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Herbert then withdrew from the theatre to concentrate on his appointment as conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1898-1904). Six years later, he resigned after a dispute with the orchestral management. He founded the Victor Herbert Orchestra, and conducted programmes of light orchestral music on tours, and at summer resorts for virtually the rest of his life.

It was during this period that he wrote his most important, purely orchestral work, the tone poem Hero and Leander (1901) for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The work reflects his admiration for Liszt and Wagner, particularly evident in the Tristanesque climax of the 'storm' music that heralds Leander's death.

By 1903 Victor Herbert had returned to his beloved theatre with Babes in Toyland, the first of a series of successes that made him one of the best-known figures in American music. Others included Mlle Modiste (1905) and The Red Mill (1906) which was produced by the Philadelphia-Chicago Opera Company in 1911. Madeleine, a lighter work in one act, was produced at the Metropolitan Opera, in 1914.

He continued to write operettas and finally realised his long-standing intention, to compose an Irish operetta. Hearts of Erin is set during the Irish rebellion of 1798, and was produced in 1917 under the amended title of Eileen. With its composition, Victor Herbert's greatest theatre pieces had been completed.

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Copyright © 22 March 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland





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