The Liederkranz Foundation


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History

History until 1976 - update in progress

During the period preceding the Civil War, German American singing groups sprang up all over America, preserving German musicaltradition and keeping the culture alive. Interest in the music of Germany was at its height. On January 9, 1847, a group of 25 men of German heritage founded a male singing society, dedicated in particular to the promotion of vocal and instrumental music. The society's name was “Deutscher Liederkranz der Stadt New York”.


After the Civil War, interest in German culture continued to grow steadily. By the time a New York Sängerfest was held in Brooklyn, New York in 1900, over 6,000 singers from 174 German American singing societies flowed into the city. To this day there are still Liederkranz [Garland of Song] Societies around the country. 14 years after its founding, the Liederkranz Club Chorus was selected to sing with the Philharmonic Society Orchestra. Its performances in New York at the Metropolitan Opera House, in Boston and Philadelphia in excerpts from Richard Wagner's operas were a 'first' in the United States, introducing these celebrated works to American audiences.

The Civil War found one fifth of the Liederkranz Club members - over one hundred - serving in the Union Army; four returned with the rank of Brigadier General. The rest of the membership did their share for families of members who had volunteered their services. William Steinway, who served as President of the Liederkranz Club intermittently from 1867 until 1896, was one of the greatest presidents of our club. It was under his leadership that a building fund for a clubhouse was raised in the amount of $150,000 within 2 days. The cornerstone was laid on October 1st, 1881 at 111-119 East 58th Street, east of Park Avenue. The total cost of the building including land represented an investment of $325,000. It should be mentioned that the building’s acoustics were such that it was used at one time by RCA Victor for recording sessions.

During World War I, the Board of Trustees passed resolutions offering the facilities of their clubhouse to the government for the duration of the war. President Theodore Roosevelt, accompanied by his family, made a stirring speech in which he commended the Liederkranz Club for its tradition and called for subscription to the 4th Liberty Loan. The members responded with purchases amounting to $2,149,000.

In 1919 the name of the organization was officially changed to “The Liederkranz of the City of New York”. Its official language was likewise changed from German to English. During World War II, Liederkranz Club members bought more than $8,000,000 worth of United States Government War Bonds in succeeding bond drives. Many of the club members and their relatives served in both world wars in the armed forces of our nation. Some made the supreme sacrifice. Unfortunately, both wars resulted in a greatly reduced membership of our club. The beautiful building on East 58th Street had to be sold. Through the generosity of our loyal members the present building, formerly the Henry Phipps townhouse, was purchased. We take pride in the fact that honorary members of the Liederkranz Club have included Dr. Walter Damrosch, and Lauritz Melchior. Carl Schurz, United States Senator and Secretary of the Interior, was another distinguished member.

In 1893, the Chorus sang at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, combining this with a tour of many American cities. The
great musical genius, Ferrucio Busoni, was the piano soloist during that year. In 1915, Frieda Hempel, Margaret Ober, Otto Goritz, and Albert Reiss performed with the Liederkranz Club Chorus in Die Fledermaus. Numerous other operatic presentations were held at the Liederkranz Club including Act III of Die Walküre with soloists from the Metropolitan Opera and the Chicago Grand Opera Company.

The Metropolitan Opera and the Liederkranz Club have had a long-standing friendship. The “Fancy Dress Balls” and the German Charity Balls, sponsored by the Liederkranz were held at the Metropolitan Opera House before World War I. These gala occasions were considered the highlights of New York's social season. Liederkranz Club concerts have been highly regarded throughout its history. The male chorus of 250 voices was considered to be one of the finest in the country. President Theodore Roosevelt, who had become an honorary member of the Liederkranz Club while he served as New York's Police Commissioner, later invited the chorus to perform at the White House with Ernestine Schumann-Heink.

The Liederkranz Club was active in many charitable affairs throughout history. For over sixteen years, our chorus gave benefit concerts for the “German Hospital”, afterwards renamed the Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Many of our members also served on the boards of charitable institutions and foundations. Concerts were held for the benefit of various churches, for the destitute of the Great Chicago Fire, for the “Society for the Improvement of the Poor”, the yellow fever victims, the Seventh Regiment, the St. Francis Hospital, the “Deutsche Gesellschaft”.

Guest artists who have performed at the Liederkranz Club or with its Chorus include Johanna Gadski, Victor Herbert, Raphael
Josephi, Emma Juch, Jenny Lind, Lauritz Melchior, Helen Traubel, and in more recent years Lucine Amara and Marti Talvela. This is truly a great musical heritage. The Liederkranz Club was founded in order to promote artistic endeavors and good fellowship. It was in this spirit that the Liederkranz Scholarship Awards have been awarded to worthy young artists since 1951. Many have gone on to careers with the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, and the world’ s leading opera houses. Some past and recent winners include Gene Boucher, Dominic Cossa, Justino Diaz, Renée Fleming, Batyah Godfrey, Kelly Kaduce, Kyle Ketelson, Gladys Kriese, Olga Makarina, Barbara Shuttleworth, Tatiana Troyanos and Deborah Voigt.

Nothing could better describe in brief our many activities than the plaque, presented to us at the American Bicentennial Festivities in 1976, which is in the lobby of our building.



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