Grand Tours is a chronicle of the American visits of five charismatic pianists-Leopold de Meyer, Henri Herz, Sigismund Thalberg, Anton Rubenstein, and Hans von Bulow-during the late nineteenth century. Performing Beethoven and Chopin in gold-rush era California, these pianists introduced many Americans to the delights of the concert hall. With humor and insight, Lott describes the clash between the flamboyant, elegant, European pianists and American audiences more accustomed to circuses and rodeos than these "serious" entertainments. Lott also explores the creative and sometimes outlandish publicity techniques of managers seeking to capitalize on rich but uncharted American markets. The tours, which included almost a thousand concerts in more than one hundred cities in America and Canada, illustrate the rigors of the performing life, the wide range of nineteenth-century audiences and their gradual transformation from boisterous participators to respectful listeners, and the establishment of the piano recital as it exists today.
With the colorful personalities of the pianists, the juxtaposition of high art and unsophisticated audiences, and the predilection of Americans to treat even the most serious subjects with humor, the book is illuminating and entertaining. The text is illustrated with ads, newspaper clippings, and correspondence that bring to life this collision of cultures.