Our summer-long series The A to Z of Carnegie Hall—featuring the people, the music, and the history of the Hall—continues with the letter D for Damrosch, a surname that has had a key influence on Carnegie Hall since before the Hall opened in 1891, through the present day.
In 1871, Leopold Damrosch arrived in New York from Germany with a letter of introduction from his friend and mentor Franz Liszt (see below). Within two years, he had founded the Oratorio Society of New York and in 1877 the Symphony Society, later becoming general manager and chief conductor of the Metropolitan Opera. Leopold’s desire for a permanent and sizable home for his beloved Oratorio and Symphony societies was shared by his son Walter and would be key in the genesis of Carnegie Hall.
Calling card of composer Franz Liszt, which served as a letter of introduction for conductor Leopold Damrosch when he came to America from Germany in 1871. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
As we noted in the previous installment of the A to Z series, Walter Damrosch had just finished his second season as conductor and music director of the Symphony Society of New York and the Oratorio Society of New York in 1887 (having assumed both roles after the death of his father, Leopold) and was sailing to Europe for a summer of study. During the voyage, he struck up a friendship with the honeymooning Andrew Carnegie after being introduced to him by Carnegie's bride, Louise Whitfield, who was a member of the Oratorio Society. Damrosch revealed his vision for a new concert hall in New York City. Carnegie showed interest in the idea and the rest, as they say, is 120-plus years of history.
In his capacity as as director of both the Oratorio Society and New York Symphony Society—which merged with the New York Philharmonic in 1928—Damrosch made ample use of the Hall and still holds the record for number of Carnegie Hall appearances. From Opening Night in 1891 (when he shared conducting duties with Tchaikovsky) until his final performance conducting the New York Philharmonics on March 27, 1942, the maestro performed at Carnegie Hall nearly 850 times. This stamina-busting run of performances included the first concert for young people barely six months after the Hall opened.
Aside from the fact that he, himself, conducted more than 200 times at the Hall, Walter's older brother Frank and his dedication to music education was to have an indirect but major impact on Carnegie Hall. Frank's first appearance at Carnegie Hall was during a lecture for The Association of Principals of Primary Departments and Schools of New York City in Carnegie Lyceum / Recital Hall (now Zankel Hall) on April 21, 1891—even before the official opening of the Hall on May 5 of that year. He went on to found the New York Institute of Musical Art in 1905. In 1926, Frank's institute merged with the Juilliard Graduate School to become what we know today as The Juilliard School.
In 2007, Carnegie Hall and the Weill Music institute joined The Juilliard School, in partnership with the New York City Department of Education, to create The Academy—a two-year fellowship program designed to prepare the world’s finest young professional musicians for careers that combine musical excellence with teaching, community outreach, advocacy, and leadership.
In keeping with family traditions, three of Walter and Frank Damrosch's relatives also performed at Carnegie Hall. Walter's children Anita, an actress, performed here twice in 1922 and pianist Polly (christened Leopoldine) three times in 1925–1926 as part of her father's symphony concerts for young people. Their sister Clara (also a pianist) performed at Carnegie Hall once in 1898. Clara later married David Mannes, with whom she founded the David Mannes Music School (now Mannes College The New School For Music).
To sum up, not only were the Damrosches partly responsible for the creation of Carnegie Hall and The Academy, they also account for just over two percent of the more than 46,000 events that have taken place at Carnegie Hall!
Left, Walter Damrosch in 1889, two years after meeting Andrew Carnegie and two years before the Hall opened. Right, Walter Damrosch in 1911. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives. Click to enlarge.
Walter Damrosch with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in 1902. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
RelatedA to Z of Carnegie HallThe History of the Hall The Academy