Sidney Lanier HTML version

A Musician in Baltimore
With his purpose firmly fixed in his mind he started for New York, which was then fast
becoming the musical and literary centre of the country. For three months and more he
gave himself unstintedly to the work of perfecting himself in playing the flute, and
attended regularly the great concerts then being given by Theodore Thomas. It was an
opportune time. The day of the Italian opera, for which Lanier did not care, was past, and
orchestral music was beginning its triumphant career in this country. These were months,
then, of education in the very music for which Lanier had yearned. He at once attracted
musical critics and made a stir in some of the churches and concert-rooms of the city. He
had brought along with him two of his own compositions, "Swamp Robin" and
"Blackbirds"; and there were some who did not hesitate to prophesy a brilliant career for
him as "the greatest flute-player in the world." Lanier did not rely on inspiration,
however, nor was he satisfied with the applause of popular audiences; he knew that his
course must be one of "straightforward behavior and hard work and steady
improvement." He would be satisfied only with the judgment of Thomas or Dr. Leopold
Damrosch, then conductor of the Philharmonic Society.
On his way to New York he had stopped at Baltimore, and on the advice of his friend
Henry Wysham had played for Asger Hamerik, who was at that time making efforts to
have the Peabody Institute establish an orchestra. Hamerik was so attracted by Lanier's
playing, both of masterpieces and of his own compositions, that he invited him to become
first flute in the prospective orchestra. With even this promise in view, Lanier had written
to his wife: "It is therefore a POSSIBILITY . . . that I may be first flute in the Peabody
Orchestra, on a salary of $120 a month, which, with five flute scholars, would grow to
$200 a month, and so . . . we might dwell in the beautiful city, among the great libraries,
and midst of the music, the religion, and the art that we love -- and I could write my
books and be the man I wish to be."* Hamerik did succeed in getting the orchestra
established and Lanier accepted the position -- for far less money, however. Lanier
settled in Baltimore, in December, and at once attracted the attention of the patrons of the
orchestra. In the Baltimore "Sun" of December 8, 1873, his playing was mentioned as
one of the features of the opening symphony concert. In the same paper of January 25
occurs this note: "Lanier and Stubbs could not have acquitted themselves better, nor done
more justice to their very difficult parts." And so throughout the winter there is
contemporary evidence that this "raw provincial, without practice and guiltless of
instruction," was holding his own with the finely trained Germans and Danes of
Hamerik's Orchestra.
* `Letters', p. 75.
The fact is, Lanier was a musical genius. In playing the flute he combined deftness of
hand and quick intuitiveness of soul. The director of the Peabody Orchestra, who had