Fri . 19 Apr 2019

Elkan Naumburg

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Elkan Naumburg 1835–1924 was a New York City merchant, banker, philanthropist and musicologist, best remembered for his sponsorship of the arts in Manhattan From the last quarter of the nineteenth century, he used his wealth to promote public interest in symphonic and "semi-classical" music by helping to form and establish the Oratorio Society of New York and funding construction of the Naumburg Bandshell, which honors his name, on the Concert Ground of the Central Park Mall1


Naumburg was born in Treuchtlingen, Bavaria, in 1835, and emigrated with his parents to the United States at age 15 to escape the growing anti-Semitism of his native land2 He settled first in Baltimore, where he took a liking to chamber music An amateur pianist with no formal training, he was unable at that time to afford purchasing concert tickets for famous performers like Vieuxtemps and Thalberg

In 1853, at age 18, he moved to New York City, where he initiated a business career that was first highlighted as a successful merchant and then a merchant banker He founded E Naumburg & Co in 1893 - one of the largest 'commercial paper' banks on Wall Street Their chief rival was Goldman Sachs 3 The parlor of his Manhattan townhouse hosted pianists, opera singers and string quartets, and soon became a forum for celebrities of the music field With his success he chose to make access to fine music available to a broader public in New York, as one of his principal legacies In 1873, Leopold Damrosch founded the Oratorio Society of New York in the 'back parlor' of Elkan Naumburg's 48th Street home Bertha Wehle Naumburg 1843-97, Elkan's wife, gave it that name Elkan, Bertha and Leopold were very good friends, and like Leopold, Elkan also gave one of his son's the name Walter Elkan probably helped to form the group and he served briefly on its board, when it first began 4 Richard Arnold, Leopold Damrosch, Marcella Sembrich, Theodore Thomas, and others performed weekly in the Naumburg family parlor during the 1870s, 80s, and 90s, entertaining such Gilded Age critics and artists as Henry Theophilus Finck and Albert Henry Krehbiel

In 1890, Elkan Naumburg founded the New York Philharmonic's first pension fund Later he helped introduce renowned conductors like Vasily Ilyich Safonov and Willem Mengelberg to that orchestra

He soon got the idea of presenting free symphonic concerts in Central Park Patterned after concerts conducted by Theodore Thomas in the Central Park Garden, the Naumburg Concerts commenced in 1905 and have continued without interruption ever since, almost always in Central Park Today, they are the world's oldest continuous free outdoor classical music concert series Originally performed on Central Park's Mall in an octagonal, pagoda-shaped bandstand designed by Jacob Wrey Mould, the programs featured popular waltzes, abbreviated operas, one or two movements of a symphony, or short arias, performed for audiences of strolling or picnicking Manhattanites, many of whom took to dancing as dusk fell and the gas lights came on

In 1912, the old wood and cast iron bandstand was deemed inadequate, so Naumburg offered the city $125,000 to build a new bandshell of cast and Indiana limestone details His nephew, the architect William Gabriel Tachau 1875-1969, designed the structure -- an innovative half-dome on a high section of drum, which later came into frequent use -- in 1916 Building began in 1921, and it opened on September 29, 1923, with a 60-piece orchestra conducted by Franz Kaltenborn playing selections from "Aida" and "Carmen", the William Tell Overture, the Blue Danube Waltz, and movements from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture The concert closed with a new march—"On the Mall"—by Edwin Franko Goldman, dedicated to 88-year-old Elkan Naumburg, who was in attendance

Elkan Naumburg died the following year, 1924, and is interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City His sons Walter Wehle Naumburg and George Washington Naumburg continued the free concerts in Central Park 5 Walter W Naumburg also continued and augmented the family tradition of supporting classical music by establishing the Walter W Naumburg Prize in 1926 When he died, in 1959, the perpetuation of both the free Naumburg Orchestral Concerts in Central Park and the Walter W Naumburg Prize were endowed by a provision in his will Elkan's grandniece, Eleanor Naumburg Sanger, later co-founded WQXR with her husband Elliott Sanger, New York's classical music radio station, and Elkan's grandson Philip Henry Naumburg helped found the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival A great-grandson of Elkan Naumburg, Christopher Walter London, currently runs the concert series and foundation aided by a board of trustees, and with the public support of the 'Friends of the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts'


  1. ^ The New York Times, February 19, 1989
  2. ^ Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company 1959 "Walter W Naumburg 1867-1959" PDF New York Community Trust New York: Walter W Naumburg Memorial Trust Retrieved 2013-09-17 
  3. ^ The New Yorker, December 7 1957 pp42-44
  4. ^ NYT's May 31 1955, Walter W Naumburg's speech at the public unveiling of a plaque dedication ceremony on the Naumburg Bandshell honoring his father, Elkan, and the 50th anniversary of the concerts summer season, before 4,000 people
  5. ^ See http://wwwnaumburgconcertsorg/ and Digital Press Kit, Hundredth Anniversary History Booklet

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