeville theatres were the main shop window for Tin Pan Alley songs. Vaudeville was the new and respectable family entertainment begun in New York by Tony Pastor after the Civil War. The respectable character of this entertainment was important because it meant that middle-class women could attend, thereby guaranteeing sheet-music sales. Blackface minstrelsy gradually lost its pre-eminence and gave way to vaudeville in the 1890s. Minstrelsy had become more and more overblown and reliant on spectacle from the late 1870s when J. H. Haverly's Mastodon Minstrels were all the rage because of the size of the troupe (they were an unheard of forty strong) and their lavish productions. In the 1880s minstrelsy in Britain was exhibiting the same tendency towards opulent and spectacular shows, till the final stage was reached in which the troupes [198/199] started to adopt the attire of the old courtly aristocracy, such as kneebreeches and powdered wigs. The traditional kind of minstrelsy was soon to be represented only by nostalgia shows. At the seaside resorts Pierrot shows were rapidly replacing the minstrels in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Apart from minstrelsy the strongest influences on the initial style of Tin Pan Alley were British music-hall and the New York entertainments of Harrigan and Hart. Dave Braham, who composed the music to Ned Harrigan's words, was, in fact, a Londoner. The Harrigan and Hart shows were light comedies, usually based on an Irish theme: their first big success was The Mulligan Guard (1873), and one of the best-known of the Harrigan—Braham songs is 'Maggie Murphy's Home'.3 The Tin Pan Alley style developed as a result of a dialectical interplay between publishers and consumers. The industry was never sure it knew the formula for success and therefore engaged in constant market research (to discover which songs sold best) and product testing (to gauge the reactions of performers and audience, and to weigh the risks of publication).

The first successful composer connected with the birth of Tin Pan Alley is Paul Dresser. His ballads 'On the Banks of the Wabash' and 'The Pardon Came Too Late' (both written and composed by him in 1891) sowed the seeds of the early style: two rather than three verses, and with each line being set syllabically in short and regular musical phrases; the structure is verse and refrain, with a generous amount of melodic and rhythmic repetition, though the chorus has an independent, almost detachable, quality not found in minstrel song.4 Dresser's influence can be detected in Harry Armstrong's songs of the next century, such as 'Sweet Adeline' (1903) and 'Nellie Dean' (1905).5 In early Tin Pan Alley songs the verse (which told the story) was always longer than the chorus; the latter was most frequently 16 bars long (32 if triple time), constructed on the typical British music-hall plan ABAC (where each letter denotes a musical phrase). The 16-bar ABAC structure was overtaken by the 32-bar AABA format later, as in 'Ain't She Sweet?' of 1927. Even if the singer and accompanist enjoyed some musical independence in the verse section, the piano invariably reinforced the tune of the chorus.6 The weight of the song's appeal moved more pronouncedly to the chorus when it became conventional to end the verse in the dominant key in order to create expectation. This shift of emphasis (which eventually led to choruses becoming the only memorable parts of songs) is evident in 'Sweet Rosie O'Grady' of 1896, and is made markedly so by the contrast between duple time verse and triple time chorus.7 Triple time was common in Tin Pan Alley songs and stands as testimony to the continuing attraction of the valse boston (the forerunner of the 'modern waltz'). Sometimes the lilting movement seems singularly at odds with the words, as in G. L. Davis's 'In the Baggage Coach Ahead' (1896), the tale of a man escorting his dead wife in her coffin by rail, accompanied by their crying child.8 Nevertheless, this kind of song caught on in Britain, as is shown by 'Give Me a Ticket to Heaven' of 1903.9

One of the striking features of Tin Pan Alley songs is their use of musical clichés. This is generally taken to be symptomatic of the application of formula in their construction. Yet, although the songwriters of Tin Pan Alley were indeed keen to discover an archetypal successful song formula which could then be put [199/200] into production with minimal changes over and over again, they were no more able to achieve this than were the songwriters for Boosey's ballad concerts. The musical clichés are more likely to be a reflection of the speed of production: clichés are ubiquitous in improvised music, for example, usually passing under such names as 'licks' (stereotyped accompaniment patterns) and 'ending tags' (stereotyped patterns at the close of a musical phrase). Typical Tin Pan Alley 'ending tags' are given below; the first might come half-way through a chorus, the second at the end.

The number of clichés which entered the songs increased when the influence of the improvized 'jig piano' of black musicians began to be felt. The decline of the minstrel show had also affected black musicians, who were now returning to performing for mainly black audiences and developing new black styles (black vaudeville for whites did not arrive until the 1930s). The term 'ragtime' was first coined for this music by a Chicago journalist in 1897, but by then it was becoming a non-improvisational form (the Scott Joplin rags contain no improvisation). Ragtime swept Tin Pan Alley in two waves, the most successful ragtime song of the early period being 'Hello! Ma Baby' of 1899, and the most successful song of the ragtime revival being 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' of 1911, which actually only had its verse written in ragtime. Of course, singers went back to earlier songs and gave them a ragtime treatment: a notable example was 'Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home', which in its 1902 edition contained no ragtime rhythms. The first wave of ragtime from the United States had little obvious impact in Britain; yet the infectious rhythmic character of some of Leslie Stuart's songs, like 'Lily of Laguna' (1898), is undoubtedly indebted to the new style.


Tin Pan Alley triumphantly reversed the direction of traffic in music, which till then, with the exception of minstrelsy, had flowed from Britain to the United States. Previously, British music-hall had offered opportunities for American composers (like Alfred Lee, who supplied the music to Leybourne's songs 'Champagne Charlie' [performance by author] and 'The Man on the Flying Trapeze'); now vaudeville enticed British composers to cross the Atlantic. Harry Dacre, well known for 'Daisy Bell' (1892), was one who succumbed to this temptation ('I'll Be Your Sweetheart' was written in the United States in 1899) and Felix McGlennon was another. Songs written for the US market were found to be serviceable for the UK market. Even songs written specifically for the Spanish-American War of 1898 (a conflict which was short-lived and represented a poor investment for music publishers) were recycled for the Boer War; an example is 'Dolly Gray'. A problem arose only with regard to place names (though, strangely, not one affecting Stuart's references to Laguna and Idaho): songs which vaunted a prominent foreign name, like 'On the Banks of the Wabash' were under a handicap. All the same, this difficulty could be felicitously overcome, as when Harry Von Tilzer's 'Under the Anheuser Busch' was transformed into 'Down at the Old Bull and Bush' (the name of a Hampstead pub — image).

At the turn of the century the United States, not Britain, was the leading force in the commercial music industry. Even what might be termed the British style of ballad had found rivals in the compositions of Reginald De Koven, Ethelbert Nevin, and Carrie Jacobs Bond. As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, the British ballad was becoming more complex, taking on in a watered-down fashion some of the innovations, especially harmonic, of composers like Brahms, Wagner, and Liszt. British composers still looked to Germany for their training, as singers looked to Italy. There was conviction in the progress of musical art: John Barnett felt able to say categorically in 1891, 'I think there has been a great improvement in the smaller compositions as compared with those of a hundred years ago.'10 At the same time there was a feeling that music in Europe was approaching a turning point when people would 'tire of this constant striving after effect' and revert to simplicity" (Cummings 170). Simplicity was restored to ballad composition by Tin Pan Alley and it would be tempting to see this alone as the reason for the decline of the British ballad.

There are other factors to consider, however, not the least of which concerns the improvements made to the comfort and safety of bicycles. The attraction bicycling held for young women in the 1890s created growing resentment in the music trades, culminating in a welter of anti-cycling propaganda in 1896. Here is an example taken from the Musical Times of May of that year:

We may point out that a new and most formidable enemy of the pianoforte has arisen of late in the bicycle . . . there are literally thousands of young ladies whose leisure hours, formerly passed in large part on the music-stool, are now spent in the saddle of the 'iron bird' . . . proof positive is afforded by advertisements which announce the sale of pianofortes by individuals at great sacrifice on the ground that their owners are 'going in for cycling'. [Quoted in Scholes 2:876]


Attempts were made to dissuade women from cycling by appealing to their concern for health — 'the rapid passage through the air may be a positive source of danger' (876) — or by appealing to their vanity — 'the bicycle hand . . . becomes flattened, bulges out at the sides, gets lumpy and out of shape, and the fingers all become crooked' (876). The last bit of'expert' advice issued from the United States where cycling was also turning women away from music during their leisure hours. It would be wrong, therefore, to see the bicycle as something only threatening the profits of the British music trade. The situation was obviously being exaggerated, since there still remained an enormous demand for teachers of music (particularly piano teachers), the number of 'music masters' almost doubling between 1881 and 1911, according to census figures (See Mackerness 233). These teachers were forced to compete in a 'payment by results' environment when the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music developed a system of graded examinations (which could be taken only on 'respectable' instruments). However, their pupils were now able to gain good passes in all of the exams by restricting their learning to a few pieces a year. In 1899 the British Medical Journal voiced their concern not against cycling but against too much piano practice, suggesting it was responsible for 'the chloroses [green sickness — a form of anaemia] and neuroses from which so many young girls suffer', and adding, 'All- except perhaps teachers of music — will agree that at the present day the piano is too much with us' (Quoted in Ehrlich 92).

Since the Diamond Jubilee of 1897 prompted so much summing up of achievements during the Queen's reign, it is a convenient date to choose for assessing the continuity and discontinuity between the music-making of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One of the comments made with pride during the Jubilee year was 'we get more music now in one month than they had in the whole of the year 1839'.17 The years that followed, up to 1914, continued to see a spread of choirs and orchestras, opera companies, brass bands, and recitals of various kinds. Yet some of the long-established concerts were on the wane in the 1890s: the Monday 'Pops' closed down in 1893, the Saturday 'Pops' closing, too, in 1903, and there was diminishing interest in the triennial Crystal Palace Handel Festival, the audience dropping by a quarter between 1888 and 1897. Enthusiasm for tonic sol-fa had also passed its peak, for, although it was a 'great cause for congratulation' that music had 'come within the grasp of the horny-handed sons of toil', it was now hoped that the tonic sol-faists would 'soon recognize the drag which the letter notation imposes on the progress of school singing and musical education generally' (147-48.).

The drawing-room ballad, as already remarked at the beginning of this chapter, was at a turning point; two years before the Jubilee a writer pronounced, 'The old drawing-room ballad is as dead as Thomas Haynes Bayly.'19 Nevertheless, in the twentieth century the ballad made a temporary recovery: 1919 was one of Boosey's best years for ballad sales, and the Ballad Concerts were not terminated until 1936. There were certain broad changes in the Edwardian ballad which set it apart from the Victorian variety. The 'moral fibre' was different; either Victorian solemnity gave way to Edwardian forced gaiety, or sentimentality was employed for its own sake rather than to reinforce a moral [202/203] message (hence the use of narrative was not so necessary). The richer harmonies of the later ballad might be interpreted as cloying and decadent in the 1890s, but sophisticated in the 1900s. Moreover, a new artistic ambitiousness was evident in the production of ballad cycles, prompted by the great success of Liza Lehmann's In a Persian Garden of 1896 (words selected from Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam).

Several new directions were taken in early twentieth-century ballads. The emergence of a new kind of imperialist song has been noted in Chapter 8. Emotional but 'stiff upper-lipped' appeals to patriotism took the place of boastful threats to the enemy set in vigorous strains. It is this, the sentiment of ballads like 'Land of Hope and Glory', which still moves many today, while Felix McGlennon's 'Sons of the Sea' (1897) is found ludicrous. Though the latter remained well known for the first half of this century (made famous by Arthur Reece), the second line of the chorus came to be changed from 'All British born!' to 'Bobbing up and down like this' (accompanied by actions), thus deflating the jingoism. The historical pageantry so favoured in Edwardian ballads may be traced back to the Diamond Jubilee which exceeded the 1887 Golden Jubilee in every respect. Among the ritualistic musical offerings were Cowen's 'All Hail the Glorious Reign' (words by C. Bingham) and Elgar's 'The Banner of St George' (words by S. Wensley). Jubilee commemorations and memorabilia were everywhere: trees were planted, medals awarded, villages had new water pumps, and innumerable other ways were found to mark the occasion. The monarchy was now firmly entrenched as a symbol of Britain and all things British; one of the ballad 'hits' of the 1897 Jubilee, Leslie Stuart's 'The Soldiers of the Queen', demonstrates this in its title (the words of the song were later rewritten to aid recruiting for the Boer War). The period of the Queen's reign was already being openly referred to as 'the Victorian age' during the previous Jubilee20 and it is no surprise that comparisons with the long reign of Elizabeth I would increase. This left its mark in the fascination with 'merrie England' and characters like Drake so often encountered in Edwardian ballads.

Love songs, especially of an exotic nature, were far more prevalent than before. Musical comedies from the United States, like Kerker's The Belle of New York, had pioneered a new boldness in the expression of male and female relationships (see, for example, Fifi's song 'Oh, Teach Me How To Kiss'), and a few years later Viennese operettas, like Lehar's The Merry Widow, introduced a new sensuous manner. The passionate and seductive sensuality found in 'Come, Come I Love You Only' from Oscar Straus's The Chocolate Soldier is on a different plane from the melancholy, if equally passionate, yearning of Woodforde-Finden's 'Kashmiri Song'. Viennese operetta for a while blocked the flow of stage works from the United States which looked set to swamp British theatres after the tremendously successful run of The Belle of New York at London's Shaftesbury Theatre from 1898 to 1901.

Songs in vernacular speech or dialect form another prominent type of Edwardian ballad. These songs fall into two categories, those purporting to be the expression of the common soldier or sailor, and those sporting a rustic character. The former have their origin in Kipling's Barrack-Room Ballads (Newbolt doing for [203/204] the Navy what Kipling did for the Army), while the latter show the influence of the Folksong Movement. They may have original music, like Vaughan Williams' | 'Linden Lea', or only the words may be fresh, as in Weatherly's 'Danny Boy'; there again, they may contain a mixture of traditional and new, as in 'The Floral Dance' by Katie Moss. In the last-mentioned ballad the tale of refreshment afforded to a tired urban soul by a traditional Cornish dance can be read as a metaphor for the condition of the drawing-room ballad at that time. Folksong research began to have an impact on the drawing-room ballad about the time of the Diamond Jubilee, when Boosey published Arthur Grimshaw's ballad 'The Songs My Mother Sang', described as a 'Come-all-ye' and making use of traditional words and tunes. The Folk-Song Society was itself founded the year after the Jubilee.

It was not just the drawing-room ballad into which the Folksong Movement helped breathe new life; this movement and that of musical antiquarianism, rather than the much lauded German music and German musical instruction, proved to be the means of kindling an English musical renaissance. In the nineteenth century British composers were sent to study in Germany; music of the German school was synonymous with the term 'classical music' and carried no suggestion of national style. Only when the subject of national styles started to intrigue composers was there much thought given to the question of the appropriateness of German musical practices to British composers. The search for national character, as noted in Chapter 8, led composers towards an elusive and largely mythical category of music given the label 'folk music'. One of the remarkable achievements of Sullivan was that, having mastered both German and Italian compositional techniques, he moved away to create a style dominated by neither. Thus he anticipated later developments in British music, particularly when he reverted to a manner evocative of an old English air, as in 'I Have a Song To Sing, O!' from Yeomen of the Guard (1888). The attractive and imaginative musical idiom Sullivan developed from Trial by Jury (1875) onward precipitated the two-way split of burlesque into operetta and variety entertainment. It is an accepted notion now that Vaughan Williams and company rid English concert life of the stifling effect of poorly imitated German music, but in the year of Sullivan's death it had seemed a valid claim that his Golden Legend of 1886 'finally drove Mendelssohnianism off the concert platform'.21 However, forward-looking as Sullivan may have appeared in some ways, by the end of the century his reliance on literal descriptive effects was beginning to be thought outmoded. Even in 1893 The Golden Legend came in for criticism on these grounds.

Sullivan provides one line of continuity between the ballad of the early twentieth century and that of the nineteenth; but it is the songs of his operettas which proved more enduring and influential in this respect (Edward German can clearly be seen assuming Sullivan's mantle). Another unbroken line links the big sacred ballads of the 1890s with those which came later. Sacred songs continued to sell steadily, including those written for a combination of piano and harmonium accompaniment, like Teresa Del Riego's 'The Perfect Prayer' of 1908. It would be mistaken, too, to assume that Victorian ballads were merely forgotten; there was a stream of publications offering selections of these. [204/205] A boost for ballads came with the birth of the gramophone industry. At first, the cost of records automatically restricted their purchase to the wealthy, ensuring that middle-class taste was well served. A record of Patti singing 'Home, Sweet Home!' retailed at £1 in 1906 (Scholes 2:790). Eventually, of course, records would begin to outsell sheet music, but that was a long way ahead. When another Patti, Patti Page, had a hit in 1950 with 'Tennessee Waltz' it proved to be the last time a song had sheet music sales exceeding one million; subsequently disc sales displaced sheet music sales (and even this disc overtook its sheet music sales six times over by 1967).24 All the big Tin Pan Alley hits, from 'After the Ball' onwards, had sold well over a million copies of sheet music.

The drawing-room ballad lingered on for many years, promoted by singers like Peter Dawson (a pupil of Charles Santley and a prolific recorder for the gramophone). In variety shows the description 'ballad vocalist' on the bill denoted a singer who specialized in this kind of repertoire. The ballad still thrived in seaside pavilions, though Tin Pan Alley may have occupied the beach. The music of blackface minstrelsy continued to resonate too: Paul Robeson inherited the drawing-room leanings of minstrel song, while G. H. Elliot and Al Jolson took over the vaudeville side (now blended with ragtime). It must be said, however, that Robeson moved from the transparent racism of songs such as 'Honey (Dat's All)' which contained the lines 'Angels brought yo' in da night, Done forgot to make yo' white' to a version of 'Ol' Man River' rewritten from a socialist perspective. The great Victorian institution of the 'musical evening' also con- tinued into the twentieth century, although in the words of Maurice Disher, 'the sense of tribal duty was lacking'.25


Here I must end what has been a book devoted very much to a general survey of this music and historical period. I emphasize again that there was no actual end to British ballad production in 1897 or 98; it was merely the end of a boom, and therefore a convenient point to conclude this survey, since the ballad in the twentieth century demands a book to itself. Some types of ballad, as I have already mentioned, continued to flourish at the turn of the century, unaffected by Tin Pan Alley, Viennese operetta, or musical comedy from the United States — prominent among these were the sacred ballad and what might loosely be termed the 'imperialist' ballad and the 'rustic' ballad. The drawing-room ballad enjoyed another boom immediately after the Great War. Yet it is interesting to note that in a recent collection of original recordings of songs and music of the First World War (Saydisc CSDL 358, 1986) about a third of the musical items date from the nineteenth century; nothing has supplanted 'old favourites' like 'The Deathless Army' and 'Boys of the Old Brigade'.

Virtually every aspect of nineteenth-century bourgeois 'popular song' needs further research, together with a detailed study of the domestic instrumental music. There is a lot more work to be done on the early market (pre-1870), but even my account of the later, rapidly expanding market is sketchy. The Boosey [205/206] Ballad Concerts would make an excellent centre piece for a deeper analysis of the 'ballad boom'. More evidence is required and more research needed on the reception and use of bourgeois song; indeed the whole question of nineteenth- century bourgeois song and hegemony needs to be tackled in greater detail. On the subject of cheap concerts, choirs and bands, broached in Chapter 9, I should draw the reader's attention to Dave Russell's new book (published in 1987 as this work was going to press) for a wealth of information of which I was unaware when writing my own account (see bibliography). Among other matters, those which spring first to mind in calling for particular exploration are the ideological side of the growth of the music market, the class basis of revivalism, and its relation to gospel song, and the way bourgeois domestic music has been mediated (perhaps it could be argued that its removal from the 'art music' canon was an attempt to disguise the conflicts in bourgeois music). To end on a musical matter, the way in which the music itself articulates meaning in drawing-room ballads also deserves to be investigated. [206/207]

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Last modified 20 June 2012