Skip to main content

How Santa Claus Became a Slave Driver: The Work of Print Culture in a Nineteenth-Century Musical Controversy


The transnational character of the literate musical community in the United States created an environment in which language barriers, ideological biases, and other potential sources of misunderstanding caused print items to change shape quickly as they were transferred from one reader to the next. The aesthetic controversy between William Henry Fry and Richard Storrs Willis surrounding the 1853 premiere of Fry's Santa Claus: Christmas Symphony provides a rich case in point. The controversy at times seemed to draw from a parallel debate in Europe, often called “The War of the Romantics,” which concerned the future of symphonic composition and music's capacity for representation. At others, the controversy seemed to diverge from its European counterpart as central concepts were articulated in new intellectual contexts. The vagaries of print culture help explain these discrepancies. This article outlines the central arguments of the debate, situates them within their transatlantic contexts, and examines how print culture played a significant role in the controversy's unfolding as early as 1839, fifteen years before it took place. More broadly, it constructs a new framework for examining the function and meaning of nineteenth-century music periodicals by illustrating how an antislavery newspaper became an unlikely voice in a debate over program music.

Hide All
Theodore Thomas Collection, Rosenthal Archives, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
William Henry Fry Collection, Library Company of Philadelphia
The Albion (New York)
Anti-Slavery Bugle (Salem, OH)
Dwight's Journal of Music (Boston)
Harper's Weekly (New York)
The Knickerbocker (New York)
The Musical Magazine (Boston)
Musical World (London)
Musical World and Times (New York)
The National Era (Washington, D.C.)
New-York Daily Tribune
New-York Evening Post
New-York Musical Review and Choral Advocate
New-York Times
Watson's Art Journal
The Boston Slave Riot, and Trial of Anthony Burns. Boston: William V. Spencer, 1854.
Bowen, Eli. The United States Post-Office Guide. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1851.
Brendel, Franz. “Einige Worte über Malerei in der Tonkunst,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 32 (1850): 241–44 and 249–50.
Brendel, Franz. “Fragen der Zeit. II: Die Ereignisse der Gegenwart in ihrem Einfluß auf die Gestaltung der Kunst,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 28 (1848): 193–96.
Brendel, Franz. Geschichte der Musik in Italien, Deutschland, und Frankreich. Von den ersten christlichen Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart. Zweiundzwanzig Vorlesungen gehalten zu Leipzig in Jahre 1850. Leipzig: Bruno Henze, 1852.
Clarke, James Freeman. The Rendition of Anthony Burns: Its Causes and Consequences. A Discourse on Christian Politics Delivered in Williams Hall, Boston, on Whitsunday June 4, 1854. Boston: Crosby, Nichols, & Co. and Prentiss & Sawyer, 1854.
Cornelius, Peter. “Concertmusik.” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 41 (1854): 257–59.
F. Dr. “Musicalische Zustände in den Vereinigten Staaten von Nordamerica.” Niederrheinische Musik-Zeitung für Kunstfreunde und Künstler 2 (1854): 105–106 and 113–16.
Fétis, François-Joseph. “Richard Wagner: Sa vie—Son système de rénovation de l’opéra—Ses œuvres comme poète et comme musicien—Son parti en Allemagne—Appréciation de la valeur de ses idées.” La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris 19 (1852): 185–87, 193–95, 201–203, 209–11, 225–27, 242–45, and 257–59.
Fry, William Henry. “A Letter from Mr. Fry.” Musical World and Times 8 (1854): 2931 and 34.
Fry, William Henry. “Rejoinder from Mr. Fry.” Musical World and Times 8 (1854): 7476.
Hoplit [Richard Pohl]. “Ein Blick nach dem ‘fernen Westen’. Offenes Sendschreiben an Mr. J. S. Dwight.” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 39 (1853): 269–73.
Hunt, Freeman. Worth and Wealth: A Collection of Maxims, Morals, and Miscellanies for Merchants and Men of Business. New York: Stringer and Townsend, 1856.
Krüger, Eduard. “Beziehungen zwischen Kunst und Politik.” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 50 (1848): 405.
Liszt, Franz. “Berlioz und seine Haroldsymphonie.” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 43 (1855): 2532, 37–46, 49–55, 77–84, and 89–97.
Mason, Lowell. Musical Letters from Abroad: Including Detailed Accounts of the Birmingham, Norwich, and Dusseldorf Musical Festivals of 1852. New York: Mason Brothers, 1854.
Ritter, Frédéric Louis. Music in America. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1883.
Schucht, Joseph. “Der überwundene Standpunkt der Tonkunst.” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 50 (1848): 536–38 and 755–59.
Stevens, Charles Emery. Anthony Burns: A History. Boston: John P. Jewett and Co., 1856.
Wagner, Richard. Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen. 4th ed. 10 vols. Leipzig: C. F. W. Siegel, 1907.
Willis, Richard Storrs. “Reply to Mr. Fry, of the Tribune.” Musical World and Times 8 (1854): 3739.
Willis, Richard Storrs. “Reply to Mr. Fry of the Tribune, Number II.” Musical World and Times 8 (1854): 8587.
AcreeWilliam Garrett, Jr. William Garrett, Jr.Everyday Reading: Print Culture and Collective Identity in Rio de la Plata, 1780–1910. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2011.
Altenburg, Detlef. “Vom poetisch Schönen: Franz Liszts Auseinandersetzung mit der Musikästhetik Eduard Hanslicks.” In Ars Musica, Musica Scientia: Festschrift Heinrich Hüschen zum fünfundsechzigsten Geburstag am 2 März 1980, ed. Altenburg, Detlef, 19. Köln: Gitarre und Laute, 1980.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev ed. London: Verso, 2006.
Berger, Jonah. Contagious: Why Things Catch On. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013.
Bomberger, E. Douglas. “The German Musical Training of American Students, 1850–1900.” Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland at College Park, 1991.
Bonds, Mark Evan. Absolute Music: The History of an Idea. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Bonds, Mark Evan. After Beethoven: Imperatives of Originality in the Symphony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.
Bonds, Mark Evan. “Beethoven's Shadow: The Nineteenth Century.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Symphony, ed. Horton, Julian, 323–43. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Bonds, Mark Evan. “Symphony, II: 19th Century.” Grove Music Online.
Broyles, Michael. “Music of the Highest Class”: Elitism and Populism in Antebellum Boston. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.
Cazden, Robert. A Social History of the German Book Trade in America to the Civil War. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1984.
Chase, Gilbert. America's Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present. Music in American Life. Rev. 3rd ed.Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
Curtis, Robert Lee. Ludwig Bischoff: A Mid-Nineteenth-Century Music Critic. Köln: A. Volk, 1979.
Davison, Mary Veronica. “American Music Periodicals, 1853–1899.” Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1973.
Dahlhaus, Carl. Nineteenth-Century Music. Trans. Robinson, J. Bradford. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
Deaville, James A. “The Controversy Surrounding Liszt's Conception of Program Music.” In Nineteenth-Century Music: Selected Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference, ed. Samson, Jim and Zon, Bennett, 98124. Aldershot, Hants, UK: Ashgate, 2002.
Dennison, Sam and Schleifer, Martha Furman, eds. Three Centuries of American Music: A Collection of Sacred and Secular Music. Vol. 9, American Orchestral Music 1800 through 1879. Ed. Dennison, Sam. Boston: G.K. Hall and Co., 1992.
Dooley, Brendan, ed. The Dissemination of the News and the Emergence of Contemporaneity. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2010.
Ellis, Katharine. Music Criticism in Nineteenth-Century France: La Revue Gazette et Musicale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Fleche, Andre M.The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
Frank, Albert J. von.The Trials of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson's Boston. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Frisch, Walter. Brahms: The Four Symphonies. New York: Schirmer, 1996.
Garratt, James. Music, Culture, and Social Reform in the Age of Wagner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. New York: Back Bay Books, 2002.
Goodman, Glenda. “Musical Sleuthing in Early America: ‘Derry Down’ and the XYZ Affair.” Common-place 13 (Winter 2013).
Grey, Thomas S.Wagner's Musical Prose: Texts and Contexts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Gur, Golan. “Music and ‘Weltanschauung’: Franz Brendel and the Claims of Universal History.” Music & Letters 93 (2012): 350–73.
Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Trans. Burger, Thomas and Lawrence, Frederick. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989.
Henkin, David M.City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
Henkin, David M.. The Postal Age: The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Hepokoski, James. “Beethoven Reception: The Symphonic Tradition.” In The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Music, ed. Samson, Jim, 424–59. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Honeck, Mischa. We Are the Revolutionists: German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists After 1848. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.
Hruschka, John. How Books Came to America: The Rise of the American Book Trade. Penn State Series in the History of the Book. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2012.
Kallberg, Jeffrey. “The Rhetoric of Genre: Chopin's Nocturne in G Minor.” 19th-Century Music 11 (1988): 238–61.
Lawrence, Vera Brodky. Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995–99 [1988].
Lawrence, Vera Brodky. “William Henry Fry's Messianic Yearnings: The Eleven Lectures, 1852–53.” American Music 7 (1989): 382411.
Leypoldt, Günter. Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman: A Transatlantic Perspective. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.
Liley, Thomas. “Invention and Development.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Saxophone, ed. Ingham, Richard, 119. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Maltz, Earl M.Fugitive Slave on Trial: The Anthony Burns Case and Abolitionist Outrage. Landmark Law Cases and American Society. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2010.
McKnight, Mark. “Wagner and the New York Press, 1855–1876.” American Music 5 (1987): 145–55.
Mueller, Rena Charmin. “Liszt (and Wagner) in New York, 1840–1890.” In European Music and Musicians in New York City, 1840–1900, ed. Graziano, John, 5070. Eastman Studies in Music. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2006.
Newcomb, Anthony. “Once More ‘Between Absolute and Program Music’: Schumann's Second Symphony,” 19th-Century Music 7 (1984): 233–50.
Newman, Nancy. Good Music for a Free People: The Germania Musical Society in Nineteenth-Century America. Eastman Studies in Music. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2010.
Nicholson, Bob. “‘You Kick the Bucket; We do the Rest!’: Jokes and the Culture of Reprinting in theTransatlantic Press.” Journal of Victorian Culture 17 (2012): 273–86.
Pederson, Sanna. “Defining the Term ‘Absolute Music’ Historically,” Music & Letters 90 (2009): 240–62.
Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. 2nd ed.New York: Routledge, 2008.
Preston, Katherine K.American Orchestral Music at the Middle of the Nineteenth Century: Louis Antoine Jullien and George Bristow's Jullien Symphony.” In Symphony No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 24 (“Jullien”), by Bristow, George Frederick, xv–cvi. Ed. Katherine K. Preston. Recent Researches in American Music 72. Music of the United States of America 23. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2011.
Preston, Katherine K.. “‘A Concentration of Talent on Our Musical Horizon’: The 1853–54 Tour by Jullien's Extraordinary Orchestra.” In American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Spitzer, John, 319–47. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Ritterman, Janet. “Schumann and the English Critics: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Musical Reception.” In Musical Dimensions: A Festschrift for Doreen Bridges, ed. Comte, Martin, 192211. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2009.
Saloman, Ora Frishberg. “Presenting Berlioz's Music in New York, 1846–1890: Carl Bergmann, Theodore Thomas, Leopold Damrosch.” In European Music & Musicians in New York City, ed. Graziano, John, 2949. Eastman Studies in Music. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2006.
Shadle, Douglas. “Music of a More Perfect Union: Symphonic Constructions of National Identity, 1840–1870.” Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2010.
Sicherman, Barbara. “Ideologies and Practices of Reading.” In A History of the Book in America, Volume 3: The Industrial Book, 1840–1880, ed. Casper, Scott E., Groves, Jeffrey D., Nissenbaum, Stephen W., and Winship, Michael, 279302. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
Stevenson, Karen M. “The Music Criticism of Franz Brendel.” Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1994.
Temperley, Nicholas. Bound for America: Three British Composers. Music in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
Upton, William T.William Henry Fry: American Journalist and Composer-Critic. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1954.
Walker, Alan. Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 1848–1861. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.
Warner, Michael. The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
Williamson, John. “Progress, Modernity, and the Concept of an Avant-Garde.” In The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Music, ed. Samson, Jim, 424–59. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Fry, William Henry. Santa Claus Symphony. Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Naxos 8.559057.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of the Society for American Music
  • ISSN: 1752-1963
  • EISSN: 1752-1971
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-society-for-american-music
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 67 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 905 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.