Lucie Oelrichs Jay and the Anti-German Music Movement of WWI 

via the John Jay Homestead web site

On April 6, 1917 the United States joined its allies and officially entered World War I. Patriotism was at an all time high and Americans furiously attacked any traces of German culture in the country. German place names were changed, German books and newspapers were burned in the streets, and sauerkraut was even renamed “Liberty Cabbage.” The growing opposition to German culture came to a head on October 30, when the Boston Symphony Orchestra took the stage in Providence, Rhode Island. The chief executive of the symphony, Henry Lee Higginson denied a request to include The Star-Spangled Banner in the program that evening stating that patriotic tunes had “no place in an art concert.” The refusal to play the national anthem eventually led to the ruin of the orchestra’s German-born conductor, Karl Muck. The opposition to Muck was part of a larger campaign in the United States to eliminate German music and musicians from the country. Several wealthy Americans were involved in this cause, but none of them were as passionate and determined as Lucie Oelrichs Jay.

Lucie Oelrichs JayLucie Oelrichs JayLucie Oelrichs Jay (1854-1931) was the wife of Colonel William Jay (1841-1915), John Jay’s great-grandson. Her father was Henry Oelrichs, a wealthy German immigrant who founded Oelrichs & Co. Steamship Company in Baltimore in the mid-19th century. Her father’s wealth allowed Lucie to study in Europe as a young woman and become friends with the New York elite.

Starting in late 1917, the widowed Mrs. Jay threw herself into the campaign against German music. Mrs. Jay was a subscriber to The Chronicle, a short-lived invitation-only magazine aimed at wealthy New Yorkers. Right after the Providence concert the November issue of The Chronicle was published. That issue included the first-ever published article by Mrs. Jay entitled, German Music and German Opera. Using her position as the only woman on the board of the New York Philharmonic as credential, Mrs. Jay asserted that German instrumental music was acceptable to American audiences but stated: “to give the German operas, particularly those by Wagner, at this time would be a great mistake. Given as they must be in the German language and depicting in many cases scenes of violence and conflict they must inevitably draw our minds back to the spirit of greed and barbarism which has led to so much suffering.”

On November 2nd the New York Times quoted Mrs. Jay’s article and reported that the Metropolitan Opera was discussing her demands. The following day the Met announced that it would suspend performances of German operas and German singers for the duration of the war.

The Chronicle continued to publish articles and opinion pieces about the need to remove German music from performance. In December 1917 it credited Mrs. Jay’s article as the sole reason the Met eliminated the German works from its performance schedule. In January 1918, it claimed that Wagner’s Ring Cycle was an allegory for current events and should not be played. And in February 1918 The Chronicle praised the resignation of both the president and treasurer of the Philharmonic board claiming they were both German pacifists. In truth, The Chronicle was nothing more then a propaganda publication. And since its subscribers were wealthy New Yorkers, many whom were patrons of the arts, it was the perfect vehicle for the attacking of German culture in America, most specifically music.

By March of 1918, Lucie Jay had become the face of the Anti-German music movement. After getting both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic to cancel German musical performances, she renewed calls for the ousting of Karl Muck in The Chronicle with “Doktor Muck Must Go.” She urged New Yorkers to boycott the upcoming performances of the Boston Symphony scheduled to take place at Carnegie Hall. The performances went on as scheduled but had to be performed under police guard due to protests. 

Read the entire article on the John Jay Homestead web site.

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