The Barnum Museum


P. T. Barnum established two museums in New York City in the nineteenth century.  Barnum's American Museum was on the corner of Broadway and Ann Street from January 1, 1842 to July 13, 1865 when it burned to the ground.  Barnum built a second museum soon after, but it was also destroyed by fire in 1868.  The attractions made the venue a combination of a zoo, museum, lecture hall, wax museum, theatre, and freak show.  At its peak, the museum was open fifteen hours a day and had as many as fifteen thousand visitors daily. 

The music of The Barnum Museum is based not on the actual historical museums, but rather on the short story The Barnum Museum by Pulitzer Prize winning author Steven Millhauser.  Millhauser's story is a description of a Barnum Museum of the imagination, much more elaborate and fantastic than the museums of historical reality.  I have taken several of Millhauser's ideas and used them as the bases for creating musical works.  While these pieces are, in a general sense, programmatic, they fall more correctly, I think, into the traditional genre of tone poems.  Millhauser presents many ideas, with or without elaboration, and I have let my imagination take off from what he has or has not said about things that never existed.  The sound material is all-electronic, created in the computer, and no acoustic sound files are used.  In this and other ways, the music follows Millhauser’s paths leading to the plausible impossible.