March 13, 2009
Richard Strauss, composer of Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Der Rosenkavalier, and Salome came to America in 1904. He mostly stuck to the major cities, but he made one unusual stop in a small town--Morgantown, WV. He came to West Virginia University, along with Victor Herbert and the Pittsburgh Orchestra.
This singular event came to the attention of WVU music professor Christopher Wilkinson in 1979. His involvement with the story begins with a photograph found at the university:
Discovering Strauss's Visit to WV
Sidney Lloyd Wrightson, Richard Strauss, and Victor Herbert in front of the Pittsburgh Orchestra in Commencement Hall, WVU, March 14, 1904
Now Strauss didn’t come to Morgantown out of nowhere. It was a pet project of WVU’s then music dean, an Englishman named Henry Lloyd Wrightson. He not only arranged the concert, but found sponsors, and tirelessly promoted it—even to the point of getting the university’s president to cancel classes, so that more people would attend the concert.
Bringing Strauss to Morgantown
So, what did people hear and see? How was Strauss received? What was on the concert? Did the audience like it?
The visit, the concert, and the reaction
This event is more than just the story of a famous German composer showing up in West Virginia. It’s a window into American culture in the early 1900s, and competing visions of the role of European music in America and of music studies at West Virginia University:
Morgantown may have moved on quickly from the impact of Strauss, but in Germany, there’s a curious epilogue, around 40 years later:
How Strauss remembered Morgantown
Strauss's Certificate from the city of Morgantown
For more info (and better versions of the images), read Wilkinson’s article about Strauss’s visit to West Virginia in the Bulletin of the Society for American Music. And if you're a photo buff, here's just a bit more about how that picture was taken back in 1904: