[Saengerfest, n. [G. sängerfest.] A festival of singers; a German singing festival
-- -- GAEBLER ORGANIZING HELPED SAENGERFEST EFFORT
A sketch of the Concordia Musical Society, one of the city’s most famous musical organizations of generations ago, is contained in a reprint from the October 6, 1890, issue of “Der Seebote,” a Milwaukee publication. The article was written by the late Emil E. Gaebler and was part of his memoirs which the paper printed.
Part of the article is being reprinted here. It follows:
At the time Emil C. Gaebler came to Watertown, in 1859, there was an established musical society here, called the Music and Singing Society and when Gaebler organized a new society, called Philharmonic, there was an effort to combine the two. The two finally joined but the passive members tried to run it and after six months the active members seceded and formed their own society in July, 1862, called the Concordia.
Emil Gaebler had organized a musical society in 1852 at Danbury, Conn., and was familiar with the management of the Northeastern Singers league of New York. He, therefore, organized the Northwest league shortly after he came to Wisconsin and to this league the Concordia gave its support, so actively, that at the first saengerfest held in La Crosse in 1866 Watertown won the first prize, a silver loving cup, now on display in the historical museum in Madison.
Thereafter the following saengerfests (conventions or music festivals) were held: Watertown, 1867; Milwaukee, 1868; Madison, 1869; La Crosse, 1871; Dubuque, 1873; Watertown, 1875; Freeport, 1877; Milwaukee, 1879; Madison, 1881; La Crosse; 1883; Watertown, 1885; Freeport, 1887; Minneapolis, 1889; Milwaukee 1891; Dubuque, 1896. There was also a band convention in Watertown in 1879.
A large collection of manuscript music, opera scores, and instrumental numbers are to this day reposing in one of our local stores waiting for the day when Watertown will again take an interest in local amateur musical activities. WDT 05 20 1935
Saengerfest was a gathering of German singing societies, and our community went all out, including the construction of that arch at the entrance to downtown and also decorations throughout the city.
We found a report on the 1875 Saengerfest in the June 26 issue of the Watertown Republican. We're going to include that report in our column today to give you a "flavor" of what Saengerfest was all about. It was for these celebrations that the arch was constructed.
1875 1875 SAENGERFEST
Watertown Republican of June 26, 1875:
"With the exception of that portion of the programme allotted to Bach's musicians, the concert was composed of home talent, and right well was the reputation of Watertown sustained by all who participated. The singing of the Quartette Club, led by Prof. Hoeper, was a marked feature of the evening's entertainment, and called forth the hearty plaudits of the entire audience. The chorus and solos by the Watertown Musical Society, Concordia, under the direction of Prof. E. C. Gaebler, were finely rendered and won warm testimonials of approval from all present. Mr. H.N. Hutchins of Bach's band, gave some specimens of cornet playing, which for beauty of execution and sweetness of sound, was seldom if ever before listened to by our citizens. Mr. Hutchins is certainly one of the foremost cornet players of this or any other country. The hospitalities of the city were extended to our guests through the President of the council, J.T. Moak, Esq., who delivered an address highly appropriate to the occasion, which was followed by words of welcome from Philip Schmidt, Esq., in behalf of the Watertown Musical Society, Concordia. Trains Friday night and Saturday morning from all directions brought in full quotas of singers and visitors until our streets were literally overrun with people, and our city presented a scene of activity and bustle never before seen. The musical exercises on Saturday were opened with a grand musical matinee at Turner Hall in the afternoon, which was largely attended. The programme included fine selections from some of the most eminent composers and all were rendered with grand effect. In the evening the concert embraced the prize singing among the several societies competing for prizes. The Saturday evening entertainment was, perhaps, the most interesting of the series, and called out a larger audience than the previous evening, the ball being crowded to excess. The contest among the societies was the means of bringing out the fine singing from the members and a deep interest was manifested over the result. The audience was treated to some magnificent choruses, such as comes within the province of but few to hear. The building fairly shook with the applause that was given as each society withdrew after competing for the prize. Everything, however, passed off harmoniously, and at the close the best of feeling prevailed among the vocalists. After the concert, the hall was given over to conviviality and enjoyment, and a happier or more sociable, and, withal, a more-decorous crowd of people could not very well be imagined. Even in the noise and confusion there was politeness and good feeling everywhere apparent.
"Sunday morning excursion trains brought additional hundreds to the masses already assembled and enjoying themselves within the city. Sunday afternoon the great projective point for the singers and visitors was the Pic-nic and Concert of all the societies and orchestra, on Concordia Island. It is estimated that eight thousand people visited the park during the afternoon, and the festivities on the Island only closed as the shades of evening drew near. In the evening a grand ball took place at Turner Hall, the Turner Park being beautifully illuminated. Sunday night and early Monday morning witnessed the departure of vast numbers from the scene of their enjoyment and pleasure, but still a large portion lingered to participate in the closing exercises on Monday morning, consisting of the distribution of prizes, congratulations and farewells. The La Crosse society had the honor of carrying away the first prize. The second was bestowed upon the Freien Germeinde, of Milwaukee. The Freeport, Illinois, society was awarded the third, and the Janesville society received the fourth. Some of the societies, and among them the Watertown, Concordia, did not compete for prizes.
"The following Societies were represented at the Saengerfest:
06 20 LA CROSSE SAENGERFEST
The Saengerfest. The members of the Concordia Society who were in attendance at the Saengerfest at La Crosse returned Monday night, and all are loud in praise of the delightful time they spent. Our delegation upon their arrival at La Crosse Thursday evening, received a splendid reception from their brethren and were welcomed in a fine speech by Dr. X Otilie, which was happily responded to by Constance Wiggenhorn. At the concert in the Germania Hall Friday evening the Watertown delegation presented the former director of the Concordia Society, Prof. E. G. Gaebler, now residing at La Crosse, with a beautiful lyre composed of the choicest and most delicate flowers, which was a complete as well as a happy surprise to the recipient. J. B. May performed the task presenting the testimonial in a graceful manner. The Saengerfest is pronounced a fine success and all came home highly pleased with La Crosse and her hospitable people. WR
06 20 OFF TO THE SAENGERFEST (Dubuque, IA)
The Musical Society Concordia leaves tomorrow morning about 10:30 on a special train over the St. Paul Road for Dubuque, la., to attend the biennial Saengerfest of the Northwestern Saengerfest, in session from the 23d to the 26th, inclusive. The train will also carry the Milwaukee, Waukesha and Oconomowoc societies. The route is via Madison and Prairie du Chien.
A fine appearance will be presented by the Concordias, in their natty suits of blue sack coats, gray trousers and linen tourist hats, and that they will acquit themselves creditably in the concerts is assured by the careful and rigid training they have undergone.
The society, as it will appear at the Saengerfest, is made up as follows:
First tenors—Edw. L. Schempf, Alfred Baumann, Fred W. Lehmann, Jacob Weber and Gus Buchheit.
Second tenors —Fred Vullmahn, Carl Manz, Wm. Sproesser, Adolph Hilgendorf and Max Wegemann.
First basses —Gus Exner, Fred G. Keck, C. R. Blumenfeld, Oscar E. Meyer, Eugene Wiggenhorn and Arthur Wiggenhorn.
Second basses —M. H. Gaebler, C. J. Wenck, Oscar Wertheimer, C. H. Jacobi, J. W. Wiggenhorn, Henry Daub, Wm. T. Dervin, Frank Petro, Otto Waltz and Edward Jantzen.
Director —William Forane.
Librarian —Carl Schwendke. Watertown Republican, July 22, 1896
Watertown has had the distinguished honor of having been the place of meeting for the Seventh Biennial Saenger-Fest of the German Singing Societies of the Northwest, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, June 18, 19, 20 and 21. A gathering so much importance to the musical-loving portion of our German fellow-citizens must, of course, be accompanied by more than usual interest to this class of our population, and this feeling was well shown in the extensive preparations made for the reception and entertainment of the societies and their friends. Our streets gave evidence of a grand festive occasion, with their decorations, devices and emblematic trimming, presenting to the eye a beautiful and enchanting picture.
The arch stood at the west end of the Main Street bridge and was constructed as part of the Saengerfest celebrations which were held here three times in the latter 1800s. These celebrations were hosted by Watertown in 1867, 1875 and in 1885 ["The German Speaking 48ers, Builders of Watertown, Wisconsin," Chuck Wallman]
Image WHS_008_387 c.1885
What we don't have the answer to is how long the arch remained. It almost sounds as if the arch was dismantled after every Saengerfest, and then either brought out again or a new one constructed at each event. But, the photo published above sure looks like more of a "permanent" structure in downtown Watertown.
History of Watertown, Wisconsin