Liederkranz and German-American Culture

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As restrictions against Jews and non-German speakers were instituted in the early 1880s, the Liederkranz was moving into its new hall, suggesting the new hall was an expression of the society’s German identity and influence.

Liederkranz members were proud of their fatherland, vigorously and publicly supporting Germany in the Franco-Prussian War. On July 20, 1870, the Liederkranz and The Arion gave a joint concert in support of Germany at the Liederkranz Hall. Other signs of support were the flying of both German and American flags in the hall,(Diary, 1870-07-20) a Grand Bazaar for the German Wounded, which William conducted,(Diary, 1870-10-17) celebration of the surrender of Paris,(Diary, 1871-01-31) and participation in a celebratory parade of Germans in New York City. "The affair today was the most imposing of its kind that ever took place in America," William stated.(Diary, 1871-04-10)

New York City Grand Procession, April 10, 1871, in commemoration of the Treaty of Peace between Germany and France

New York City Grand Procession, April 10, 1871, in commemoration of the Treaty of Peace between Germany and France

The Liederkranz contributed to the success of German-Americans retaining their identity in the United States. Mosenthal’s history links the society’s beginnings with the 1848 revolution: "Many an 1848er having escaped their pursuers attached himself to the Liederkranz more for patriotic than musical reasons."(3, p. VII) The Liederkranz nevertheless combined the patriotic with the musical, and the musical became an expression of German patriotism, a way for members to honor their German origins and promote their culture in their new home. The centennial history of the Liederkranz compared the German singing societies to the 13th century central European Minnesingers, lyric poets who held festivals to glorify music. The Minnesingers created a German tradition of love for song. German immigrants brought this tradition to the United States: "When the Germans migrated to these shores in search of freedom, they brought with them that innate love for music which they had cultivated with such deep affection in their native land."(1, p. 4) Mosenthal’s history states that the Liederkranz "engaged in the lofty goal to create a home for the German Lied in America."(3, p. V) By 1891, Esther Singleton declared in Harper’s Weekly that New York was "largely indebted to its German citizens for the development and support of music."(2) According to Mosenthal’s history, "the highest praise for the Liederkranz chorus remains that it has never forgotten to care for the folk tune. . . .In the end it was the simple folk tunes with which the singers made the greatest impression."(3, p. VII) William Steinway expressed a similar belief in an article about the Christmas tree for the New York Staatszeitung on December 23, 1894, reminding readers that "Despite all the glowing success one should not forget that the source of all our music is the folk tune Volkslied."(4) In the same article, ironically, he bemoaned the growth of singing clubs from small societies like familiers to larger, more professional organizations:

 "Isn’t the original idea of such clubs as enhanced and expanded family life in large measure? In its old home on 4th Street the Liederkranz saw many a Christmas tree shine and many a beautiful Christmas song rose to the heavens…Like one single large family everyone gathered around the tree and when it was time to rummage for the gifts the joyful noise reached its zenith. It is true that in those days the people celebrating were still mostly bachelors, who didn’t yet have a home of their own. Now they not only have a home, wife and children, some even parade their grandchildren. And thus it can be excused that they rather celebrate at home than in clubs . But unfortunately even in the German family circles of New York American influence is visible in that one retreats more and more from one another and limits the casual harmless association among one another." (4)





1. History of the Liederkranz of the City of New York 1847 to 1947 and of The Arion, New York. New York: The Drechsel Printing Co., 1948.

2. "The Liederkranz Society," Harper’s Weekly, March 7, 1891, p. 187.

3. Mosenthal, Hermann. Geschichte des Vereins deutscher Liederkranz in New York. New York: F.A. Ringler Company, 1897.

4. Steinway, William. "Eine Weihnachts Betrachtung," New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung, December 23, 1894, p. 1.