The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Damrosch, Walter Johannes

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The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Damrosch, Walter Johannes

DAMROSCH, Walter Johannes, musician, b. in Breslau, Prussia, 30 Jan., 1862, son of Dr. Leopold Damrosch (1832-85) and Helena Von Heimburg, a German ballad singer. He received his musical education chiefly from his father, but also had instruction from Max Pinner, Rischbieter, Urspruch, and Hans von Bülow. He came to the United States with his father in 1871. During the great music festival given by Dr. Damrosch in May, 1881, Walter Damrosch first acted as conductor in drilling several sections of the large chorus, one in New York, and another in Newark, N. J. The latter, consisting chiefly of members of the Harmonic Society, elected him to be their conductor. Under his leadership this society regained its former reputation, and during this time a series of concerts was given, in which such works as Rubinstein's “Tower of Babel,” Berlioz's “Damnation of Faust,” and Verdi's “Requiem” were performed. He was then only nineteen years of age, but showed marked ability in drilling large chorus classes. During the last illness of his father he was suddenly called upon to conduct the German opera, which he did with success, and, after his father's death, was appointed to be assistant director and conductor of the Symphony and Oratorio Societies. The same year he took the German Opera Company on a tour of Chicago, Cincinnati, Boston, and Philadelphia, producing “Tannhäuser,” “Lohengrin,” “Walküre,” “Prophet,” “Fidelio” and other noted works with remarkable success. One of his principal achievements was the successful concert performance, by the Oratorio and Symphony Societies, in March, 1886, of “Parsifal,” its first production in the United States. During his visit to Europe in the summer of 1886 he was invited by the Deutsche Tonkünstler-Verein, of which Dr. Franz Liszt was president, to conduct some of his father's compositions at Sondershausen, Thuringia. Carl Goldmark's opera “Merlin” was produced for the first time in the United States under his direction, at the Metropolitan Opera House, 3 Jan., 1887. Mr. Damrosch has composed “The Scarlet Letter,” an opera in three acts on Hawthorne's romance of that name, and published by Breitkopt and Hartel; “The Manila Te Deum” for solos, chorus, and orchestra, written in honor of Dewey's victory at Manila Bay and published by the John Church Company; three songs published by the John Church Company; sonata for violin and piano; “At Fox Meadow,” published by the John Church Company; “Cyrano,” a grand opera in four acts, libretto by W. J. Henderson, adapted from Rostand's play, published by G. Schirmer; “The Dove of Peace,” comic opera in three acts, libretto by Wallace Irwin, published by G. Schirmer. The following from a competent critic regarding the opera “Cyrano” appeared in the New York “Times: “Mr. Damrosch has shown the judgment and skill in writing for the instrument that was to be expected from one who has spent his life in conducting orchestral performances. He knows the orchestra and its components, knows its effects and how to obtain them. His score is commendable for its coloring, its richness, and for the sure touch with which he has emphasized and elucidated passages now emotional, now gay, now picturesque, now tragic. The music of ‘Cyrano’ is undoubtedly composed with skill, with verve, and in many parts with spontaneity.” Mr. Damrosch has also achieved success in the lecture field. His lectures on the “Dramas of Wagner” have been heard with approbation in every large city of the United States. His prodigious capacity for labor, his great musical ability, his unerring taste and refinement, together with his genial temperament and remarkable musical memory, have made him one of the notable conductors of recent times. He married 17 May, 1891, Margaret J., daughter of the late Hon. James G. Blaine.