Victor August Herbert (February 1, 1859 – May 26, 1924) was an Irish-born, German-raised American composer, cellist and conductor. Although Herbert enjoyed important careers as a cello soloist and conductor, he is best known for composing many successful operettas that premiered on Broadway from the 1890s to World War I. He was also prominent among the tin pan alley composers and was later a founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). A prolific composer, Herbert produced two operas, a cantata, 43 operettas, incidental music to 10 plays, 31 compositions for orchestra, nine band compositions, nine cello compositions, five violin compositions with piano or orchestra, 22 piano compositions and numerous songs, choral compositions and orchestrations of works by other composers, among other music.
In the early 1880s, Herbert began a career as a cellist in Vienna, Austria, and Stuttgart, Germany, during which he began to compose orchestral music. Herbert and his opera singer wife, Therese Förster, moved to the U.S. in 1886 when both were engaged by the Metropolitan Opera. In the U.S., Herbert continued his performing career, while also teaching at the National Conservatory of Music, conducting and composing. His most notable instrumental compositions were his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30 (1894), which entered the standard repertoire, and his Auditorium Festival March (1901). He led the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1898 to 1904 and then founded the Victor Herbert Orchestra, which he conducted throughout the rest of his life.
Herbert began to compose operettas in 1894, producing several successes, including The Serenade (1897) and The Fortune Teller (1898). Even more successful were some of the operettas that he wrote after the turn of the 20th century: Babes in Toyland (1903), Mlle. Modiste (1905), The Red Mill (1906), Naughty Marietta (1910), Sweethearts (1913) and Eileen (1917). After World War I, with the change of popular musical tastes, Herbert began to compose musicals and contributed music to other composers' shows. While some of these were well-received, he never again achieved the level of success that he had enjoyed with his most popular operettas.
Herbert was born in Dublin, Ireland to Protestants Edward Herbert (d. 1861) and Fanny Herbert (née Lover). At age three and a half, shortly after the death of his father, young Herbert and his mother moved to live with his maternal grandparents in London, England, where he received encouragement in his creative endeavours. His grandfather was the Irish novelist, playwright, poet and composer Samuel Lover. The Lovers welcomed a steady flow of musicians, writers and artists to their home. Herbert joined his mother in Stuttgart, Germany in 1867, a year after she had married a German physician, Carl Schmidt of Langenargen. In Stuttgart he received a strong liberal education at the Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium, which included musical training.
Herbert initially planned to pursue a career as a medical doctor. Although his stepfather was related by blood to the German royal family, his financial situation was not good by the time Herbert was a teenager. Medical education in Germany was expensive, and so Herbert focused instead on music. He initially studied the piano, flute and piccolo but ultimately settled on the cello, beginning studies on that instrument with Bernhard Cossmann from age 15 to age 18. He then attended the Stuttgart Conservatory. After studying cello, music theory and composition under Max Seifritz, Herbert graduated with a diploma in 1879.