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Victor Herbert: A Guide to Resources at the Library of Congress

Victor Herbert (1859-1924) was a composer, conductor, cellist, and co-founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). This guide connects researchers with the Library's unparalleled Herbert resources.


Photographer unknown. Portrait of Victor Herbert. 1906. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Victor Herbert (1859–1924) was an Irish-American composer, conductor, cellist, and activist whose successful turn-of-the-century operettas laid a foundation for the development of the modern American musical. Indeed, Herbert’s dramatic scores dominated the American musical stage for nearly three decades, ultimately ushering Broadway into, through, and out of its operetta phase. Some of his greatest Broadway successes include "The Fortune Teller" (1898), "Babes in Toyland" (1903), "Mlle. Modiste" (1905), "The Red Mill" (1906), "Naughty Marietta" (1910), "The Serenade" (1917) and his final show, "Eileen" (1917). After its initial Broadway success, "Babes in Toyland" endured in popular culture with "The March of the Toys" and "Toyland" becoming Christmas classics. The Victor Herbert Collection is foundational as the first of many special collections at the Library of Congress detailing the history of American musical theater. This guide will outline the contents of that collection as well as other resources that illuminate the work of this seminal figure.

Herbert was born in Ireland, but moved to Germany as a child. He studied cello with Berhhard Cossmann, toured as both an ensemble musician and soloist, and accepted a position in 1881 with the Royal Court Orchestra of Stuttgart while also entering Stuttgart Conservatory to study composition with Max Seifriz. On October 23, 1883, the Stuttgart Orchestra premiered Herbert’s earliest known work, “Suite for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 3,” featuring the composer as soloist. While working in Stuttgart Herbert met Viennese soprano Therese Förster; the couple married in 1886 and, two months later, moved to New York City to join the Metropolitan Opera, Förster as a principal soprano and Herbert as principal cellist.

Herbert earned rave reviews as a cellist, continued composing, and quickly made a name for himself in New York’s music scene. Soon he added another dimension to his musical career – conducting. He conducted at festivals and enjoyed the mentorship of New York Philharmonic Musical Director Anton Seidl, became director of the 22nd Regimental Band of the New York National Guard in 1893, and conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1898-1904. While conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony, Herbert built the group's reputation as one of the country's finest symphony orchestras. After a disagreement with the Pittsburgh Orchestra's management in 1904, he resigned and formed the Victor Herbert Orchestra.

In addition to creating music, Herbert was passionate about protecting composers’ rights. He advocated for the passage of the American Copyright Act of 1909 and, five years later, co-founded the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers along with John Philip Sousa and Irving Berlin; he remained an integral part of the performance rights organization until his death in 1924.

The Library of Congress provides unparalleled collections to research Herbert and his music, from the Victor Herbert Collection to the many other primary and secondary resources highlighted in this guide.

About the Performing Arts Reading Room

The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the collections in the custody of the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Numbering approximately 20.5 million items and spanning more than 1000 years of Western music history and practice, these holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.