Apollo Club of Boston

B.J. Lang

Invitation to Founding Meeting

1871 Rule Book

Purpose of the Apollo Club

        Home About Us Concert Schedule Photos In the News Join Us Members Contact Us

Boston's Apollo Club...and the Concerts It Gives

The Sunday Herald, Boston, November 22, 1903

(Note.: The original article was illustrated with portraits that did not reproduce well.)

A few weeks ago there began the 33rd season of the Apollo Club, that rare band of male voices rendering the

virile, if limited, music suited to their range of tone with consummate mastery, and whose concerts are the

hardest to get into in Boston.  It is the American derivative of the German “ Liedertafel,” and has preserved a

certain flavor inseparable from the German etymology of the word that has a charm of its own.  For

“Liedertafel” in English, would be “song table,” and with the true German sense of the fitness of things both

words in the compound are equal in importance—“song,” for obvious reasons; “table,” to hold the beer glasses.

Given a dozen or more jolly Germans with some pretensions to voices, a conscientious waiter and table around

which they can sit while they sing, and all the elements of a “Liedertafel” are present.

In time, of course, a more refined and possibly more decorous product

evolved.  The German, while remaining as jolly as before, dons a dress

suit and invites his friends to hear him.  The “tafel” is kept in the

background, for use at rehearsals, and only the rich treasures of the

German “lieder” are presented.

Practically every town in Germany has at least one “Liedertafel,” and

cities may have scores.  France, Switzerland, Austria, and even England,

have long since adopted the custom, widely and successfully.  The

Germans who came here in the middle of the last century brought their

“Liedertafel” as a matter of course, often somewhat Americanized, but

retaining the essential characteristics of the time-honored institution.

Birth of the Apollo Club.

It was not until after the civil war that Americans warmed to the notion.

The Mendelssohn Club of New York was the first venture, a derivative

from the Liederkranz, the real German C of New York.  Here I Boston

was the Orpheus Club, also a real German “Liedertafel,” though well

disguised in its name, a charming and welcome musical feature of the

city life, regarded with a sort of envy by American neighbors.  Their

singing was a delight, but, alas, only Germans could do it.  Then in the winter of 1870-71 the Mendelssohn Club

of New York gave a concert here and broke the spell.  What the Mendelssohnites could do Bostonians could do

as well.

Hence came the Apollo Club, the American “Liedertafel.”  There was a nucleus already in the Chickering Club,

a group of 12 singers, who gave concerts, open only to invited guests, the prime characteristic of Apollo

concerts to this day.  Then there were John N. Danforth and John H. Stickney, the pioneers who stirred the

others up and kept things moving, the first needs in any undertaking.  Allen A. Brown, an indefatigable

collector of music, was enlisted.  Dr. Samuel W. Langmaid, a well known physician; George H. Chickering, the

piano man; Arthur Reed, an earnest and experienced worker; Charles James Sprague, bank cashier, poet and

German scholar, and perhaps a dozen others, who only needed a rallying cry to become keen recruiting agents,

flocked to the Apollo standard.  After the usual preliminary meeting a club 52 members was formed, and they

entered at once upon the rehearsal of a programme, under the direction of B. J. Lang.

It was a success from the start.  Nothing like their work had ever been heard in Boston before, with American

voices at least.  The original plan of membership included a small list of about 60 active members, who did the

singing, and 500 associate members, who did the listening, assisted by the few friends each cared to bring.

No tickets were sold.  The only way to get in was to be on good enough terms with a member to be

remembered when his quota of tickets was distributed.  It was an amateur affair throughout.

The First Concert Given

The first informal concert was given Sept. 5, 1871, and there were only 193 on the associate list, but after that

first informal concert there was no further trouble.

In December, 1871, the first formal concert was given, and,

according to a newspaper account of that day, “Music Hall

was packed with an audience composed of the elite of

Boston.”  Further on the musical critic of that time appears

to have been at a loss to express himself.  He says, “The

voices were strong, resonant and of the quality; the light and

shade, delicate pianissimo, swelling a s storm of power, with

beautifully smooth gradation; the clear, crisp enunciation of

all the words as with one voice; the mingling and welding of

the transitional expression as though one mind directed it—

all these points of artistic merit and beauty were manifest to

the most inexperienced ear.”

The programme for the concert [is shown at right]:

The programme well illustrates the limitations under which

male voices are held.  The themes above are of soldiers’ and

sailors’ life, or a hint of the sentimental, as in the “Spring

Night” and “Hymn to Music.”  There might have been

added selections from an enormous collection of songs of the

“tafel” order, on the “Here we are again” type, but prudence

forbade such flights thus early in Boston’s musical history.

Germany fairly teems with rousing melodies, in which

“wine, women and song” are vociferously lauded around the “tafel.”  It is a simple, confined range, but one in

which good fellowship, good cheer, esprit de corps, whether of the soldier or the roisterer, and other purely

masculine virtues find a voice in music that must not range beyond a few octaves.  There are noble bits of such

music, but only bits.  “Die Wacht am Rhein” has cheered the heart of millions of German patriots, though

musically it is only a treasure of the “Liedertafel.”

Comparatively few of the great composers have contributed much in this field, but of them all Mendelssohn is

easily in the lead.  He could preserve the spirit of typical male voice song and express it in the most musical

vein as well.  Moreover, he was a large contributor and few “Apollo,” “Mendelssohn” or “Liedertafel”

programmes are found in which Mendelssohn does not frequently appear.

Among other composers who have been successful in this field are Bruch, Brambach, John K. Paine of

Harvard, Hiller, Brahms, Whiting, Prout, Foote, Parker, Nicode, Schwalm, Gernsheim, Schumann, Schubert,

Sullivan, Goldmark, Chadwick – each with a few good examples at least, and some with many.  Of course, by

letting in women, the composer may soar to any height musically, but with men alone he must not only be a

musician, but have something of the “He’s a jolly good fellow” blood in him.

Rehearsals and Concerts.

So far as the general public knew the Apollo Club, the members appeared in four formal concerts each winter,

usually at Music Hall, and each concert was repeated at least once.  Then there were the public rehearsals, one

each month.  All these occasions came promptly to the events of the first musical importance locally, and the

good example spread.

David W. Loring, one of the original members, moved

to San Francisco, and took with him the inspiration

that led to an Apollo Club there.  Many western cities

followed suit, often adopting the name “Apollo” until

today the American “Liedertafel” is widespread and

flourishing.

The programmes were largely vocal, of necessity, and

rendered by members who were either business or

professional men, but often included some of the

leading church singers in the city, some of whom, like

Barnabee and Whitney, later attained fame in the

lyric drama.  There would sometimes be a full

orchestral accompaniment to an important piece, and

nearly always a prominent soloist, either vocal or

instrumental, would assist in the formal concerts.

Among them have been Richard Arnold, Gustav

Dannreuther, Fritz Giese, Thomas Ryan, Camilla Urso,

Charles R. Adams, Ernst Perabo, Ovide Musin, Carl

Faelten, Leopold Lichtenberg, Adele Aus der Ohe,

Xaver Reiter, Giuseppe Campanari, Anton Hekking,

Maud Powell, Lillian Blauvelt, Alwin Schroeder, Henri

Marteau, Franz Kneisel, Josef Hoffman, Max

Heinrich, Gertrude May Stein, Johanna Gadski, Pol

Plancon, Marie Brema, David Bispham and Mme,

Szumowska.

Members and Conductors

In personnel the membership has been singularly constant, betraying the club-like character of the

organization.  B. J. Lang, the original conductor, remained with them for 30 years, yielding his baton June 8,

1901, to Emil Mollenhauer, the present conductor.  Arthur Reed, the original secretary, filled the post for 25

years, and in an organization where everything is done by invitation, and a list of 500 associates is involved

the secretary’s desk is no easy one.  Horace J. Phipps, the present secretary, is a veteran member.  Judge John

Phelps Putman, the first president, remained in office for 11 years, until he died.  After his 30 years of service

with the club baton, B. J. Lang was made president.

The interests of the club enlisted the devotion of a rare class of men, most of whom are still living.  Allen A.

Brown, for example, was for years chairman of the music committee, and loaned the club whatever was

wanted from his great musical library, now given to and forming one of the large departments of the Public

Library.  Charles James Sprague, a musician, a poet and a German scholar, was for years the club translator.

Male voice programmes must be dug from German files largely, and, aside from getting the English meaning,

Mr. Sprague could preserve a good share of the poetic expression of the original and in a form suited to the

singers’ demands.

At the supper following the 100th concert of the club, in 1886, some of the leaders were sketched in brotherly

fashion by Secretary Reed, as follows:

Stickney–The sole remaining tenor of the original 12; the

permanent endman of the troupe, whose semi-occasional

absence causes a void that cannot be filled; quite with my

recollection, a stripling measuring six feet in length by about

as many inches in diameter, but now how changed!  Of him it

may be said with at least partial truth, “that all hath music

wrought” (with some slight aid from mineral waters); may his

shadow never grow less.

Danforth–The venerable ancestor of Apollo and thus parent

of us all; the watchful guardian of our musical properties and

always faithful to his post.

Whitcomb (N. O.)–The saunterer, glass of fashion and

mould of form; since our earliest days an ornament and

standby in the front row.

Howard (C. T.)–Fierce watchdog of the treasury since the

first $10 counterfeit bill came into it; poet, punster, patriarch;

a thing of beauty and a joy forever; a veritable Apollo.

Wiswell (G. C.)–A tower of strength to the first basses.

Lowell (John A.)–A sad, shy, sober youth.

Reed–Well meaning scribe, but an ever present thorn in the

flesh and whipper-in.

Aiken (Henry M.)--The gleeful; of whom it is rumored that as

he lay in his cradle on the second day of his life he was heard

to lift up his voice, singing “Beauties, have you seen a toy,”

followed immediately with “Which is the properest day to

drink.”

A certain degree of frankness may be pardoned in pleasantries among friends, associated every week, as the

Apollo members are, in the common task of rendering part songs, madrigals and the male voice miscellany.  It

was a labor of love for all, and was an environment where real friendships could grow, if they ever can grow

anywhere in this self-centred world.

Of the original 52 members, Mr. Wiswell only remains as an active member, but 23 of these original singers

are still living, as follows:  H. C. Barnebee, I. Lewis Brackett, Allen A. Brown, A. Parker Brown, Cornelius

Chenery, Henry A. Cook, Warren Davenport, G. W. Dudley, S. W. Langmaid, David W. Loring, John A. Lowell,

Henry Pazolt, C. E. Pickett, P. H. Powers, Arthur Reed, W. H. Wadleigh, J. Q. Wetherbee, N. O. Whitcomb, H.

L. Whitney, M. W. Whitney, Hiram Wilde, William J. Winch and George C. Wiswell.

The Club in Public.

The club was early called upon to join in public functions of

distinction, the first occasion of this sort being the funeral

services in honor of the Hon. Charles Sumner at Music Hall,

April 29, 1874, a notable gathering.  Carl Schurz delivered the

eulogy and the Apollos sang a hymn witter by Dr. Holmes, to

music arranged by Mr. Lang.  They also sang later in the day

at the grave of the dead senator.

On June 17, 1875, the club assisted at the services around the

monument in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the

battle of Bunker Hill.  Again, on June 23, 1877, on Gov. Rice’s

invitation, they gave a concert in honor of President Hayes,

who was visiting Boston then.  They responded again to an

invitation to join in the memorial services of Gen. Devens.

The home of the club have been various, each, however, with

the general character of including a hall for rehearsals and a

set of rooms for lounging; the latter, the modern,

Americanized derivative of the “tafel.”  For a year they met at

Hallett’s music rooms on Tremont street; then made a long

stay in what is now the Chickering building on Tremont

street, from whence the removed to Park street over Doll &

Richards’; then back to the Chickering building, and three

years ago to the present Chickering Hall building on

Huntington avenue.

A period of 32 years, with a peculiarly constant membership and prescribed, though congenial, task for all,

would necessarily bring accumulations of value.  A musical collection of respectable proportions has formed

one of these treasures, but doubtless most of the Apollonians would regard the memories of mutual endeavor

and companionship, the “liedertafel” traditions, as the most cherished remembrances, and these cannot be

either written or shared.

 
 

A Men's Chorus Founded in 1871

Spring NightBeethoven, Fischer
Troopers’ SongGade
The VoyageMendelssohn
The BeeGade
Chorus of dervishes from the Ruins of AthensBeethoven
Overture from Calm Sea and Prosperous VoyageMendelssohn
Soldier’s FarewellKinkel
Pianoforte solo—Scherzo in B flat minor Chopin
Hymn to MusicLachner
Loyal SongKuecken
Prayer Before BattleStorch
To the Sons of ArtMendolssohn