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