Eduard Sobolewski – Gaylord Music Library Special Collections


Biographical Sketch

J. Friedrich Eduard Sobolewski (Oct. 1, 1808 – May 17, 1872), composer, orchestral conductor, writer, was born in Königsberg, East Prussia, descendant of an ancient Polish family. He received a fine musical education, eventually studying with Carl Friedrich Zelter and Carl Maria von Weber. In 1830, he was appointed director of music at the Königsberg Theater, holding that position until 1835 when he became cantor at the Altstädtische Kirche. Upon the founding in 1838, of the Philharmonische Gesellschaft, a dilettante orchestra, he was elected conductor, and was similarly honored when the Musikalische Akademie, a mixed chorus, came into existence in 1843. In the course of his Königsberg period, he composed and produced the operas Imogen (1832), Velleda (1835), Salvator Rosa (1848), and Der Seher von Khorassan (1850). His fame as a composer spread beyond the confines of his birthplace, the Berlin Singakademie giving a performance of the oratorio Die Enthauptung Johannis and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra of his symphony Sud und Nord. Sobolewski functioned as music critic of the Ostpreussische Zeitung, and as correspondent, under the pseudonym J. Feski, of Robert Schumann’s Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. Dubbed M. Hahnbüchn, he became a “Davidsbündler,” one of that redoubtable band gathered around Schumann to wage warfare upon the musical Philistines. He was appointed director of music at the Bremen Theater presumably in 1854, remaining there until 1859. During this period he published the pamphlets Reaktionäre Briefe (1854), Oper, nicht Drama (1857), Debatten über Musik (1857), Das Geheimniss der neuesten Schule der Musik (1859). His opera Comala received its initial performance at Bremen (1857), and was accorded the exceptional distinction of production at Weimar (1858) under the aegis of Franz Liszt. Apparently leaving Bremen at the end of the season, Sobolewski took passage for America, arriving in Milwaukee before the end of July, 1859. In an incredibly short time he composed the opera Mohega, which was given two performances by the Milwaukee Musikverein (Oct. 11, Nov. 1, 1859). Mohega seems to be the first operatic treatment of an episode from the Revolutionary War, the libretto celebrating the love and tragic end of Count Pulaski and the Indian maid Mohega during the siege of Savannah in 1779. Sobolewski became the conductor of the short-lived Milwaukee Philharmonic Society, on the podium for both concerts of its only season (Feb. 28, April 13, 1860).

The St. Louis Philharmonic Society was organized in June 1860, and Sobolewski was engaged as conductor. He conducted his first St. Louis concert a month before Hans Balatka directed the initial performance of the Chicago Philharmonic Society, both men laboring valiantly to prepare the way for the messiah that was to come in the person of Theodore Thomas and his unrivalled orchestra. Sobolewski conducted forty concerts of the St. Louis Philharmonic Society (Oct. 18, 1860 – April 19, 1866), holding his organization together and achieving musical triumphs through the troubled years of the Civil War. He did missionary work of heroic dimensions, his orchestral programs constituting a liberal education in the appreciation of the classical and romantic schools. Just before the first concert of the seventh season Sobolewski resigned, devoting his remaining years to teaching and composing. He had a farm at Laddonia, MO, to which he usually retired during the summer, returning to St. Louis for the winter’s work. He remained professionally active until an apoplectic stroke cut him down in his sixty-fourth year.

Ernst C. Krohn, The Dictionary of American Biography, (1935), v. 17, p. 390.

Finding list of the Eduard Sobolewski Archive

(prepared 6/19/96)

Contained in Miscellaneous Archive Box : Series I – V

Series I: Photographs

  1. (Envelope)
    • 4×6 of Sobolewski
    • 2×4 of Sobolewski

Series II: Correspondence

  1. (Envelope)
    • Various letters concerning Sobolewski from 1843, 1854, and 1859.
    • Card from Bellefontaine Cemetery giving Sobolewski’s lot number

Series III: Articles

  1. (Envelope) Articles concerning Sobolewski

Series IV: Programs and Brochures

  1. (Envelope) Programs and brochures containing Sobolewski’s works

Series V: Publications

  1. (Folder) Photocopy of article in The Musical Quarterly v.73 no.1, 1989 entitled “Edward Sobolewski, Frontier Kapellmeister: From Konigsberg to St. Louis”, by Robert T. Laudon

Series VI: Notebooks

  1. (2 notebooks) Research notes, correspondence, drafts, etc. of Mr. Ernst Krohn’s work on Sobolewski for The Dictionary of American Biography. Mr. Krohn’s work spans the years 1923 to 1938.

List of manuscripts

Note: Manuscript titles are transcribed from the items themselves and are not necessarily consistent throughout the list.

  • Eine Thrane [voice and piano]
  • [miscellaneous manuscripts from 1830 to 1859]Note: music appears to be copies of other composers’ works, but this is unclear; contents include:
    • 1 leaf in plastic, no title on recto, Tempo animato, voice and piano, verso is song by Liszt (title unclear)
    • 1st gather of 12 pages is missing first and last pages, seems to be a keyboard suite
    • smaller gather of 12 pages titled “Dritte Sonate fur das piano-forte allein componirt von Ludwig Spamer, Op.10”
    • gather with blue cover titled “Liederbuch” for Bofer?, contains 8 pieces, scored for voice solo with complete texts
    • last gather is dated 1830, titled “Arie fuer eine Altstimmer, mit Begleitung des Piano-Forte aus der Passions-Musik von Bach”