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Reginald De Koven and “Robin Hood”


Henry Louis Reginald De Koven (April 3, 1859 – January 16, 1920) was an American music critic and prolific composer, particularly of comic operas.  De Koven was born in Middletown, Connecticut, and moved to Europe in 1870, where he received the majority of his education. He graduated from St John’s College of Oxford University in England in 1879. He undertook piano studies at Stuttgart Conservatory with Wilhelm Speidel, Sigmund Lebert, and Dionys Pruckner. He studied composition at Frankfurt with Johann Christian Hauff, and after staying there for six months moved on to Florence, Italy, where he studied singing with Luigi Vanuccini. Study in operatic composition followed, first with Richard Genée in Vienna and then with Léo Delibes in Paris.

De Koven returned to the U.S. in 1882 to live in Chicago, Illinois, and later lived in New York City, New York. He was able to find scope for his wide musical knowledge as a critic with Chicago’s Evening Post, Harper’s Weekly, and New York World. Many of his songs became popular, especially “Oh Promise Me”, with words by Clement Scott, which was one of the biggest song successes of its time and remains a wedding standard.  Between 1887 and 1913, De Koven composed 20 light operas, the first being The Begum (1887), with libretto by Harry B. Smith, in addition to hundreds of songs, orchestral works, sonatas, and ballets.

While Victor Herbert’s operettas were heavily influenced by those of continental operetta composers, De Koven’s works were patterned after Gilbert and Sullivan. His greatest success was Robin Hood, also with libretto by Harry B. Smith, which premiered in Chicago in 1890 but was performed all across the country.  It played in New York at the Knickerbocker Theatre and in London, in 1891, and at New York’s Garden Theatre in 1892, and it continued to be revived for many years. His other operettas included The Fencing Master (1892, Casino Theatre, New York); Rob Roy, first produced in Detroit, Michigan, 1894; The Highwayman (1897, Herald Square Theatre, New York); The Little Duchess (1901, Casino Theatre, New York); and The Beauty Spot (1909, Herald Square Theatre).

From 1902 to 1904, De Koven conducted the Washington, D.C. symphony. His wife, Anna de Koven, was a well-known socialite, novelist, and amateur historian who published her works under the name “Mrs. Reginald de Koven.” The music press doubted that De Koven could compose serious operas. His opera The Canterbury Pilgrims,nwith a libretto by poet and dramatist Percy MacKaye, premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1917.  He composed a second opera, Rip Van Winkle, also with a libretto by MacKaye, but died in New York City, NY, on January 16, 1920, before it was performed later that year in Chicago.

My collection includes the following work by Reginald DeKoven:

Robin Hood: Complete Operetta (1890).


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