Saturday, October 24, 2015

When Ambridge was "The Marvel City" and John Duss the musician was a selling point

On March 23, 2015, I posted "The selling of 'The Marvel City,'" about a May 23, 1904, Pittsburg Press* ad in which a real estate company touted to potential investors the wonders of the "grand central City of Economy" and then-embryonic Ambridge. If you haven't read that blog post, I urge you do to so, and click on the link there to the ad itself, which is astonishing in its aggrandizement of the Ambridge-Economy area, both as it was then, and as it was predicted to become.

That ad was followed the next day by a second, equally astonishing, I think, but for a different reason. This ad repeats some of the hyperbole of the previous day's ad, but features "the masterly musical triumphs" of John Duss in its sales pitch.

Praise of John Duss--one of the last trustees of, and when he died in 1951, the last surviving member of, The Harmony Society--the world's famous bandmaster," topped the ad, applauding the "music of prosperity" he brought to the "Marvelous New City of Economy" by selling off the Society's land. And behind a sketch of the new American Bridge plant, there's a huge one of Duss the conductor.

I suspect few people today remember Duss for his musical talents. I know how surprised I was when I first read about his career as conductor and composer shortly after I started this blog.

I've wondered if Duss, who surely thought very highly of his musical abilities, helped compose the ad.

Ad for "The Marvel City"
Pittsburg Press
May 24, 1904

You can read the ad much better in the online digitized edition of the Pittsburg Press by clicking here.

History has not been exactly kind to the reputation of Duss, accused of misappropriating the Society's money to support his lavish lifestyle, including taking "the New York City Metropolitan Opera Orchestra on a coast-to-coast tour as their 'guest conductor'–at the community's expense." His wife's decision to dissolve the Society and keep its assets led to an 11-year legal battle.

I've read some of the reviews written during Duss' musical career, and they range from raves, to pans of his performances and compositions as mere vanity projects. A good summary can be found at the Pittsburgh Music History site, which includes his dismissal by some critics as a "narcissistic buffoon."

Among Duss' contributions to Ambridge's music scene was the composition of a St. Veronica's mass that he conducted in the church in 1916. He conducted the music, much of it composed by him, during the Economy Centennial in 1924. Years after his "last public appearance as a conductor" at St. John's Lutheran Church in 1929, Duss exhibited his musical talents, whatever they may have been, at a 1947 concert at Old Economy.

* Using the spelling "Pittsburg" used by the newspaper at that time.


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  2. Good reporting, as usual, Nancy. I would love to see a movement to change the name of Duss Avenue. Surely a new name could honor someone who contributed selflessly to the town. Duss was the opposite of a good, generous citizen. His name is a stain.