William Steinway's Relationship with the Liederkranz

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The move from a simple singing society to a professional society mirrors the development of William Steinways’s relationship with the Liederkranz.

In the early years of the diary, William focused on singing, noting the quality of his voice: fair, fine, splendid, magnificent, and poor (due to a sore throat). He frequently conducted. In later years of the diary, his focus shifted from singing to business affairs of the Liederkranz and Steinway & Sons. The music scholar Christopher Bruhn found that the number of diary entries in which William mentions performing in the Liederkranz chorus peaked in 1864 as he began to take on more administrative duties within the organization. (1, p. 273) In 1865, William wrote that his resignation as an active member of the LK and of the Music Committee was not accepted by the Society. (Diary, 1865-01-17) When he was elected to the presidency, he protested. (Diary, 1867-01-15) In 1876, in the midst of marital troubles, he wrote that it was "impossible" to accept the presidency and was relieved not to be elected to responsibilities. In 1885, he was nominated as President and "yields" to Richard Adams and Julius Hoffmann. William reported arranging concert programs, setting ticket prices, and giving tickets to VIPs. He frequently noted that he was happy and relieved when a concert or ball that he worked to arrange concluded. He noted when he let vice presidents preside over meetings, e.g., "Adams presides and I rest."(Diary, 1886-10-12) When William Steinway became a Rapid Transit Commission member in 1890, he attempted to reduce his Liederkranz activities. In 1890, he noted that he "positively" declined to serve on the Music Committee.(Diary, 1890-05-27) Yet he was instrumental in hiring Heinrich Zoellner as conductor for the Liederkranz.

William often expressed pride in the Liederkranz’s accomplishments—as well as his own with the society. For instance, he wrote, "I preside!" at the Generalversammlung of Shareholders.(Diary, 1886-04-02) William rarely used exclamation points, so he may have been particularly proud of this achievement. The following day he combined duties at the Liederkranz, singing and presiding.

The Liederkranz was part of the fabric of William’s life. Indeed, the Liederkranz was so much a part of William’s life that he was at the LK at times when one might expect him to have been spending time with his family. For example, on January 23, 1862, William’s first wife, Regina Roos Steinway, gave birth to a stillborn boy. The following days William tried his voice for a Liederkranz concert and expressed concern that he would not be in good voice for an LK concert. (Diary, 1862-01-25) William did sing in the concert at the Brooklyn Philharmonic on January 25, going out for champagne before arriving home at 12:30 AM. On Regina’s 21st birthday, she was sick in bed; William went to the Liederkranz.(Diary, 1864-10-11) William was at the Liederkranz in 1881 and 1887 rather than at home celebrating the birthdays of Elizabeth Ranft Steinway, his second wife. And when Elizabeth was in labor in 1881, William was climbing all over the new Liederkranz Hall, then under construction.(Diary, 1881-12-19)

At times, the Liederkranz was a refuge for William Steinway. For example, after talking with Lousia Kruesi about the details of his wife Regina’s infidelities, William arrived at the LK "more dead than alive" and proceeded to play cards.(Diary, 1876-03-14) The LK was on occasion an escape from the weather. The Liederkranz, also, served as a refuge from business pressures, a place where William could get work done undisturbed. He wrote letters (Diary, 1892-03-29) and advertisements (Diary, 1894-10-09) at the LK. It was a place where he expected to escape a steady stream of callers and mendicants although he was not always successful, such as shortly before election day in 1887 when he wrote that he was "even harassed politically at the LK."(Diary, 1887-11-01)

Realistically, William could not have expected to escape completely from the outside world at the Liederkranz, because he regularly used the society to promote his business and political ventures. In 1862, William wrote of a Democratic meeting at Pythagoras Hall, the Liederkranz home (Diary, 1862-11-04) In 1894, at the Liederkranz he obtained the signature of Adam Neidlinger on a recommendation of Grant for mayor of New York and Smyth for recorder.(Diary, 1894-10-23) Judges called on William in the Kneipe of the Liederkranz.( Diary, 1894-10-09) He held piano manufacturers association meetings in Liederkranz Hall.(Diary, 1890-03-03) In 1872, he acquired intelligence about possible strikes by piano workers at Liederkranz Hall.(Diary, 1872-06-25) He consulted the 1884 Liederkranz minute book for a record of whom he had spoken with for witnesses in a law suit.(Diary, 1889-06-15) He interviewed and hired a bookkeeper at the Liederkranz.(Diary, 1883-04-18)

Although image conscious—about himself and the Liederkranz—William’s diary entries relating to Liederkranz activities also have a tone of enjoyment and fun, with such descriptions as "merry company," "jolly times." Towards the end of his life, after Elizabeth Ranft Steinway, his second wife, had died and he was in poor health, William’s entries began to mention seeing "friends" at the Liederkranz.( Diary, 1894-03-13, 1894-07-10) In the spring of 1896, the Liederkranz threw a surprise party for William, on what would prove to be his final birthday celebration. Zoellner composed a song for the Liederkranz chorus, and The New York Times on March 6, 1896, reported that William’s"love for the Liederkranz and the veneration of its members for him were never more clearly demonstrated than here."(2)

On October 6, 1896, William was again elected President of the Liederkranz, and one week later he presided at the Liederkranz for the first time in nearly four years. In his last diary entry, William wrote that he drove to the LK and attended the Jubilee Committee meeting, although he was "tired and jaded" and let Julius Hoffmann preside.(Diary, 1896-11-08) Thus, in his final diary entry, as in his first, William mentioned the Liederkranz.



 1. Bruhn, Christopher. "Taking the private public: amateur music-making and the musical audience in 1860s New York," American Music, Fall 2003.

2. "William Steinway’s birthday," The New York Times, March 6, 1896, p. 3.