Charles F. Tretbar

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Charles F. Tretbar (b February 2, 1832 in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany; d June 3, 1909 in Baden-Baden, Germany,) spent four decades at Steinway & Sons, becoming an officer of the company and a trusted advisor and intimate friend of William Steinway.

In 1852, Tretbar immigrated to the United States, beginning his business career in a Baltimore, MD sheet music store and later moving to Buffalo, NY, where he became acquainted with the Nordheimer family. Tretbar later was associated in business with Nordheimer & Company, a Steinway dealer in Montreal, Canada.(9) William met Tretbar in August 1862 while visiting Nordheimer in Montreal.(Diary, 1862-08-07) William then hired Tretbar from Nordheimer in January 1865.(3)(Diary, 1865-01-20)

It is clear that William formed a close personal relationship with Charles Tretbar within the year. They and their wives frequently attended concerts and dined together.(Diary, 1865-02-11; 1865-02-25; 1865-02-28; 1865-03-21; 1865-04-23; 1865-10-13; 1865-10-17) Beginning in 1874 William often played Skat with Tretbar.(Diary, 1874-10-31; 1874-11-11; 1884-07-27) By 1876 the relationship was so close that William had Tretbar serve as translator when servant Augusta Appel Krauss testified about the alleged adulterous relationship between Regina Roos Steinway and Louis Stern.(6)

It is clear as well that William and Charles Tretbar had a close professional relationship virtually from the beginning, working long hours together. (Diary,1865-06-18; 1865-07-02; 1866-09-25; 1868-07-09; 1868-07-14; 1868-07-24) In 1876 when Steinway & Sons was organized as a corporation, succeeding the family partnership, Tretbar became one of the original corporate officers. (12) He was corporate Secretary until 1892 when he became Treasurer. From 1898 until 1905 he served as either a Director or Treasurer.(15) William's grandson, Henry Z. Steinway, describes Tretbar as William's "almost alter ego."(14)

William relied on Tretbar to manage Steinway Hall's concerts and artists. Through his association with prominent musicians throughout the world Tretbar became a major figure in American musical life. Programs of events he presented at Steinway Hall make twenty-one large volumes. (1) When announcing Tretbar's retirement in 1905, Charles Steinway noted Tretbar had been identified with most all of the greatest enterprises in the musical life of New York. To mark his retirement employees of Steinway & Sons gave Tretbar a parlor grand piano.(13) On this occasion The Music Trade Review characterized him as a keen businessman, one whose influence and value would rarely be seen.(4) His retirement was "received with universal regret in musical circles on both sides of the Atlantic." (2) Following his retirement and before his departure for Germany, his career was celebrated with a testimonial noted in the Musical Courier. The Courier described him as "not only a vital factor in art, but a living encyclopedia of nearly half a century of music in America."(16)

Pianist Ignacy Paderewski, whose American tour in 1891 was arranged by Steinway & Sons, thought Tretbar rather unpleasant, perhaps because he greeted the pianist with the words "You have had brilliant successes in London and Paris but let me tell you, Mr. Paderewski, you need not expect anything like that here in America...We are not easily pleased here."(8) Paderewski felt Tretbar placed him in inferior hotels and concert venues and demanded improved concert halls and hotels. He got his way, and the tour proved to be a great success.(7)

Tretbar, a child of varied musical gifts, was the son of an "eminent clarinetist" and his musical talent "was carefully developed." At age 14, he entered "a large English house" in Leipzig, "then the heart of musical life in Germany," where Mendelssohn was the central figure. Tretbar, "who possessed a beautiful and well cultivated tenor voice," quickly became a member of the Ossian, a mixed choral society. Tretbar also studied piano under Charles Meyer.(11)

Tretbar played the role of enforcer in the resignation of Henry W.T. Steinway from Steinway & Sons. On December 31, 1891, following a showdown with the Steinway board, Henry W.T. resigned. Henry asked to be able to keep a desk at Steinway Hall and his horses at the stable in Queens, New York. In January 1892 it was Tretbar, as board secretary, who wrote the letter to Henry W. T. telling him that the board had denied his requests.(17)

Tretbar also was a book publisher. Among his titles: From the Tone World (Essays by Louis Ehlert translated by Helen D. Tretbar, Charles's wife);(5) A Conversation on Music (by Anton Rubenstein);(10) and The M. Steinert Collection of Keyed and Stringed Instruments (by Morris Steinert).(11) A search of WorldCat, the web-based source of library content, reveals 40 additional books, music scores or librettos showing Charles F. Tretbar as publisher. Two of these, analytical reviews of musical compositions, were authored by Tretbar, himself.(18)

Tretbar died five years after retiring from Steinway & Sons. "He was looked upon as one of the best authorities on music and musical life in the United States." (3)



  1. "A Busy Career." The New York Times, Jan. 19, 1890, p. 9.
  2. "Charles F. Tretbar." The New York Times, June 6, 1909, p. 9.
  3. "Charles F. Tretbar." The New York Tribune, June 6, 1909, p. 7.
  4. "Chas. F. Tretbar Retires." The Music Trade Review, Vol. XL. No. 4. Jan. 28, 1905, p. 15.
  5. Ehlert, Louis. From the Tone World. New York: Charles F. Tretbar, 1885.
  6. Fostle, D.W. The Steinway Saga: An American Dynasty. New York: Scribner, 1995, p. 203.
  7. "Paderewski & America." Zoom in on America, Dec. 2010, p. 2.
  8. "Paderewski's Piano." Smithsonian, March 1999, p. 30.
  9. Pelletreau, William S. (Rose, Peter). A History of Long Island: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time. vol. III. New York and Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1903, pp. 260-61, available from google books Website. accessed February 18, 2011
  10. Rubenstein, Anton. A Conversation on Music. New York: C. F. Tretbar, 1892.
  11. Steinert, Morris. The M. Steinert Collection of Keyed and Stringed Instruments: with various treatises on the history of these instruments, the method of playing them, and their influence on musical art. New York: C. F. Tretbar, 1893.
  12. "Steinway Celebrates Fiftieth Year of Corporate Existence." Music Trade Review 82 no. 21 (1926), p. 15, available from the arcade-museum Web site accessed February 21, 2011
  13. "Steinway Forces Dine." The Music Trade Review, Vol. XL. No. 4., Jan. 28, 1905, p. 1.
  14. Steinway, Henry Z. "Charles F. Tretbar."Mar. 7, 1885. Steinway Diary Project Subject Files. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
  15. Steinway, Henry Z. "Charles F. Tretbar." Undated. Steinway Diary Project Subject Files. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
  16. "Testimonial for Mr. Tretbar." Musical Courier, Aug. 9, 1905 Vol. LI-No. 6
  17. Tretbar, Charles F. Ltr to Henry W. T. Steinway, Jan. 5, 1892 in Minutes, Board of Directors, Steinway & Sons. Steinway Diary Project Files. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
  18. WorldCat search results for Tretbar Charles, available from the WorldCat web site accessed April 9, 2012