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Music Master of the Middle West

Music Master of the Middle West: The Story of F. Melius Christiansen and the St. Olaf Choir

Copyright Date: 1944
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Music Master of the Middle West
    Book Description:

    Music Master of the Middle West was first published in 1944. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions. Probably only in the fields of sports and music could fifty college undergraduates draw 5000 spectators. The far-famed St. Olaf Choir can and does; yearly it amazes concert-goers from New York to San Francisco by its seemingly impossible perfection. For the thousands who already know the choir and its director, for those interested in music and its development, this book has been written. Here are the stories of F. Melius Christiansen, his choir, and the setting of Norwegian-American Lutheranism out of which he grew. Christiansen brought to this country a rich treasure of Norwegian folk music. Years of study in Minneapolis and Europe, of directing band and choir groups in midwestern towns, prepared hum for the work that was to bring him fame. “The story of Christiansen’s contribution to American music, his recognized influence on choral singing from coast to coast, is the story of an Old World heritage shaped and enlarged by the free, wide ways and the deep soul-hunger of the New. ‘Norway gave me much,’ says Christiansen, ‘but America has taught me how to use it.’” Mrs. Bergmann’s account of the choir, its personnel, training, and experience, is full of lively anecdotes as well as technical details. Her own four years as a member of the group, her behind-the-scenes knowledge enable her to convey the spirit of the singers, to discuss frankly both strength and weakness. But always she insists that success “lies not in the superior quality of the voices that make up the choirs, since Christiansen chooses largely the average, untrained voice, but in the nature of the director.” Thus it is primarily F. Melius Christiansen’s story, concerned with his techniques and methods and, above all, with the vigorous personality which makes him remembered by all who know him.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3754-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. 1-3)

    AS THE last note of the bell echoed away into the church tower, the somber tones of the prelude saluted the Sabbath hush of the church. Sunlight poured in through the unstained windows, set deep in thick-timbered walls; a gallery flanked the sides and rear of the church where the choir had assembled in its customary place near the organ. A faint mustiness hovered in the air and seemed to muffle the sound of heavy shoes and the rustle of skirts as the worshipers entered their pews in the Lutheran church at Larvik, Norway.

    Up in the gallery a small,...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Boyhood in Norway
    (pp. 4-15)

    IF ON a summer’s evening in 1865 one had chanced to be passing Nordbraaten, the farm belonging to Jon Braaten in the district of Eidsvold, Norway, one might have heard music floating through the open windows of the salon on the second floor. The singing strains of a violin, the soft thump of a bass viol, and the sprightliness of clarinet tones mingled in music that hinted of Norway’s foaming waterfalls, the wistful lilt of the herd girl’s song, and the gay tunes of dancing peasants in their bright-colored skirts and bodices. The Braatens were spending another pleasant evening. Tradition...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Immigrant with a Fiddle
    (pp. 16-30)

    ON A spring day shortly after his seventeenth birthday Melius walked north along the winding streets, past close-set houses, toward the edge of the city, which lay horseshoe-shaped on the inner side of a hill. Above him was Larvik’s famous Beachforest, where he had played so often with the band on warm summer nights. Memories of gay music, couples strolling under the trees, wide night of stars leaning over still water, and the distant horn-call of an unseen steamer far out in the fjord filled his mind as he walked the familiar streets. He knew this was his last spring...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Wisconsin Bandmaster
    (pp. 31-40)

    IN THE weeks that followed, Melius settled down with Karl, who felt a father’s responsibility for his younger brother and was glad to give him what he needed in clothing, food, and incidental living expenses. Karl was earning good wages for his work at the sawmill and managed his money carefully.

    Melius soon felt more at home than he had at any time since leaving Norway. The people in Washburn were friendly folk, and many of them were of his own kind, for in Washburn was one of the many early Norwegian settlements that dotted the central plains of America....

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Ole Bull of Augsburg
    (pp. 41-68)

    “RELIGION is a private affair,” Christiansen briefly retorted when one evening in Washburn a member of the Salvation Army approached him and asked him if he was saved. He was not accustomed to assaults on his inner life; he had not lived with people who knew God so intimately that they could speak of Him in the conversational tone of the household and the street.

    Now he was at Augsburg College, and it was a world very different from Washburn or any other place he had lived. Without realizing it, he had come into a miniature religious revival, part of...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Widening Horizons
    (pp. 69-84)

    TWO themes recurred constantly in the pattern of Christiansen’s thoughts as he occupied himself with the struggle to make a living. Fixed in his mind since childhood had been the idea that all musicians at some time in their lives study in Leipzig. He realized more keenly all the time that he must continue his study, and a year in Leipzig became his goal.

    The other thought was Edith Lindem. He had not forgotten the girl with the attractive smile and the friendly manner who had sung in his Marinette choir. They had exchanged letters regularly, and whenever he could...

  9. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER 6 College on the Hill
    (pp. 85-109)

    A FEW weeks before, while the Christiansens were living in a cottage on Lake Amelia (now Lake Nokomis), a few miles out of the city in the wild woods near Minnehaha Falls, Christiansen had received a postcard from John Nathan Kildahl, the president of St. Olaf College, asking the violinist to meet him for an interview about a position. Christiansen had never heard of St. Olaf, but he went into the city to meet the president. Apparently impressed by the young man during their conversation, Kildahl asked him if he would like to go to Northfield to see the college....

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Nation Listens
    (pp. 110-143)

    NEW YORK concertgoers moved slowly through the foyer of the Metropolitan Opera House after an evening of music by the St. Olaf Choir. The gay chatter of an after-concert crowd filled the air as people stepped out into the snow of the February night and into their waiting cars. Phrases filtered through the general hum:

    “A heavenly tone . . .”

    “They did the Bach with such purity . . .”

    “How do they get the pitch?”

    “I heard them five years ago, but they are even better now . . .”

    The next day a critic wrote: “Some two...

  12. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER 8 How Does He Do It?
    (pp. 144-167)

    YEAR after year, from coast to coast, in the comments made about the St. Olaf Choir, whose personnel changes with each year, the question is asked, “How does he do it?” for each year the same plasticity, unity, and intensity, the same “celestial purity” and almost unhuman perfection has marked this group of singers. The answer lies not in the superior quality of the voices that make up the choirs, since Christiansen chooses largely the average, untrained voice, but in the nature of the director.

    Christiansen has been an experimenter; his studio and rehearsal hours have been his laboratory, where...

  14. CHAPTER 9 The Nation Sings
    (pp. 168-180)

    GRADUALLY as Christiansen’s name and the reputation of his choir spread beyond the Norwegian Lutheran churches to educational institutions and music circles on the national scene, concrete recognition was accorded the St. Olaf director’s growing influence. In 1922 Muhlenberg College, a German Lutheran institution in Allentown, Pennsylvania, granted him an honorary Doctor of Music degree. On June 12, 1928, Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, in dedicating its new music hall, granted degrees to Christiansen, to Nikolai Sokoloff, conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, and to James Cooke, head of the Presser Foundation and editor of the music magazineEtude. A week...

  15. CHAPTER 10 The Choral Composer
    (pp. 181-190)

    INCREASINGLY through the years Christiansen’s attention turned toward composition. It is difficult to see where, with his multiplying activities, he could find time for the concentrated endeavor such creative work demands, but the most clear-cut memory of his father that Olaf Christiansen has carried from childhood is of the man’s terrific capacity for work, his self-discipline for the sake of his art.

    Despite the new and demanding duties he assumed when he moved to St. Olaf College, Christiansen did not immediately give up his early ambition to become a concert violinist. When not on the campus for classes or rehearsals,...

  16. CHAPTER 11 Passing of the Pioneers
    (pp. 191-201)

    THE summers that Christiansen did not spend on tour with the choir or traveling for other professional reasons were spent at the family’s summer home at Sister Bay, Wisconsin, located on the peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan. Ever since about 1900 the Christiansens have gone there for their summers, and if Christiansen could have had his heart’s desire, he probably would have chosen to live there all his life. He had spent his childhood looking out to sea; he still dearly loved the water and longed to be near it. He told a story about himself once which,...

  17. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  18. Sources
    (pp. 202-209)

    DURING the four years of my membership in the St. Olaf Choir I kept a journal of my experiences and in it recorded incidents concerning Christiansen, conversations with him, and the general life of the choir. When the actual work on this biography was begun in 1940, I spent several months in Northfield. During these months and in subsequent visits, Dr. Christiansen generously devoted many hours to me, giving information concerning his family and his own life history. From his immediate family I have received valuable information about the life of the Christiansen household.

    Christiansen’s friends, likewise, have generously contributed...

  19. APPENDIX A. List of Published Compositions
    (pp. 210-216)
    (pp. 217-217)
    (pp. 218-228)
  22. Index
    (pp. 229-230)