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Hermann Kotzschmar: Portland's Musical Genius

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Hermann Kotzschmar, Portland, ca. 1900

Hermann Kotzschmar, Portland, ca. 1900

Item 20714 info
Maine Historical Society

It was very evident in Mr. Kotzschmar's young manhood that he was no ordinary person;

But under that quiet and unpretending manner were hidden rare musical gifts, Which would some day Surprise and bless those who came within their influence.

He had remarkable ability as a teacher, conductor, composer and performer.

He would almost seem to be without excuse if he had not had Years of instruction from some of the best teachers in Germany, And at least two preceding generations of good musical blood flowing in his veins.

Hermann Kotzschmar was a musical genius.

His remarkable performances on the organ I have never heard equaled. His style was his own. It has been termed orchestral and picturesque,

But these express but two of its many beautiful traits Which I think language fails adequately to depict.

Music alone can do this.

We should be ever grateful that this man of genius came to dwell among us.

-- Samuel Thurston, excerpts from "Musical Reminiscences of Seventy-Five Years," autumn 1911

Program from 1899 Kotzschmar Jubilee

Program from 1899 Kotzschmar Jubilee

Item 6321 info
Portland Public Library

More than a thousand people filled City Hall Auditorium in Portland to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hermann Kotzschmar's arrival in the city from his native Germany.

It was an evening of grand music. A large chorus from Portland and surrounding areas sang Haydn's Creation under Kotzschmar's direction.

Guest musicians included the Boston Festival Orchestra and vocal soloists from Boston and New York City.

The venerable conductor was honored with speeches of appreciation, floral tributes and a gold-tipped baton made of ebony.

Town Market, Finsterwalde, Germany

Town Market, Finsterwalde, Germany

Item 20762 info
Maine Historical Society

Johann Carl Hermann Kotzschmar was born on July 4, 1829 in the German town of Finsterwalde, between the musical and artistic centers of Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin.

Finsterwalde, a manufacturing town, was a gathering place for surrounding farmers to sell their produce at market.

Hermann was the first child of Johann Gottfried Kotzschmar, who held the office of Stadtmusiker (city musician) in Finsterwalde, as had his father before him.

Both elders taught Hermann to play several instruments, including the violin, keyboard, flute and horn.

Because he was precocious musically, Hermann was sent to Dresden at the age of 14 to study with Julius Otto, a renowned choral conductor and teacher.

Julius Otto statue, Dresden, Germany

Julius Otto statue, Dresden, Germany

Item 20764 info
Maine Historical Society

Julius Otto was appointed cantor at the famous Kreuzkirche or Church of the Holy Cross in Dresden's historic old town when he was 26.

He held the position for 45 years and his Kreuzchoir became one of the most celebrated church choirs in all of Germany.

He also conducted several choir societies in and around Dresden.

Kotzschmar studied with Julius Otto for more than five years. His hard work, plus exposure to Otto and his choral training techniques, would bear fruit years later when Kotzschmar worked so successfully with the Haydn Association in Portland.

Hermann Kotzschmar, Portland, ca. 1849

Hermann Kotzschmar, Portland, ca. 1849

Item 20786 info
Maine Historical Society

After five years of study in Dresden, Kotzschmar and 19 other young musicians, calling themselves the Saxonia Band, emigrated to America to seek their fortunes.

The rapid social, economic and political changes that were shaking the foundations of authoritarian governments throughout Europe probably helped spur the young men to leave their home country.

They were confident that they could support themselves through their musical talents.

The band worked for a couple of months in New York and Philadelphia with Fry's Italian Opera, but when they traveled to Boston, the show folded. The band members decided to split up and go their own ways.

Cyrus Libby Curtis, 1859

Cyrus Libby Curtis, 1859

Item 7135 info
Maine Historical Society

While in Boston on business, Cyrus Libby Curtis, an amateur musician from Portland, met Kotzschmar.

Although Curtis later noted that Kotzschmar was penniless and tattered, he was deeply impressed by the young man's musical abilities and immediately suggested that Kotzschmar travel to Portland where he could be assured of work.

On or about the first day of July1849, Hermann Kotzschmar arrived in Portland, little knowing that he was to stay for the rest of his life.

He lived with the Curtis family for his first year, and he and the Curtises formed a friendship that continued throughout the lives of all the family members.

When Cyrus Libby Curtis and his wife had their first son on June 13, 1850, they named him Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis, to honor their new friend.

Years later, Cyrus H.K. Curtis honored his namesake by donating the Kotzschmar Memorial Organ to the city of Portland.

Hermann Kotzschmar, Portland, ca. 1860

Hermann Kotzschmar, Portland, ca. 1860

Item 20767 info
Maine Historical Society

Kotzschmar diligently set about to make a living in Portland.

He met other musicians, some of them Europeans like himself, and they soon presented public concerts that received rave reviews in the local newspapers.

The talented German quickly gathered a class of private students. His teaching was an important part of his contribution to music in Maine.

First Parish Church, Portland, ca. 1890

First Parish Church, Portland, ca. 1890

Item 6929 info
First Parish in Portland

In the first half of 1851 the organist at First Parish Church, located on Congress Street in Portland, left his job for medical reasons. Hermann Kotzschmar was hired to take his place at the church and stayed for 47 years.

During the second half of 1852 the church underwent extensive repairs and alterations and a new organ was purchased. The instrument, installed by Hall & Labagh of New York, was first played on July 24, 1853. It was reportedly a monumental improvement over its predecessor, an 1822 tracker built by William Goodrich of Boston.

People came from far and near to hear Hermann Kotzschmar play the organ on Sundays. There was no one who could make the instrument sound as beautiful as he did.

Leviathan March composition

Leviathan March composition

Item 6821 info
Portland Public Library

During his early years in Portland, before he became extremely busy with the myriad tasks and duties which take up time in an active professional life, Hermann Kotzschmar composed much music: solo songs, instrumental and vocal ensemble pieces, marches, dance tunes, piano solos and anthems and hymns for his church choir. Ironically, he did not leave any compositions for the organ.

Kotzschmar's obituary states that even he was uncertain how much music he had composed throughout his lifetime. Collections of his compositions, both in manuscript and published form, can be found in the Portland Room at the Portland Public Library and the Maine Historical Society Library.

Program, benefit concert, Portland, 1873

Program, benefit concert, Portland, 1873

Item 20808 info
Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ

From his earliest days in Portland, Hermann Kotzschmar presented public concerts on the piano and/or the organ.

He won superior reviews for his piano recitals and was in high demand as an accompanist for singers and instrumentalists.

But his special forte was improvisation at the organ. Kotzschmar's student and friend Latham True wrote: "Kotzschmar's improvisation was undoubtedly the most untrammeled expression he ever attained of his inner musical nature.

". . . in improvisation he stands unrivaled. People come from far and near to hear him, and return again and again. His playing has the charm of perpetual extemporization."

Piano instruction advertisement, Portland, 1878

Piano instruction advertisement, Portland, 1878

Item 20770 info
Maine Historical Society

Hermann Kotzschmar taught many students in the state of Maine; in fact, occasionally one still hears someone say that a grand-relative studied with Mr. Kotzschmar, or with Mrs. Kotzschmar, who was also a fine piano teacher.

It was often said that no serious student of music really completed his/her musical education until finishing at least one year with Hermann Kotzschmar.


"Fall of Babylon' concert program, Portland, 1885

Item 6265 info
Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ

Throughout his career Hermann Kotzschmar conducted many groups of singers and instrumentalists in Maine, but his most sustained, successful and public work was his nearly 30 years with the Haydn Association.

During the 1860s the attention of Portland's citizens was consumed first by the Civil War and then by the disastrous fire of July 4, 1866, which destroyed much of the city.

In 1869, a group of singers and soloists banded together to present Haydn's Creation under the direction of Hermann Kotzschmar.

Excited by their success, the singers decided to formally organize, calling themselves the Haydn Association. Kotzschmar was unanimously elected first conductor. At times, more than 330 singers belonged to the Haydn Association.

The Haydns, as the singers informally referred to themselves, remained together for almost 30 years and produced many fine programs, usually featuring major works and oratorios by great composers.

Hermann Kotzschmar, Portland, ca. 1875

Hermann Kotzschmar, Portland, ca. 1875

Item 20771 info
Maine Historical Society

Hermann Kotzschmar was possibly the first foreign musician to settle in Portland and make a lifetime career.

His skill, vision, musicianship and tenacity in all of his work - teaching, conducting, composing, presenting concerts and church work - allowed him to arouse desire within those who worked with him to create soul-satisfying music.

Before Hermann Kotzschmar, newspaper reviews lamented the lack of life and heartiness in the musical performances they heard.

Kotzschmar's genius expressed itself in his ability to train and mold the untutored but enthusiastic amateur musicians that he found in Maine.

His early training in Germany, both in his family home and in Dresden with Julius Otto, created sounds in his head that he was able to train people in the new world to produce.

Under his inspired leadership music came alive through a wide palette of expression.

Mary Ann Kotzschmar, Portland, 1898

Mary Ann Kotzschmar, Portland, 1898

Item 20800 info
Portland Public Library

On December 16, 1872, Hermann Kotzschmar, age 42, married Mary Ann Torrey. It was the bride's 19th birthday.

Torrey had been one of Kotzschmar's best piano students.

The couple had two children, Hermann Jr. (1874-1945) and Dorothea (1878-1931). Both married, but neither had offspring.

Maine Music Festival program, 1897

Maine Music Festival program, 1897

Item 20799 info
Portland Public Library

Hermann Kotzschmar's major, and most rewarding musical endeavors over his lifetime in Portland were his work at First Parish Church and his position as conductor of the Haydn Association. Both of these long-term professional relationships unraveled in 1898.

William Rogers Chapman, a New York musician with ancestral ties in Bethel, dreamed of creating a huge 'Maine Music Festival' with a large chorus, and world-renowned vocal and instrumental soloists.

With support from leaders in the arts community in three Maine cities -- Lewiston, Bangor and Portland -- Chapman's dream became a reality.

Along the way the Haydn Association became enthused with Chapman's vision, and the Haydns transformed themselves into the Maine Festival chorus, under the direction of William Rogers Chapman.

Kotzschmar resigned "due to a conflict over the direction in which the organization was heading."

At the same time the First Parish Church was having financial problems and reduced its music program.

Kotzschmar resigned because of the cuts and the venerable musician, after 47 years of dedicated service, left First Parish at the end of March 1898, two weeks before Easter.

Columbarium and tablet, First Parish, Portland, Unitarian Universalist

Columbarium and tablet, First Parish, Portland, Unitarian Universalist

Item 7169 info
First Parish in Portland

Kotzschmar then went to work at State Street Congregational Church for five years.

He resigned in 1903, and occasionally substituted at area churches after that.

He continued to teach and give recitals, both with his students and by himself. He also enjoyed frequent fellowship with musical colleagues in the area.

Hermann Kotzschmar passed away quietly at his home on the morning of April 15, 1908. He had been in good health all of his life and was out and about town until his last week or ten days, when he suddenly appeared to grow visibly weaker and more feeble. The cause of death was listed as a cerebral hemorrhage.

On April 25, 1909, at a crowded memorial service at First Parish Church, the ashes of the dead musician were placed in a cinerary urn, located in a columbarium carved in the solid rock on the back wall of the church.

A commemorative tablet and display, designed and paid for by the Kotzschmar family, is thought to be the first example of cremains deposited in a Portland church.

Painting of Hermann Kotzschmar, Portland, 1895

Painting of Hermann Kotzschmar, Portland, 1895

Item 7175 info
First Parish in Portland

Along with the accolades he received from his admiring public in the form of applause, compliments, and a Jubilee celebration, Hermann Kotzschmar was the recipient of several other tangible honors during his life in Maine.

For example, in 1891, Horatio Nelson Jose, a local businessman and real estate holder, erected a beautiful, intimate-sized concert building on Congress Street in Portland.

Jose was a great lover of music and the arts, and an ardent admirer of the organist at First Parish Church, so he named his new building 'Kotzschmar Hall.'

When Kotzschmar celebrated 40 years at First Parish Church, the Trustees sent him an ornate repousse Tiffany silver bowl.

In 1895 the Rev. John Carroll Perkins, minister at First Parish, commissioned a young artist to do an oil painting of the musician that now hangs in the church building.

In 1900, a group of Portland musicians who often met in the late afternoons to play chamber music decided to formalize their time together by creating an association to "cultivate and maintain an interest in legitimate music in Maine." The group decided to call themselves the Kotzschmar Club, and the organization still flourishes 106 years later.

In recognition of his many contributions to music, Hermann Kotzschmar received two honorary degrees: Master of Arts from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, in 1903, and Doctor of Music from Eberhardt College in 1905.

City Hall Stage in 1912

City Hall Stage in 1912

Item 7321 info
Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ

On January 24, 1908, shortly before Kotzschmar's death, Portland's city hall burned.

Plans were immediately begun to rebuild the edifice and it was suggested that a grand organ, similar to the one in Sydney, Australia, be installed in the new city hall.

Portland native and successful Philadelphia publisher Cyrus H. K. Curtis stepped forward and offered to donate an organ to the city, with but two stipulations: the instrument was to be named for his father's lifelong friend, Hermann Kotzschmar and the organ was to be designed and built by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut.

The new City Hall and Kotzschmar Memorial Organ were dedicated on August 22, 1912. A gala weekend of events included concerts by world-class organists R. Huntington Woodman, Ralph Kinder and Will C. Macfarlane, who was soon appointed Portland's first municipal organist.

City fathers appointed a music commission to oversee the creation of a city music program and a series of year-round concert programs.

And so the friendship between the amateur trombonist and the young German immigrant was honored by Cyrus H. K. Curtis' gift of the magnificent Austin organ in 1912, as a tribute to the man for whom he was named.

Sources: Thornton-Edwards, George. Music and Musicians of Maine. Portland Maine: Southworth Press, 1928.

Parkinson-Tucker, Janice. Hermann Kotzschmar: An Appreciation. South Portland, Maine: Casco House Publishing, 2006.

Parkinson-Tucker, Janice. Behind the Pipes: the Story of the Kotzschmar Organ. South Portland, Maine: Casco House Publishing, 2005.

This slideshow contains 18 items