Music Artists in the Late 1800s

By Nicolas Arteaga
Many music artists of the late 1800s lived off the sales of their published music.

A music star in the late 1800s had to get by on talent alone. Because there was no recording industry, composers and songwriters had to rely on the sale of published music. Some music artists, such as John Phillip Sousa, earned fame as a composer and performer. Other composers and songwriters simply had to live off the royalties of their published music.

Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin was primarily an itinerant pianist with a few regional music publications until he composed "Maple Leaf Rag." He was not the first or only ragtime composer of the decade, but the 1899 instrumental was the first ragtime composition to eventually sell over 1 million copies. Its success helped launch the ragtime craze of the early years of the 20th century. Joplin went on to compose numerous masterpieces such as "Fig Leaf Rag," "The Entertainer" and "Solace," but none came close to matching the sales of the "Maple Leaf Rag."

John Philip Sousa

John Phillip Sousa started his career as a violinist in a pit orchestra. He led the United States Marine Corp Band until 1892. That year he formed his own orchestra and made a name for himself with march music. Some of his many memorable compositions include “Sember Fidelis,” “The Thunderer,” “Washington Post March” and "Stars and Stripes Forever." Sousa also wrote wrote and performed cakewalks, ragtime and even jazz during the 1920s.

James A. Bland

James Bland was born into an affluent African American family in Flushing, New York in 1854. A college graduate, Bland chose to go into entertainment as a minstrel artist. Along the way he had many of his songs published. They often used the stereotypical African American minstrel dialect popular in the late 1800s. Two of Bland's most popular songs were "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" and "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers."

Johann Strauss Jr

Johann Strauss Jr. was born into music. His father led a popular dance orchestra, and Strauss Jr. wrote his first waltz when he was just a child. When his father died, Strauss Jr. took over the orchestra and helped it become an international success through the late 1800s. Although the Strauss orchestra performed polkas and quadrilles, he was best known for waltzes. Strauss' most popular waltz by far was the "The Blue Danube" from 1867. Two other popular compositions by Strauss are "Tales from the Vienna Woods" and the operetta "Die Fledermaus."

Louis Moreau Gottschalk

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was primarily known as a virtuoso concert pianist, but he also composed numerous solo piano compositions. Two of them, "The Last Hope" and "The Dying Poet," could be found in nearly every living-room parlor that had a piano. Gottschalk went to concertize in Paris in the 1840s and was praised by many of the leading composers and pianists there. Gottschalk returned to the U.S. for awhile but permanently settled in South America in the 1860s. Many of Gottschalk's piano compositions display the rhythmic traits of South American folk music.

About the Author

Nicolas Arteaga has been working as a freelance writer since 2008. He writes articles about music education for "Musopen" and "Music Teachers Helper." Currently, Arteaga teaches and performs piano throughout northern California. He has studied music theory at the Guildhall School of Music.