Important professionally and socially to William Steinway, who mentions it more than 50 times in his diary, the Arion Society was one of the leading German singing social organizations in the United States from its founding in January 1854 until its decline following World War I. A rival chorus to the older New York Liederkranz Society, from which the fourteen founding members broke away after "disagreeing violently with the majority of that Society," Arion was all-male and almost exclusively German.(4)(5, p. 369)
Like the Liederkranz, Arion's purpose was "the perpetuation of love for some of the characteristic elements of German civilization."(5, p. 368). The society gave many public and benefit concerts, sponsored balls, staged operettas and after 1863 adopted the carnival format of the Mainzer Karneval Verein.(2) The Arion Society was pioneering in its efforts to bring German opera and operettas to New York, and on August 27, 1859, sang the choruses for the American premiere of Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser, well before Wagner became popular in Germany.(4)(5, p. 370)
The Arion presented its first concert in January of 1854 in the Apollo Rooms at Broadway and Canal Street, although the society’s original home (1863-1871) was Pythagoras Hall where the Liederkanz met and gave concerts from 1852 to 1863. The Arion Society’s concert and meeting space continued to improve during William’s time. In 1870 the Arion met at 19 and 21 St. Mark’s Place. Having achieved prominence, the Arion bought a clubhouse in the German neighborhood of Kleindeutschland in 1871.(2) In 1885, Arion built its own clubhouse on the corner of Park Avenue and 59th Street, moving into the facility in 1887.(3) William remarked on the impressiveness of this new building, stating, “Arion Hall Opening of new Hall. . . Arion imposing building.” (Diary, 1887-09-17) By 1892 Arion membership had risen to 1,519, of which 141 were singers,(4)
The Arion members put great emphasis on speaking German at its meetings. The New York Times observed that: “. . . One does not need to be a very close observer to note that the second generation of Arionites is more thoroughly Teutonized than the second generation of Liederkranzer.”(4)
Along with the Liederkranz, the Arion was an important part of William’s social life; and he attended their concerts, yearly Carnival Balls, and various civic and social meetings arranged by the society. . The Liederkranz and the Arion jointly produced several concerts for the benefit of the German Hospital of New York City. William, as a member of Liederkranz, involved himself in these, as well as in the joint concerts of January 1886 (Diary, 1886-01-12) and January 1890 (Diary, 1890-01-21), and Saengerfests in 1889 and 1894. Many of these concerts included the participation of the Beethoven Männerchor (Diary, 1886-01-10; 1886-01-12) and the Zoellner Männerchor of Brooklyn. (Diary, 1887-08-11) and others.(1)
In 1869 when the Arion Society produced Der Freischütz by C.M.von Weber, it was written that, “No one in either the Arion or the Liederkranz will ever forget the interesting fact that William Steinway sang in the chorus.“(4) William was elected an honorary member of the Arion Society in 1887. (Diary, 1887-09-20)
Upon the Arion’s return from their triumphant Germany tour, where they serenaded William in front of Hotel Bristol in Frankfurt (Diary, 1892-07-27), the Liederkranz held a reception for the singers (Diary, 1892-10-08) and they in turn gave a “festival Commerse” for the Liederkranz the following year. (Diary, 1893-07-25) The Arion also participated in the Heine Heinrich Monument Bazaar at Terrace Garden, which their president, Richard Katzenmayer, opened. (Diary, 1895-11-17)
Over the years the Arion chorus had several conductors. Recording events in his diary, William closely watched the Arion leadership and rising critical acclaim. In 1871 it brought Dr. Leopold Damrosch from Breslau in Germany, who stayed until 1883. Frank van der Stucken, the first native-born American Arion conductor, gave his first concert in April of 1884 and resigned in 1895 (Diary, 1895-04-20,). Other Arion conductors included Carl Bergmann, who held several tenures as conductor, Carl Anschütz, who conducted the chorus from 1860 until the end of 1863, F.L. Ritter (1864-67), and Julius Lorenz, who was chosen in July 1895. (Diary, 1895-07-31)(4)(5, p. 369)
1. “Historical Singing Clubs,” The New York Times, June 17, 1894, p. 20.
2. Jackson, K, ed. The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991, p. 12.
3. King, Moses. King’s Handbook of New York City 1893. Boston: Moses King, 1892, p. 319.
4. “Maennergesangverein Arion: An Organization that Sings and Travels Over the World.” The New York Times, June 17, 1894, p.20.
5. “New York Musical Societies,” Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. III. New York: The Macmillian Company, 1911, pp. 368-70.