|Lesson 14||Table of Contents||Lesson 16|
GERMAN IMMIGRANT CONTRIBUTIONS TO AMERICAN MUSIC
1. Key personalities
Anthony Philip Heinrich (1781-1861). Born in Bohemia, he immigrated to the U.S. after the collapse of a family business in 1813. He began his career in America as a conductor and violinist, but later turned to composition. After settling in Kentucky he became a local celebrity and was known as the "Beethoven of Louisville." Although his work cannot be taken with complete seriousness, it is nonetheless an interesting bit of Americana from the Victorian era.
Leopold Damrosch (1832-1885). German-born conductor of the New York Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera. For several years he ran the Metropolitan Opera virtually as a German opera company, engaging musicians and performers from opera houses in Germany. His son, Walter Damrosch (1862-1950) succeeded him at the Metropolitan and presented the first U.S. performance of Wagner's Parzifal in 1896.
Theodore Thomas (1835-1905). German-born conductor in New York and Chicago, Thomas was one of the most influential American conductors of his time.
Bruno Walter (1876-1962). German-born conductor, important in popularizing the works of Gustav Mahler in America.
Ferde Grof^N (b. 1892). Austrian-born composer, best known for his Grand Canyon Suite. George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, was arranged for orchestra by Grof^N.
Helen Traubel (b. 1899), notable Wagnerian soprano born in St. Louis.
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962). Vienna-born violinist and composer, known particularly as a composer of solo works for the violin. He became a U.S. citizen in 1943.
Erich Leinsdorf (b. 1912). Born in Vienna, Leinsdorf came to the U.S. during the 1930s and had a distinguished career as a conductor, particularly at the Metropolitan Opera.
William Steinberg (1899-1978). Originally named Hans Wilhelm Steinberg, he left Germany to live in Palestine and later settled in the U.S., becoming conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
2. Main trends
German religious groups in colonial America brought distinct musical traditions with them. The Evangelical and Reformed Church, the American Lutherans, and the Missouri Synod Lutherans all have distinct hymnbooks drawing on a more or less common European hymn tradition. Other German sectarian groups, such as the Hutterites and Amish, have distinct musical traditions which dispense with instrumental accompaniment. The Moravian Brethren, a denomination centered at Bethlehem, PA has a particularly rich musical tradition. The Moravians have produced a large volume of vocal and instrumental music composed in America and are widely known for the Bach festivals that are a yearly event in Pennsylvania. A remarkable musical tradition was cultivated at the Ephrata Cloister in Ephrata, PA during the 18th century. Johann Conrad Beissel (1700-1768), the founder of this ascetic religious community, composed music utilizing a peculiar system of harmony. His hymnal, called Die Turteltaube, is a remarkable document in music history of America during the colonial period.
Wherever Germans settled in America during the last century they established choral groups and musical societies. Some, such as the Arion Society in New York, achieved national prominence. By the middle of the 19th century German immigrant conductors and performers were playing a conspicuous role in American symphony orchestras and opera companies around the country. One interesting reflection of German influence on American music can be seen in the fact that the first violin of a symphony orchestra is generally referred to in America by the term concert master (from German "Konzertmeister") while this term is seldom used in Britain. German immigrant craftsmen provided expert organ builders and experts at making other musical instruments. Engelhard Steinweg (1797-1871) founded the company that produces the superb Steinway concert grands. Gustave Schirmer (1829-1893) was a pioneer music publisher in America.
The Metropolitan Opera Company, America's premier operatic ensemble, has had a long line of German and Austrian conductors and performers. The dramatic soprano Lilli Lehmann (1848-1929) was one of the pioneer interpreters of Wagner at the Metropolitan. Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1861-1936) was a starring Wagnerian contralto at the Met and was noted as an interpreter of German lieder. Lotte Lehmann, born in 1888, was another concert soloist and star at the Met. The Metropolitan has also had several immigrant managers, such as the Vienna-born Rudolf Bing.
Oscar Hammerstein II, whose grandfather had immigrated from Berlin, wrote the lyrics of some of America's most beloved musicals: Showboat, Oklahoma, South Pacific, The King and I.
Pre-1933 immigrants who rose to fame with their compositions for the stage and the screen include Sigmund Romberg, born in Hungary, with his operettas Student Prince, and Desert Song, the Austrian Max (Maximilian Raoul) Steiner (1888-1971) with his score for King Kong, 1933, Gone with the Wind, 1939, and Casablanca, 1943. When Berlin-born concert pianist Frederick (Fritz) Loewe (1904-1988) collaborated with Alan Jay Lerner, beautiful musicals and filmed versions thereof resulted: Brigadoon, Gigi, My Fair Lady, and Camelot.
Some immigrant composers came as refugees during the Third Reich. The list includes Kurt Weill, Arnold Schönberg, Paul Hindemith, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Oscar Straus. Kurt Weill, who had written music for the Berlin stage, e.g. for Brecht's Three Penny Opera, was able to adapt to the quite different tradition of the Broadway musical theater of New York. Perhaps his most familiar American work is the song "Speak Low" from the musical One Touch of Venus.
Composers of German-American background have also had a limited impact on American popular music. Paul Dresser (1857-1911), a native of Terre Haute, IN, was a prolific song writer, perhaps best remembered for On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away (1899). He was the brother of novelist Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945). Lawrence Welk, the guitarist Les Paul, and the jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke--all came from German-American families.
3. Suggested further reading
Walter E. Boyer, Albert F. Buffington, and Don Yoder. Songs Along the Mahantongo. Lancaster, PA: Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center, 1951.
Buffington, Albert F. Pennsylvania German Secular Folksongs. Breinigsville, PA: Pennsylvania German Society, 1974.
Hitchcock, H.W. & Stanley Sadie, eds. The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, 4 vols. London: Macmillan Press, 1986.
4. Select discography
"The Dawning of Music in Kentucky." Vanguard Records, SRV 349 SD. (Music of Anthony Philip Heinrich).
"Music of the Ephrata Cloister." Gordon Associates Records, LP 1009.
"Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Songs Sung by George Britton with Guitar." Folkways Records, FA 2215.
"Anthony Philip Heinrich: The Ornithological Combat of Kings, or the Candor of the Andes and the Eagle of the Cordilleras." New World Records, NW 208.
"The Flowering of Vocal Music in America, Vol. 1: The Moravians and Anthony Philip Heinrich." New World Records, NW 230.
"Music of the American Moravians." Odyssey, 32-160340.
"Elizabeth and Essex: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold." RCA ARL 1-0185.
"The Sea Hawk: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold." RCA, LSC-3330.
Created: 4 August 1998, SEL
Updated: 17 November 2007, BAS
Comments to: Eberhard Reichmann, firstname.lastname@example.org
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