DALLAS, like other areas in the state, owes much to its German-American pioneers for an appreciation of good music. The German-Texas Saengerbund, or Singers League, created in New Braunfels before the Civil War, held its notable twenty-fifth Saengerfest in Dallas in April, 1904. It was to prove both the climax of the musical life of the town up to that time and an augury of the more extensive musical activities of the present-day city. The Saengerbund had met twice before in Dallasits
fourteenth Saengerfest being held here in 1883 and its nineteenth in 1893. As many as 5,000 had heard the festival at Fair Park in 1893 in the wooden auditorium, which had been doubled in seating capacity from 2,500.
The principal Dallas unit in the statewide league of German choral organizations was the Frohsinn Singing Society. This male chorus under the direction of Professor C. Manner had gained statewide attention nine years before by its participation in the Saengerfest held in Houston in 1885. Among the twenty members of the Frohsinn Society in 1885 were Henry Boll, an immigrant from Switzerland who was to become a noted naturalist of the Texas frontier; A. Eisenlohr of the family that produced the well-known artist E. G. Eisenlohr; and Charles Kaessler, who has been identified by some as a member of the family into which George E. Kessler, internationally known city planner, was born. Other names in the society’s 1885 roster included Charles Meisterhaus, Charles Fretz, a kinsman of Emil Fretz, one of the founding fathers of the Dallas park system, Charles Struck, and H. Schneider.
Professor Manner was a son of George C. Manner, piano manufacturer of New York City, who transferred his business and manufacturing operations to Dallas in 1880 and for many years built pianos in his factory on Ross Avenue near present Field Street.
Brass bands had been especially popular in Dallas since the early 1870s when they were introduced in local German beer gardens. Semiweekly band concerts were a summertime feature in the City Park during the last decade of the century, and Chriswell’s and Schrader’s bands and Carico’s orchestra were much appreciated. On its first appearance in Dallas, the United States Marine Corps Band gave four performances before packed audiences at the Dallas Opera House in April, 1895, John Philip Sousa and his band scored a popular triumph in the same hall on February 9, 1899.
The Dallas Philharmonic Society dirëcted by Professor Flans Kreissig—forerunner of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra—was organized in 1887. Its members played, however, solely “for the pleasure and musical culture of its members.” But by the latter part of 1899 the symphony orchestra had been born. The Dallas News reported on September 3 that there would be no rehearsal “of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra next Monday night on account of the Jewish holidays.”
The State Fair of Texas made a major move at its 1899 exposition to encourage musical development in the state. It sponsored formation of a state association of musicians and musical societies. Mrs. Jules D. Roberts, founder of Dallas’s famed St. Cecilia Club and long the leading professional manager of musical concerts in Dallas, was chosen its president.
The Saengerf est in Dallas in 1904 brought the world-famous operatic and concert stage star Marcella Sembrich as the principal artist. Maidie Watkin, a Dallas pianist, was chosen by Madame Sembrich as her accompanist at the piano. Other artists presented in 1904 were Albert Boroff, basso; Elizabeth Balmere, soprano; Jan Van Oordt, violinist; and Miss F. Kate Schneider of Dallas, mezzo-soprano.
The Saengerfest also brought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with Adolph Rosenbecker as conductor. Besides providing the accompaniment for stirring choruses in the three-day program of concerts, the orchestra played a series of numbers of its own. These ranged from Saint-Saëns’s “Danse Macabre” and the overture to Weber’s Der Freischiitz to the “Vorspiel” to Wagner’s Lohengrin and the “Ride of the Valkyries” from the same composer’s Die Walkiire.
Sembrich gave the city its first impression of the Mad Scene from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Verdi’s lament of tormented love in the aria, “Ah forse e lui che l’animan” from La Traviata. Her great hit, though, was the singing of “The Voices of Spring,” a number which the Viennese waltz king, Johann Strauss, had written especially for her.
The high point of the Saengerfest was the singing by six hundred voices in a united mass chorus, accompanied by the full orchestra, of Lowell Mason’s relatively new hymn, “Nearer My God to Thee.” Nothing like this production was to be heard again in Dallas until some of the more grandiose works of Hector Berlioz or Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”—complete with firing cannon—were heard some years later.
The Dallas Committee for the Saengerfest was headed by Charles A. Mangold, a member of the Frohsinn Society and long a civic and cultural leader of Dallas. Its vice-president was A. Harris, head of the store bearing his name and grandfather of Arthur L. Kramer, Jr., present head of the Dallas Grand Opera Committee.
Photo: 2727 Routh Street. Back: George & Alfred Manner. Front, Minnie, Kate, Carrie Manner. Note: Herman is absent.