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The Authoritative Work On American Music
by [?]

Curiously enough, however, these statements did not annoy me. I found no desire arising in me to deny them and doubtless, though mayhap with a guilty conscience, I should have ditched the undertaking, consigned it to that heap of undone duties, where already lie notes on a comparison of Andalusian mules with the mules of Liane de Pougy, a few scribbled memoranda for a treatise on the love habits of the mole, and a half-finished biography of the talented gentleman who signed his works, “Nick Carter,” if my by this time quite roving eye had not alighted, entirely fortuitously, on one of the forgotten glories of my library, a slender volume entitled “Popular American Composers.”

I recalled how I had bought this book. Happening into a modest second-hand bookshop on lower Third Avenue, maintained chiefly for the laudable purpose of redistributing paper novels of the Seaside and kindred libraries, of which, alas, we hear very little nowadays, I asked the proprietor if by chance he possessed any literature relating to the art of music. By way of answer, he retired to the very back of his little room, searched for a space in a litter on the floor, and then returned with a pile of nine volumes or so in his arms. The titles, such as “Great Violinists,” “Harmony in Thirteen Lessons,” and “How to Sing,” did not intrigue me, but in idly turning the pages of this “Popular American Composers” I came across a half-tone reproduction of a photograph of Paul Dresser, the only less celebrated brother of Theodore Dreiser, with a short biography of the composer of On the Banks of the Wabash. As Sir George Grove in his excellent dictionary neglected to mention this portentous name in American Art and Letters (although he devoted sixty-seven pages, printed in double columns, to Mendelssohn) I saw the advantage of adding the little book to my collection. The bookseller, when questioned, offered to relinquish the volume for a total of fifteen cents, and I carried it away with me. Once I had become more thoroughly acquainted with its pages I realized that I would willingly have paid fifteen dollars for it.

This book, indeed, cannot fail to delight General Mencken. There is no reference in its pages to Edgar Stillman-Kelley, Miss Gena Branscombe, Louis Adolphe Coerne, Henry Holden Huss, T. Carl Whitmer, Arthur Farwell, Arthur Foote, or A. J. Goodrich. In fact, if we overlook brief notices of John Philip Sousa, Harry von Tilzer, Paul Dresser, Charles K. Harris, and Hattie Starr (whom you will immediately recall as the composer of Little Alabama Coon ), the author, Frank L. Boyden, has not hesitated to go to the roots of his subject, pushing aside the college professors and their dictums, and has turned his attention to figures in the art life of America, from whom, Mencken himself, I feel sure, would not take a single paragraph of praise, so richly is it deserved. I am unfamiliar with the causes contributing to this book’s comparative obscurity; perhaps, indeed, they are similar to those responsible for the early failure of “Sister Carrie.” May not we even suspect that the odium cast by the Doubledays on the author of that romance might have been actively transferred in some degree to a work which contained a biographical notice and a picture of his brother? At any rate, “Popular American Composers,” published in 1902, fell into undeserved oblivion and so I make no apology for inviting my readers to peruse its pages with me.

Opening the book, then, at random, I discover on page 96 a biography of Lottie A. Kellow (her photograph graces the reverse of this page). In a few well-chosen words (almost indeed in “gipsy phrases”) Mr. Boyden gives us the salient details of her career. Mrs. Kellow is a resident of Cresco, Iowa, a church singer of note, and the possessor of a contralto voice of great volume. As a composer she has to her credit “marches, cakewalks, schottisches, and other styles of instrumental music.” We are given a picture of Mrs. Kellow at work: “Mrs. Kellow’s best efforts are made in the evening, and in darkness, save the light of the moonbeams on the keys of her piano.” We are also told that “she is happy in her inspirations and a sincere lover of music. All of her compositions show a decided talent and possess musical elements which are only to be found in the works of an artist. Mrs. Kellow’s musical friends are confident of her success as a composer and predict for her a brilliant future.”