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A Guide to the Music in HBO’s “The Gilded Age” 

I’d like to invite you to immerse yourself in this captivating series with a deeper look at the role of music in HBO’s “The Gilded Age.” I have spent many years researching this topic, and enjoyed the opportunity to put my knowledge to good use by assisting with the historical accuracy of the orchestra scene in Episode 4, “A Long Ladder.” In fact, if you look closely, you will recognize me portraying the very real nineteenth-century conductor and composer, John Knowles Paine! 

Although the Gregson-Williams Brothers composed exquisite themes and underscoring for the series, I will focus on the “diegetic music” (i.e., music the characters actually hear, see, and discuss within the story). I’ll list the musical topic from each episode with the time it occurs, so you can go back and watch each episode from a musical perspective. 


Dr. Christopher Brellochs

SUNY Schenectady, Dean of the School of Music

Vassar College, Adjunct Artist in Music




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Dr. Christopher Brellochs

Season 1, Episode 1: Never The New 

The Square Piano (2:38): Early in the episode, we see the interior of the van Rhijn townhouse, and catch a glimpse of a square piano against the right wall. The square piano was invented in the mid-18th century and was popular in the United States through the 1890s. The upright piano, invented in 1800, eventually replaced the square piano as the most popular type used in the home.

Just as reading and writing were considered a necessity for any educated person in 1882, so was being able to play music, and at an advanced level compared to today’s standards for an amateur. The piano was the most common instrument purchased by well-to-do families, and it demonstrated their cultural and social status, as well as providing entertainment. 

It makes sense that the “old money” van Rhijn family possesses a more modest-looking piano compared to the highly-gilded grand piano we see later in the Russells' drawing-room.

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Square piano (around 1855) at the Music Instrument Museum, Berlin.


The Grand Piano (10:16 and 32:58): The Russell Family owns a gorgeous, extravagantly decorated grand piano which is located in the corner of their drawing-room. In later episodes and Episode 2’s “The Gilded Age: Carrie Coon Brings You Behind the Scenes,” you will see the piano lid open and be able to admire the stunning painting underneath. 

This instrument appears to be inspired by pianos like the 1883 Steinway piano at the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, New York, as well as the 1903 Steinway piano made for the White House, both pictured below. You can view other examples of pianos like the one found at the Russells' in Newport mansions such as Rosecliff and The Elms.

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The Russells' drawing-room piano, visible in the rear-right corner.


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1883 Steinway piano at Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York.


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1903 Steinway piano, made for The White House.


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Rosecliff, Newport, Rhode Island.


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The Elms, Newport, Rhode Island.


Antonín Dvořák (1:18:17): In this scene, Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt, alongside Miss Caroline Astor, return home in their carriage after an evening out. Caroline goes upstairs and we hear the following exchange: 

Carrie: “Hello, Mother.”

Mrs. Astor: “Carrie, dear. How was it?”

Carrie: “All right. Mr. Dvořák played until I thought his fingers would fall off, and then he spoke about composing, and we couldn’t understand a word.”

Although the series begins in 1882, and real-life composer Antonín Dvořák didn’t arrive in New York City until 1892, I appreciate the writers’ efforts to integrate this influential musical figure into the plot. The real story starts with Mrs. Jeannette Thurber, who was amongst the first major patrons of classical music in the United States and founded the National Conservatory of Music of America in 1885. In addition to promoting uniquely American music, she championed women, people of color, and the handicapped, allowing them to attend her school. 

From 1892-1895, Mrs. Thurber appointed Czech composer Antonín Dvořák director of the conservatory. He was known for incorporating folk-inspired music from his native land, and Mrs. Thurber thought he could inspire American composers to do something similar in the United States. Dvořák accomplished that and more, saying, "In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music," and composed two of his most famous pieces, the “New World” Symphony and “American" String Quartet in F, Op. 93, inspired by his time in the United States.

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Antonín Dvořák (right), with his family in New York City.

Season 1, Episode 2: Money Isn’t Everything 

Accordion Player (28:34): When Marian Brook meets Tom Raikes at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, New York City, there is a panning shot with musical underscoring that starts with some boys playing with toy boats and then cuts to an accordion player. The accordion was invented by 1822, in Germany, and spread across the world with immigrants; by 1874, Russian accordion factories were making over 700,000 instruments every year! It became popular in New York by the mid-1840s and was often used in folk or popular music, so it is fitting to see what looks like a street musician busking in this scene.

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Hohner 1880 Diatonic button accordion (Germany).


Opera Glasses (38:02): As we see people setting up their tables for the Charitable Trust bazaar, you can see some opera glasses being placed next to several pocket watches. This is a subtle indicator of the importance of opera during The Gilded Age, which we learn more about in later episodes. The opera was not only a place to hear beautiful music, but to be seen as part of the social elite.  

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Opera glasses from Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum, Lenox, Massachusetts.

Season 1, Episode 3: Face the Music 

The Academy of Music (27:46): During a luncheon Mrs. Astor discusses rumors of the new-moneyed families' desire to build a new opera house.

Mrs. Astor: “Have you heard about this opera business?”  

Marian Brooks: “What’s that?”

Mrs. Astor: “A group of new people mean to challenge the Academy of Music and create another opera house.”

Aurora Fane: “They can’t.”

Anne Morris: “They think they can. They met at Delmonico’s last week and decided that since they weren’t allowed boxes at the Academy, they were going to build their own house.”

Aurora Fane: “Do we know of whom this group of malcontents consists?”

Anne Morris: “The usual. JP Morgan, of course. The Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts. Every opportunist in New York.”

Mrs. Astor: “My lips are sealed.”

Aurora Fane: “No wonder they couldn’t get a box at the Academy.”

Marian Brooks: “But what is the point of shutting out these men and their families when they could probably build an opera house that’s 20 times better than the one we have now?”

A knowledge of history will most certainly include spoilers for season two, so read the following only if you want a sneak preview. The Academy of Music was a New York City opera house, located on East 14th Street. The 4,000-seat hall opened in 1854 and was rebuilt after a fire in 1866. The Academy’s opera season became the center of social life for New York’s elite, with the oldest and most prominent families owning seats in the theater’s boxes. It was supplanted as the city’s premier opera venue in 1883 by the new Metropolitan Opera House located on 39th Street – created by the nouveaux riches who had been frozen out of the Academy – and ceased presenting opera in 1886. It was demolished in 1926. 

The Academy of Music (1870).


Tony Pastor’s Theatre (34:05): In this scene, Jack and Bridget, two of the downstairs staff from the Van Rhijn household, attend a magic lantern show at Tony Pastor’s Theatre on Broadway. Movies used to only be visual and it wasn’t until later that specific music was integrated into the art form; live music often accompanied these “silent” films or, in this case, projected images. The music you hear is from twenty-first century company that puts together music for film and television productions called Plan 8 Music; for this scene you hear “Silent Movie Capers,” from their album, “Kidz Stuff: A Playground of Comedy Cartoon Kids Themes.”

Antonio Pastor (1837-1908) was a real-life American impresario and theatre owner with a strong commitment to attracting a “mixed-gender” audience, something revolutionary in the male-oriented variety halls of the early Gilded Age. He was known for “cleaning up” bawdy variety acts and presenting a clean and family-friendly genre that became American vaudeville.

What viewers of HBO’s “The Gilded Age” didn’t get to fully experience were the details included in the transformation of downtown Troy, New York, which was the film location for Tony Pastor’s Theatre. The production company allowed visitors to walk the outdoor set when they weren’t filming, and you could see two posters outside the entrance which advertised shows like, “Original Songs and Dances by Mr. Harry Kernell,” “Miss Bessie Grey, The favorite Vocalist, In Songs and Ballads,” and “Miss Kitty Allyn and Fred J. Huber,” which advertised violin and banjo duets.

Across the Troy town square was a row of billboards including one for Tony Pastor’s that was based on an actual 1878 poster for the Bowery Theatre and advertised “New York’s Favorite Vocalist Miss Jennie Hughes;” “In a Choice Selection of Vocal Gems, First Appearance of Avery and Lerue;” and “The Dashing Vocal Star and Change Artiste, Miss Carrie Lavarnie.”

Troy, NY.

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Troy, NY.

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This was a window for Bloomingdale Brothers on set in Troy, NY  that wasn’t seen in the series.

Season 1, Episode 4: A Long Ladder 

John Knowles Paine (23:47):

Agnes van Rhijn (to Marian Brook): “Aurora Fane has invited you to the Academy of Music. You will hear John Knowles Paine conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra.”

Marian: “That sounds fun. Will you come?”

Agnes: “I’d rather be put to death.”

Marian: “Don’t you approve of the Academy?”

Agnes: “I do, and I can manage opera as long as I can talk, but sitting through a symphony is beyond me.”

I appreciate the research and historical accuracy in this scene, as John Knowles Paine (1839-1906) was a real person and one of the first American-born composers to achieve fame for large-scale orchestral music. He was the oldest member of a group of composers known as the Boston Six, which included Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, George Chadwick, and Horatio Parker. He studied in Berlin and toured Europe for three years giving organ recitals. Upon returning to the United States, he was appointed America’s first music professor at Harvard University in 1875. His pioneering courses in music appreciation and music theory became a model for collegiate music education in America. He was a guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in its first season in 1881.   

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I made the above composite of images and sent it to the casting agency to convince them I could be

John Knowles Paine.


The Gavotte (25:15): Marian receives a gift from Mrs. Chamberlin but, since she won't tell Agnes who it is from, Marian decides to return the gift.

Agnes: “Marian, you would never entertain advances from someone whom I might not consider suitable?”

Marian: “’Entertain advances?’ That sounds like a dance step in the gavotte.”

The gavotte was a medium-paced French dance, popular in the eighteenth-century; interestingly, some of the most popular examples today were composed by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach.


The Academy of Music (26:00): During a meal at the Russells’ this conversation occurs:

Bertha (to George): “I had a letter from Mrs. Fane today. She means to call on me. I wondered if you knew why.”

George: “Perhaps she needs your help with a charity. Maybe it’s the business of building a new opera house.”

Bertha: “She won’t be in favor of that. She will be on the side of the Academy.”

The subject of the opera houses was introduced in Episode 3 in a conversation from the perspective of old-monied New York: Mrs. Astor, Aurora Fane, and Anne Morris. The plot thickens!


Mrs. Chamberlin’s Art (31:09):  Marian Brook visits Mrs. Chamberlin to return the box she was gifted and examines a painting by Edgar Degas called The Dancing Class (ca. 1870). This was Degas’ first painting of a dance class, and the models came to his studio to pose since he did not yet have privileges to go backstage at the Paris Opéra. The painting includes an elderly gentleman with a violin leaning against a piano. 

The choice to include this work of art in the series is historically appropriate; it demonstrates how influential French culture was becoming, and shows another way in which music was important during The Gilded Age.

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Edgar Degas, The Dancing Class (ca. 1870).


Aurora Fane Invites Bertha Russell to the Concert (34:45):

Bertha: “Will you tell your circle of this labor you’ve undertaken?”

Aurora: “I’ll tell them we’re friends now. And to that end, I wonder of you’d join me for a concert on Friday.”

Bertha: “At the Academy of Music?”

Aurora: “Of course.”

The film location for the Academy of Music was the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The Troy Savings Bank moved to its current location in 1870. In appreciation of the community's support, the plans for the new building called for a music hall to be built on the upper floors.

George B. Post, a student of Richard Morris Hunt, designed the building, and his preference for the Beaux Arts and French Renaissance styles can be seen in the building's highly detailed decorations. Construction began in 1871 and was completed in 1875. The music hall has a capacity of 1,253, and most of the original frescoes are still visible.

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A Grand Ball at The Academy of Music from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (1871).


The Academy of Music Symphony Concert (50:44): In this scene we are treated to an extended performance of the last 1 minute and 31 seconds of John Knowles Paine’s, Symphony No. 2 in A: Im Frühling, II. Scherzo Allegro, May-Night Fantasy. The symphony starts as Bertha Russell descends the staircase in the Russell mansion wearing a flowing red dress with a long train. 

The music then becomes underscoring for this conversation:

George: “Heavens. What a vision. The whole audience will be looking at you.”

Bertha: “You are sweet. Is the carriage here yet? Turner said she thought so.”

George: “It is. Have I seen this cloak before?”

Bertha: “I’m sure you have. But I must run. I’m terribly late as it is. And I don’t want to arrive after they’ve started.”

This last statement shows that Bertha doesn’t yet understand the social norms of old money New York, as it was common for them to show up late to performances.

The music returns to being the primary focus as Bertha leaves the mansion.

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Sheet music for John K. Paine, Symphony No. 2.


(51:42) Once inside the Academy of Music, we see the orchestra performing the music with a sequence of shots in the following order: a view of the 1st violins, close-up of the timpani, a long panning shot starting with the brass and sweeping over the orchestra (including yours truly conducting) and into the audience, a shot over Marian Brook’s shoulder looking at the orchestra, back to the 1st violins, a close up of the flute, another close up of the timpani; and a shot of the orchestra over my shoulder (aka conductor and composer John Knowles Paine). 

Rousing applause ensues, and we see a close-up of Marian, Bertha and Aurora Fane clapping and then another shot of the orchestra from the Fane’s box seats over the shoulders of Marian and Bertha. The lights come up for intermission and Charles Fane raises a pair of opera glasses towards the stage.A person in a suit holding a wand

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Dr. Christopher Brellochs as John Knowles Paine. Notice how my glasses frames are smaller than in the photos sent to the casting agency, and my beard has been trimmed into a Gilded Age style.


A Peek Behind the Scene

I’ve spent many years researching and performing music of the Gilded Age, so it was an absolute delight to apply my expertise in helping make the scene look as historically accurate as possible. 

Have you ever asked, “Has the orchestra always been setup with violins, violas, and cello seated in the front going from left to right, with double basses behind the cellos, woodwinds in the second and third row, brass in the fourth row, and percussion in the back?”

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Our present-day orchestra seating plan.

I asked myself that question, and it turns out musicians have tried many different configurations since the orchestra was first invented in the seventeenth-century. The scene in HBO’s “The Gilded Age” takes place in 1882 with the Boston Symphony, and in real-life the very same orchestra developed a seating plan in 1881 that adopted a very different setup compared to what is used today. The most startling difference is the use of a left/right “stereo” effect of splitting the violins, celli, and double basses. I shared this with the production team so they could setup appropriately.

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Henschel’s seating plan for the Boston Symphony, approved by Johannes Brahms (1881).

Now I can hear some of you saying, “Only a few music historians would ever notice this; does it really matter?” Although many people might not know if something is historically accurate, every detail in a film or television show, from costumes, hair styles, diction, etiquette, decorative arts, music, etc., can combine to make your experience feel “real” and allow you to immerse yourself in the story. I think that because of the hard work of experts in numerous fields, this series creates a cohesive artistic experience that compellingly transports us to another time – whether the audience member can consciously identify that it is indeed historically accurate.

Unlike in some shows, this on-screen orchestra was composed of actual musicians, and we had a rehearsal on the day before where we performed the music. However, music is almost always rerecorded after filming to get the highest quality audio, so for the scene we were miming to a recording. To make it look accurate, the violin, viola, celli, and double basses removed the sticky rosin used on the bow and strings so they could actually play without making a sound.

Another aspect that was different in 1882 as compared to today was the instruments themselves. For example, the violin shoulder rest was not invented until the 1930s, and you would not have seen the colorful silk wrappings at the end of strings that you do today; the timpani membrane, or “head,” was made of calfskin instead of a plastic amalgam, and there were fewer keys on wind instruments of the past. I helped the musicians to either find period instruments, modify their instrument to look historically authentic, or work with the production team’s prop master to rent the right looking instruments.

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1865 oboe on the left vs. modern oboe on the right.

(52:22) Going back to the scene, after the orchestra performs the ending of the second movement of the symphony, there is an intermission during which we hear the following:

Aurora: “Marian, please look after Mrs. Russell.”

Bertha (to Marian): “Don’t worry about me. I suppose you know plenty of people here.”

Marian: “Not at all. But I’ve read about this so often in novels.”


Speaking of musical performances appearing in novels, it is worth pointing out that Edith Wharton’s novel, Age of Innocence (1920), starts with a scene at the Academy of Music.


We catch a glimpse of the orchestra returning to their seats during this conversation:

Marian (to Thomas Raikes): “Who are you here with?”

Thomas Raikes: “Mrs. Henry Schermerhorn. She has the next box. Is this yours, Mrs. Russell?”

Bertha: “Oh no, I don’t have one.”

Aurora: “There’s a terrible waiting list.”

Bertha: “Especially for me.”


Bertha’s remarks underscore how new money was often kept out of old-money society and they set the stage for the inevitable solution – a new opera house!

Aurora: “Now for the third movement--“A Romance of Springtime,” how lovely.”

As Marian responds, we see the orchestra standing as the conductor returns to the stage.


The third movement of John Knowles Paine, Symphony No. 2 in A: Im Frühling

III. Adagio. A Romance of Springtime starts, and we see a shot from the boxes of John Knowles Paine conducting the orchestra and then a series of close-ups of the lead characters as this achingly beautiful music washes over them and the credits roll. 

Season 1, Episode 5: Charity Has Two Functions 

The Academy of Music Recap (0:06): The original broadcast had a recap of the previous episode, and it was the “cherry on top of my Delmonico souffle” to see myself conducting the orchestra at the Academy of Music, although this time with underscoring by the Gregson-Williams Brothers. At this point in the series, it is the fourth time the Academy of Music has been discussed or seen. I point this out to underscore the critical role music played in both the series and historically. The recap ends with a hit on the timpani from last episode’s orchestra scene.


The Academy of Music - 5th Time Discussed (10:46): This scene is a conversation between Marian Brook and Aurora Fane that starts with discussing a trip to see Clara Barton speak about the Red Cross, and then moves on to a luncheon for introducing Bertha Russell to Ward McAllister. 

Marian asks (11:51):

Marian Brook: “I wonder if you’d invite Mr. Raikes.”

Aurora Fane: “Mr. Raikes? Is he the handsome one we met at the Academy?”

This scene again underlines the importance the Academy of Music played socially in 1882.

Academy of Music in the 1850s.

Season 1, Episode 6: Heads Have Rolled for Less 

The Opera War (4:48): In this scene at the van Rhijn house with Agnes, Ada and Marian we hear more about the opera houses.

Ada Brook: “I had a letter from Cousin Margaret this morning. She says the opera war is really heating up.

Marian Brook: “Why does there have to be a war? Why can’t the Academy create more boxes for the new people to rent?”

Agnes van Rhijn: “Because the Academy of Music is one of the last bastions of decency and standards in this city. We will not patronize any jumped-up opera house, however loud and gaudy it may be.”


Dorothy Scott Plays Beethoven (14:51): In this scene we hear Dorothy Scott playing the second movement from Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 “Pathétique.” Her daughter Peggy drops by and sweetly smiles for a moment as she listens to her mother until she is noticed.

Dorothy Scott: “Peggy. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

Peggy Scott: “Do I need an invitation?”

Dorothy Scott: “No, but they could have prepared something in the kitchen. And I’d have put off my piano student who’ll be here in a moment.”

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Mrs. Dorothy Scott (Audra McDonald) plays the piano while she waits.

Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

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Painting by Joseph Karl Stieler of Beethoven with the manuscript for Missa Solemnis (1820)


Operas & Balls: Two Ingredients on Every Good Social Calendar (42:48)

A gathering at the Russel house including George and Bertha Russell, Charles and Aurora Fane, Ward McAllister, as well as Tom Raikes and Marian Brook includes this side conversation:

Marian Brook: “I suppose your life in New York, continues as splendidly as ever?”

Tom Raikes: “Not as splendid as this house. But I’m off to the opera again tonight, and I have a ball on Saturday with the Dreesmanns on Long Island.”A picture containing clothing, drawing, sketch, person

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Illustration of a night at the Academy of Music from 1866.

Season 1, Episode 7: Irresistible Change 

Aida (10:23): Gladys Russell is looking for a location to practice a dance called a quadrille for her coming-out ball, and gives Carrie Astor a tour of the family ballroom (filmed in the Breakers music room in Newport, R.I.), which garners the remark:

Carrie Astor: “My golly.”

Gladys Russell: “I thought we might practice in here.”

Carrie Astor: “We could rehearse a new production of “Aida” in here and still have plenty of room to spare.”

“Aida” is a reference to Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi’s opera that premiered in Cairo in 1871. It was immediately popular and performed all over the world, including the Academy of Music in New York City on November 26, 1873. Carrie Astor would have likely attended this performance and been impressed by the famously lavish production.

We also get to see a grand piano in the ballroom, meaning the Russell household has at least two pianos.

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Set design for “Aida” by Edouard Despléchin for Act 2, scene 2 (1871).


As Gladys and Carrie plan who to invite as dance partners for Gladys’ coming-out ball, Bertha Russel enters and finally agrees to set a date. Of course, plans need to be made.

Bertha Russell: “We’ll get a pianist in for your practice. And perhaps you have a name of a dance instructor?”

It is hard for us to imagine a world where musicians needed to be hired to dance at home, unless someone in the family played well enough!


The Edison Electric Illuminating Company Brass Band (40:20): In this scene, much of New York is gathered to witness Thomas Edison lighting up the New York Times building, and of course music was necessary for the festivities. We hear lively brass band music in the background. The scene cuts to Marian, Ada, and Agnes having a quiet time at home before returning to the evening’s excitement and more brass band music. The scene was filmed in downtown Troy, New York.

As the ceremony begins, we get to see a close-up of the brass band performing. (43:13)

The production company licensed four tracks from the 2006 recording by the Excelsior Cornet Band called, “Cheer, Boys, Cheer!” The original multi-track master files were sent to the production team so that the levels could be edited to match the scene. Portions of all four tracks are heard and are called Manual of Arms Polka and Skyrockets (both composed by Claudio Grafulla), Meditation: Twenty Years Ago, and 3rd U.S. Infantry QuickstepClaudio Grafulla (1812–1880) was a composer in the United States during the nineteenth-century, most noted for martial music for regimental bands during the early days of the American Civil War. 

On location, real musicians (many of them on the original recording) with period instruments mimed to the recordings, which were played through speakers off-camera. The scene was shot several times from different angles and distances. Jeff Stockham was the bandleader and organizer of this ensemble. 

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Sheet music by the composer whose music was used in The Edison Electric Illuminating Company Brass Band scene.


Season 1, Episode 8: Tucked Up in Newport 

Preparations for the Ball (4:00): Preparations for the Russell ball are underway, and music plays an important part.

Bertha Russell: “We’ll take out the piano and build the podium for the band in this alcove.”


Practicing the Quadrille (11:13): In this scene, we see Gladys Russell, Carrie Astor, and friends practicing the quadrille, a popular Gilded Age dance. The tradition of having live piano accompaniment for dance classes still exists and I’ve had friends who made good money when they were starting off their career doing this. One of the funniest lines in this scene:

Dance Instructor: “Remember, everyone. The quadrille is not a romping dance.”

The music is a piano version of Festival-Quadrille on English Themes, No. 6 Finale, Op. 341 by Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), which was originally premiered in 1867 at Covent Garden in London. Strauss was a very popular Austrian composer of light music, particularly dance music and operettas. He was known as “The Waltz King” and is most famous for works like “The Blue Danube.” In the 1870s, Strauss and his orchestra toured the United States, where he took part in the World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival in Boston at the invitation of bandmaster Patrick Gilmore. As was customary at the time, requests for personal mementos from celebrities were often in the form of a lock of hair. In the case of Strauss during his visit to America, his valet obliged by clipping Strauss' black Newfoundland dog and providing "authentic Strauss hair" to adoring female fans. A person with a mustache

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Johann Strauss II.

Season 1, Episode 9: Let the Tournament Begin 

Preparing for the Musicians (3:51): In this scene, we see a whirlwind of preparations for Gladys’ ball and get to see exactly where the musicians will be located.

Bertha Russell: “Does the podium look big enough to you?”

Church: “It’s what the band leader asked for.”


Academy of Music Singer (20:19): In this scene at the Academy of Music ,we hear the tuneful song, Vaga luna, che inargenti, for voice and piano, by Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835), and Aurora Fane notices Tom Raikes flirting with someone in a nearby box. The opening lyrics are:

Lovely moon, that, with its light,

silvers these shores and flowers

and breathes into the elements

the language of love


Bellini was most well-known for his operas, and this song was likely composed in the 1820s and published in 1838. 

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Vincenzo Bellini.

Although the series doesn’t identify the singer, historically two of the most well-known sopranos of the Gilded Age were Adelina Patti and Christina Nilsson. Adelina was Italian, and one of four children, all of whom became musicians, and her parents were professional singers. The family moved to New York City when she was a child, and she made her operatic debut at age 16 in 1859 at The Academy of Music. 

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Adelina Patti.

Christina was Swedish and the youngest of seven children of very poor peasants, but she was discovered at a local fair and went on to have an international performing career. Her professional debut was at age 17 in 1860; 1871 was her first performance in New York City at The Academy of Music. Christina is the singer mentioned in the opening chapter of Edith Wharton’s novel, The Age of Innocence.

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Christina Nilsson.

The Drinking Song (44:06): The plan to hire a fancy French chef for the Russell ball backfires when Monsieur Charron imbibes a bit too much and is found lying on the kitchen table singing. And what is he singing? "Auprès de ma blonde" (French for "Next to My Girlfriend"), a popular song from the 17th or early 18th century. The song tells the story of a woman who laments to the birds in her father's garden that her husband is a prisoner in Holland, which is why it is also sometimes called "Le Prisonnier de Hollande" ("The Prisoner of Holland).

The song appeared during or soon after the Franco-Dutch War (1672–78), during the reign of Louis XIV, when French sailors and soldiers were commonly imprisoned in the Netherlands.

The song's quick pace and lively melody made it well-suited to military marches, and it is still commonly played at parades. For the same reasons, it gained widespread popularity as a drinking song. 

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Sheet music for Auprès de ma blonde.

The Ball (47:50): The ball begins with Gladys Russell and her friends dancing to Festival-Quadrille on English Themes, No. 6 Finale, Op. 341 by Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), which was discussed in the last episode when it was being rehearsed.

The second piece performed at the ball is the Boccaccio Waltz by Franz von Suppé (1819-1895), another Austrian composer of light opera and theatre music. One of his most ambitious operettas was Boccaccio from 1879, with a story that references 14th century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio and his collection of short stories entitled The Decameron. This music plays as Tom Raikes and Marian Brook talk after he jilted her earlier that same day.

We next hear some musical underscoring as Gladys and Oscar van Rhijn enter together. When the orchestra begins again, we hear just the first few notes of the Titania Walz from “Trip to Africa” by Franz von Suppé, before it seamlessly becomes music by the Gregson-Williams Brothers and soon transforms into the opening theme for the series. If I didn’t know this last piece was used during filming, I don’t think I could tell what it was from those few notes, and I can’t help but wonder if the reason so little of this composition was used is that someone realized it wasn’t premiered until 1883, one year after when the series takes place.

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Composer Franz von Suppé.

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The Russell orchestra for the ball.

Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO