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Musical of the Month

Musical of the Month: The Music of the Black Crook

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From The Library of CongressFrom The Library of Congress

 This is the second in a series of posts about the 1866 proto-musical, The Black Crook. See my first post in the series for additional background on the show

Very little is known about the music used in the original production of The Black Crook. Early advertisements feature the scenic effects (TRANSFORMATION SCENE or THE CRYSTAL CASCADE) much more prominently than the music. Spectacular dances (eg. "Pas de Demons" or "Pas de Fleurs") are sometimes listed as well (albeit in a slightly smaller typeface), but rarely are the songs announced at all. Some 1866 programs cite "music composed expressly for the Piece by Thomas Baker," who is also named as the arranger of a set of published sheet music from 1866, but this music seems to have been underscoring for the dance and lacks lyrics.

From the Library of CongressFrom the Library of CongressThis does not mean, though, that the original production did not include songs. Barras’s libretto includes a few lyrics (eg. the choral "Hark! Hark! Hark!" song that concludes Scene 1), but I am unaware of any 19th century music known to accompany it. An early program held by the Museum of the City of New York lists only three songs: one sung by Carline in Act 1, Scene 4 ("You Naughty, Naughty Men") and two by Stalacta in Act 2, Scene 4 ("Flow on Silver Stream" and "The Power of Love"). The sheet music for "You Naughty, Naughty Men" was published with lyrics several times in the 19th century, and copies are held by NYPL and the Library of Congress. A few bars of music labeled "The Power of Love" appear in sheet music for "The Black Crook Waltz," but I’ve been unable to locate any lyrics. There is no indication that any of the music in the Library of Congress or NYPL is part of "Flow On Silver Stream."From NYPLFrom NYPL

Some of the songs in the original production might be included in "The Black Crook Songster," published in 1867 and held by NYPL. (Songsters were published collections of lyrics centered on a particular theme.) Given that the book includes over 50 songs, it seems unlikely that every one was sung in The Black Crook, but the title page draws special attention to the inclusion of "You Naughty, Naughty Men," which was "sung at Niblo’s Garden with great applause" (it makes no such claim about any of the other lyrics).  Still, advertisements in 19th century papers suggest that the music changed frequently during the course of the original production, so it is possible other lyrics in the songster found their way into the show.

Unfortunately, 21st century audiences have had very few opportunities to hear any of the music associated with The Black Crook. Indeed, the only commercially available recording I know of is a Kentucky brass band's performance of an instrumental version of "You Naughty, Naughty Men," recorded on their album with samples on their website. So, dear readers with musical ability, I issue you a challenge. Below I have linked to sheet music from the Library of Congress and NYPL. If you want to make this all but forgotten score accessible to your fellow musical theater fans, play through the piano music or sing the lyrics to "You Naughty, Naughty Men" in a YouTube video and leave a link in the comments. I’ll feature the best performances in my next post.

Note:  Unlike the images in the Digital Gallery, I personally photographed the sheet music below at a relatively low resolution with a hand-held digital camera. I hope eventually to have these objects photographed at a higher quality by NYPL's professional photographers, but in the interest of providing access as quickly as possible, I provide these images "as is." 

Title Source Page Turner PDF
Black Crook Gallop Library of Congress View Download
Fairy Queen March Library of Congress View Download
March of the Amazons Library of Congress View Download
Transformation Polka Library of Congress View Download
You Naughty, Naughty Men Library of Congress View Download
You Naughty, Naughty Men (another copy) Library of Congress Library Page Turner Download
Black Crook Lancers NYPL View Download
Black Crook Waltz NYPL View Download
Black Crook Waltz (second copy) NYPL View Download
Black Crook Waltz (third copy) NYPL View Download
Black Crook Waltzes (with color cover) NYPL View Download
Black Crook Waltzes (second copy, just music) NYPL View Download
March of the Amazons NYPL View Download
Mazeri Mazurka NYPL View Download
Transformation Polka from dance collection NYPL View Download
Transformation Polka (second copy) NYPL View Download

 

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The Black Crook & Louisa May Alcott?

I wonder if Louisa May Alcott had "Black Crook" in mind when she wrote this episode of "An Old-Fashioned Girl": "Polly had never been much to the theatre; and the few plays she had seen were the good old fairy tales...That night she saw one of the new spectacles which have lately become the rage, and run for hundreds of nights, dazzling, exciting, and demoralizing the spectator by every allurement French ingenuity can invent, and American prodigality execute. Never mind what its name was, it was very gorgeous, very vulgar, and very fashionable; so, of course, it was much admired, and every one went to see it. At first, Polly thought she had got into fairy-land, and saw only the sparkling creatures who danced and sung in a world of light and beauty; but, presently, she began to listen to the songs and conversation, and then the illusion vanished; for the lovely phantoms sang negro melodies, talked slang, and were a disgrace to the good old-fashioned elves whom she knew and loved so well. Our little girl was too innocent to understand half the jokes, and often wondered what people were laughing at; but, as the first enchantment subsided, Polly began to feel uncomfortable... When four-and-twenty girls, dressed as jockeys, came prancing on to the stage, cracking their whips, stamping the heels of their topboots, and winking at the audience, Polly did not think it at all funny, but looked disgusted, and was glad when they were gone; but when another set appeared in a costume consisting of gauze wings, and a bit of gold fringe round the waist, poor unfashionable Polly did n't know what to do; for she felt both frightened and indignant, and sat with her eyes on her play-bill, and her cheeks getting hotter and hotter every minute. "What are you blushing so for?" asked Fanny, as the painted sylphs vanished. "I 'm so ashamed of those girls," whispered Polly, taking a long breath of relief. "You little goose,–it's just the way it was done in Paris, and the dancing is splendid. It seems queer at first; but you'll get used to it, as I did." (AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL, 1870 - Louisa May Alcott) I recall that Jo March in "Little Women" wrote a story with a character called Hagar.

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