George Frederick Bristow

A biography of the nineteenth-century composer and musician

As American classical music struggled for recognition in the mid-nineteenth century, George Frederick Bristow emerged as one of its most energetic champions and practitioners. Katherine K. Preston explores the life and works of a figure admired in his own time and credited today with producing the first American grand opera and composing important works that ranged from oratorios to symphonies to chamber music. Preston reveals Bristow's passion for creating and promoting music, his skills as a businessman and educator, the respect paid him by contemporaries and students, and his tireless work as both a composer and in-demand performer. As she examines Bristow against the backdrop of the music scene in New York City, Preston illuminates the little-known creative and performance culture that he helped define and create.

Vivid and richly detailed, George Frederick Bristow enriches our perceptions of musical life in nineteenth-century America.

"This remarkable book makes an essential contribution not only to our understanding of Bristow's life, but to the landscape of nineteenth-century American music in all its multi-dimensionality. It is the definitive biography for years to come."--Douglas Shadle, author of Orchestrating the Nation: The Nineteenth-Century American Symphonic Enterprise

"Katherine Preston’s biography of George Frederick Bristow gives the most thorough and authoritative study to date of this important composer’s life and works. On a broader level, it opens new windows of insight into a vibrant era in American musical history through the experiences of one of its most active participants."--E. Douglas Bomberger, author of MacDowell

Publication supported by a grant from the Henry and Edna Binkele Classical Music Fund.


Katherine K. Preston is a professor emerita of music at the College of William & Mary. Her six previous books and many edited volumes include Opera for the People: English-Language Opera and Women Managers in Late Nineteenth-Century America and Opera on the Road: Traveling Opera Troupes in the United States, 1825–1860.

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