William Steinway and Richard Wagner

January 2018
Page of William Steinway's Diary

Page of William Steinway's Diary, Steinway & Sons Records and Family Papers, 1857-1919, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Richard Wagner, known most popularly for his Ring Cycle, premiered his only comedic opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, in Munich on June 21, 1868. 

William Steinway attended multiple performances of Richard Wagner's works, as documented by the William Steinway Diary Project at the National Museum of American History, a long-term project to create the first publicly accessible, annotated online edition of William Steinway's Diary.

Tailor, Cobbler, and Baker

These are not characters in the title of a John LaCarré spy novel, but rather members of the chorus in Richard Wagner’s opera Meistersinger. The Liederkranz, of which William Steinway was then president, had been rehearsing a selection from the opera.

In Act III, Scene 5 of the Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner, the chorus, composed of cobblers, tailors, bakers [Schneider, Schuster, Bäcker], apprentices and other guild members sings "Sankt Krispin, lobet ihn."(2) The Liederkranz mixed chorus had been rehearsing this piece and performed it on April 15, 1883, with Hattie Louise Simms, Fanny Hirsch, Jacob Graff, Charles F. Tretbar, Max Heinrich, and Oscar Steins as soloists.(1)(Diary, 1883-04-21) About a year later, the chorus was again performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on February 3, 1884 (3) and April 29 (Diary, 1884-04-24)(Diary, 1884-04-29).



1. Mosenthal, Hermann. History of the New York Liederkranz, 1847-1897. vol. 1 p. 42.

2. Meistersinger by Richard Wagner. Compact Disk. Tract 11. Sankt Krispin, lobet ihn! (singers = Schuster/Schneider/Bäcker/Lehrbuben = Shoemakers, Taylors, Bakers, Apprentices). Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1992 Digital Remaster), DRITTER AKT/ACT 3/TROISIEME SCENE, Fünfte Szene/Scene 5/Cinquième S.

3. The New Yorker Staats-zeitung, March 16, 1884, p. 4. 

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Ecstatic frenzy over Wagner's "Ring Cycle" premieres

Selection from a blog post by Susan Welch, O Say Can You See?, National Museum of American History.

Are you a Wagner fan? If so, you were likely excited by the Washington National Opera's presentation of The Ring of the Nibelungen, a cycle of four operas by Richard Wagner, in May 2016. Perhaps you visited the Morgan Library's exhibition on the premieres of the complete Ring of the Nibelungen, a cycle of four operas, in 1876 in Bayreuth, Germany, and in 1889 in the United States.  

Piano manufacturer William Steinway (1835–1896) attended all the operas within the Ring cycle. Steinway was a German emigrant, arriving in New York City from Seesen, Germany, in 1850 with his family when he was 15. An avid supporter of German music and culture, Steinway attended numerous plays at the two German theaters in New York, the Germania and Thalia, and attended operas and concerts, many under the direction of German-born conductors. He was also a member of the New York Liederkranz, a German singing society. Under William's leadership, Steinway & Sons, founded by William's father, Heinrich Steinway, became one of the most successful piano companies in the country. The company also sponsored the tours of numerous artists, including Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein and Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski. Delving into Steinway's diary that is housed in the museum's Archives Center and available online, we get a glimpse into how these operas captured the souls of 19th-century music lovers—from the ordinary folk to sovereigns and nobility—sending them into a state of ecstatic frenzy.

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