When the Albany Morning Express announced George William Warren’s marriage in September 1858, the newspaper mentioned neither his profession, nor his position as St. Paul’s organist and choirmaster. The only identification given is a nickname, “Seven Octave.” Apparently, this was identification enough for their readers, but it means nothing to us. The standard concert grand piano in the mid-nineteenth century had a span of seven octaves. But why would the newspaper identify Warren in such a way?
This question was answered when I chanced on a weekly column published between 1856 and 1858 in the Albany Morning Times. Titled “Crotchets and Quavers,” the column covers Albany music and artistic scene in a lively, gossipy style. And each column is signed “Seven Octave.”
Even without the Morning Express identification, there could be little doubt that George William Warren is the author of “Crotchets and Quavers.” He himself is frequently mentioned, including his concerts, organ exhibitions and the piano juries on which he sat. There is frequent mention of organs and church music, particularly at St. Paul’s and Second Presbyterian, the two churches in which Warren played in this period. And many of the posts relate to Warren’s closest friends: Erastus Dow Palmer, Frederic Edwin Church and Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Seven Octave also frequently updates Albanians on the European operatic careers of Warren’s former soloists at St. Paul’s: Lucy Grant Eastcott (now styled Madame Escott), Henry Squires and Isabella Hinckley.
And Warren himself confirms that he used the pen name. After moving to Brooklyn in 1860, Warren began writing dispatches signed “Jem Baggs” in the “Musical Correspondence” column of Dwight’s Journal of Music. In the last of these dispatches, he wrote, “We have written many indifferent gossiping musical letters in our day, and were last known in your paper as Jem Baggs. We like our first name better, and with your permission will hereafter be again a Seven Octave.” Although Warren seems to have intended to continue with his old pen name, this is the last reference to Seven Octave that I can find in Dwight’s Journal.
The scholar S. Frederick Starr found several of these “Crotchets and Quavers” columns pasted (without identification of its source) into a scrapbook belonging to Warren’s friend Louis Moreau Gottschalk. In his Gottschalk biography, Starr mentions four items from the column, all matching those in the Albany Morning Times issue of 24 May 1856. Starr assumed that Gottschalk was the author of the column primarily because Gottschalk later published five compositions under the name Seven Octaves (note the plural). It seems likely that Gottschalk borrowed the pseudonym from Warren. This must be what Gottschalk meant when he wrote in November 1864 that he was “composing five new contraband pieces that are to be published under the aegis of a borrowed paternity.”
“Crotchets and Quavers” is particularly interesting because it was written during an eventful period in George William Warren’s life: his departure from St. Paul’s after eight years as organist and choirmaster, his year at Second Presbyterian, and his return to St. Paul’s. Items in these columns clarify Warren’s reasons for these changes, as well as giving us a detailed look at artistic life in Albany in the period.
For a taste of the content, here a sample of items from “Crotchets and Quavers” for May 24, 1856. Sections quoted by S. Frederick Starr are in bold. Over the next few months, I will post excerpts from all the “Crotchets and Quavers” columns I have located, with notes on their significance for our understanding of both George William Warren and of life in Albany in the 1850s.
Madame Escotte (Mrs. Eastcott that used to be) is singing Verdi’s Traviata in English, at Drury Lane, London.
Speaking of Madame La Grange reminds us that her concert with Gottschalk in this city was a great success in every way. A large and brilliant looking audience graced the occasion and it was decidedly the most elegant musical affair we have ever had in this city. Madame La Grange looked, sang, and was dressed superbly, and displayed wonders of vocalization, such as we never beard, even from Jenny Lind or Madame Sontag. Gottschalk played as only he can play, on two admirable Grands, one of which (the Cecilian) was particularly delightful and seemed to suit him to perfection. The audience were very enthusiastic and the illustrious artistes were rewarded with rapturous applause and beautiful flowers. but [sic] we will not particularize, as we expect a fine critique from the Albany correspondent of the Musical Review, who signs himself Allegro.
The Buckley’s sang well and the Theatre was crowded at their performances. Their burlesques are very funny and the music of them is very enjoyable. Mr. Percival has an admirable voice and Frederick Buckley’s violin playing was a great deal too good for the audiences, who had not the manners to listen to that part of the entertainment which pleased good taste.
We are happy to know that Mr. Cherbuliez, the splendid Basso at St. Peter’s, is receiving many pupils both in singing and French, and he is giving great satisfaction as a teacher. Gottschalk, who lived in Paris for ten years, says his accent is admirable, and we are right glad to have such a musician, linguist and excellent gentlemen to live with us.
Miss Hinkley is going to Italy in about a year, where a thorough course of study will make her one of the great singers for the future.
When people build such high structures as the bank building in Broadway, why do they not put some little finish to the side walls, which in this case show almost as much as the fronts. This is a great fault in our city buildings, which a little paint might very much improve.
The Delevan House improvements are nearly completed, and when we say that it will be the most beautiful [sic] arranged and tastefully ornamented hotel in America, we hardly do it justice.
Domestic musical news is scarce. LaGrange and Gottschalk have come and gone, but the memory of that superb concert will be meat and drink to some folks for a long time.
Boardman, Gray & Co. are making a grand piano, which we soon hope to hear.
Miss Sullivan, the principal Soprano at the cathedral, has an excellent voice, which she uses with much Skill. By the way — the new Trombone stop in Carmody’s Organ is very fine and adds much to the power of the instrument.
Speaking of organs, the one in St. Paul’s Church is miserably out of order, and that bothers – Seven Octave
 “Matrimonial Items,” Albany Morning Express 17 Sep 1858, 3.
 “Musical Correspondence,” Dwight’s Journal of Music, volume 23 (17 Oct 1863), 119-120.
 S. Frederick Starr, Bamboula! (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 234-235.
 Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Notes of a Pianist, ed. Jeanne Behrend (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006), 230. The entry is dated 1 Nov 1864.
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Most interesting. From a linguistic point of view, I was intrigued to see ‘audience’ with plural concord – ‘The audience were very enthusiastic and the illustrious artistes were rewarded with rapturous applause…’ – when the received wisdom is that U.S. English prefers collectives to have singular concord. But in usage there are no absolutes – except the absolute that there are none.
Yes, “audience were” does sound strange to 21st century US ears. My impression is that in the 19th century verb concord with collective nouns varied more than it does now. I’ll have to keep my eye out for more examples.