Image of Gustav Kobbe


Lifetime: 1857 - 1918 Passed: ≈ 105 years ago


Critic, Writer


United States

Gustav Kobbe

Gustav Kobbé was an American music critic and author, best known for his guide to the operas, The Complete Opera Book, first published (posthumously) in the United States in 1919 and the United Kingdom in 1922. 

Kobbé was born in March 1857 in New York City, to William August Kobbé and Sarah Lord Sistare Kobbé. His father was born in Idstein, near Wiesbaden, in the Duchy of Nassau (now part of Germany), and represented that country in New York as consul general until it was absorbed by the Kingdom of Prussia in 1866. His mother was born in New London, Connecticut, to a prominent New England family. 


When Gustav Kobbé was ten years old, he was sent to Wiesbaden to study composition and the piano with Adolf Hagen. Following five years of study in Germany, he returned to New York City for additional study under Joseph Mosenthal. Afterward, he graduated from Columbia College in 1877 and two years later from Columbia Law School. He received his M.A. from Columbia in 1880. In 1882, he married Carolyn Wheeler. 


He made his career in literary and newspaper work, and contributed articles on musical and dramatic subjects to the leading magazines and periodicals. His hobby was sailing, and it was while he was out in the Great South Bay off Bay Shore, New York, in July 1918, that a seaplane, coming down for a landing, struck his boat and killed him instantly. 


Kobbé began his literary career as co-editor of the Musical Review. He was on the staff of the New York Sun in 1881, and in 1882 was sent as correspondent to Bayreuth in Bavaria, Germany by the New York World for the first performance of Parsifal. He contributed many articles - on music, drama and travel - to the leading American magazines of his day - The Century Magazine, Scribner's Magazine, The Forum, North American Review, Ladies' Home Journal, The Delineator, etc. He became music critic of the New York Herald when that newspaper was owned by James Gordon Bennett, remaining with it for eighteen years. 


He was on the point of completing the book which was afterwards published as The Complete Opera Book when he died. Various additions were made to it before publication, and the work in its original form was edited by Katharine Wright, who at the same time included some additional operas in sections that bear her initials. Its full title was The Complete Opera Book : the Stories of the Operas, Together with 400 of the Leading Airs and Motives in Musical Notation. 

Books by Gustav Kobbe

 How to Appreciate Music Cover image

How to Appreciate Music

Music Crafts Hobbies

Originally published in 1906, this book is essentially a how to guide on music appreciation. Includes sections on the pianoforte, orchestral, and vocal music. Good for anyone who wishes for a greater appreciation of the wonders of music.

Loves of Great Composers Cover image

Loves of Great Composers

Gustav Kobbe was a German/US music critic who worked at the time of Liszt and Wagner in particular, and was clearly in the Wagnerian rather than the Brahms camp. His unusual style of writing and his strongly romantic take on the loves of these seven...