On January 1857, Austrian immigrant Fidelis Zitterbart, Sr., a violinist, conductor and composer, opened two savings accounts in trust for his sons, Fidelis Jr. and Henry. For 24 years, Zitterbart Sr. led the orchestra at the Pittsburgh Theatre (“the Old Drury”) at 310 Fifth Avenue. From 1867 through the mid-1870s, he conducted the orchestra of the New York Theater on Broadway in New York City.
Fidelis Zitterbart, Jr. (1845-1915) became a nationally renowned composer, who wrote more than a thousand pieces for orchestras, ensembles and choruses. He was taught violin by his father and, at age 9, became a full-fledged member of the Drury Theater orchestra.
German musicians Nicholas and George Toerge were father and son. Both opened savings accounts at Dollar Bank in August 1862. The Toerges were one of the foremost musical families in Pittsburgh in the late 1800s. George Toerge ran a music store on Seventh Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. He and his brother, Frederick, were violinists and orchestra leaders.
A member of Bethel A.M.E. Church, Benjamin W. Thomas (opened a savings account in 1872 with Dollar Bank) sang in the church choir. A professional musician, he sang bass with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and toured Europe with them in the 1870s. Later, he became musical director of two other African American spiritual singing groups, the Centennial Jubilee Singers and the Tennessee Jubilee Singers.
Slide trombonist Hubert Crispini (1888) was well-traveled. Born in Italy, he immigrated to the United States in the 1870s. He played under popular bandmaster Patrick Gilmore in Boston, as well as theater orchestras in that same city. Crispini moved to Pittsburgh in the late 1880s, but his musical career took him all over the United States and its territories. He performed in Honolulu, California, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Ohio. He was also proficient on the violin and xylophone.
Otto Thorbahn (1889) was born in Canada and received his musical training at the Dana Music Institute in Warren, Ohio. He led the orchestra at the Duquesne Theatre in Pittsburgh, where he was also a music teacher. A versatile musician, he was proficient on many instruments, the clarinet being his favorite. In his later years, he became head of a music school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Musician, composer and pianist Frank T. Thuma (1898) was a native of Buffalo, New York. A student of Fidelis Zitterbart, Jr., he assisted his sister, Margaret, and brother, Robert, in running the Thuma Dance Academy on Fourth Avenue. He shared a music studio, also located on Fourth Avenue, with fellow composer and music teacher Leo Oehmler. He played piano for the Haydn Trio Club and for a time managed the John S. Duss band.
Danny Nirella (1899) was an Italian immigrant who came to America as a youth with his parents and brothers. Known in Pittsburgh as “Mr. Music,” Nirella led several popular bands and orchestras. For nearly 50 years, he and his band played every season opener at Forbes Field for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jean Baptiste de Backer (1899) and William Pohle (1916) both served as president of Local 60, American Federation of Musicians. Belgian immigrant de Backer was an accomplished viola player who was a member of the Pittsburgh Orchestra under Victor Herbert. He also played violin with the Kunits Quartet, a string quartet named after violin virtuoso Luigi von Kunits.
Irish immigrant Victor Herbert (1900) conducted the Pittsburgh Orchestra for six years, from 1898 through 1904. He wrote the score for the stage musical, “Babes in Toyland,” while living on Aiken Avenue in Shadyside.
George Franklin Voerwerck (1909) studied for five years at the Royal Academy in Berlin. His teacher was Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim. Voerwerck was musical director at the Harris Theatre. He played an Amati violin.
Stanis Alukonis (1921) was born in Lithuania in 1883. For 27 years, he was the organist at Ascension Church on the North Side.
Edwin Sherratt (1871), an English immigrant who came to the United States as a child with his family in 1840, played the organ and directed a children’s choir at the Sixth Avenue Mission School of the Second Presbyterian Church. He also gave singing lessons to both children and adults and was a music teacher at Pittsburgh public schools. In the 1890s, he moved to Berkeley, California, where he became a music dealer and piano tuner.
Paris native Clement Tetedoux (1869) was widely recognized as one of the finest vocal teachers in the United States. He enjoyed a first-rate musical education in France, Italy and Russia, where his teachers included operatic tenor Marco Bordogni and composer Giuseppe Ceccherini. Tetedoux was a driving force behind the development of Pittsburgh’s early music community, both the training of professional musicians and the cultivating of music-loving audiences.
Tetedoux led Pittsburgh’s first-ever performance of Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” in April 1868 at the Academy of Music. The large-scale production, which called for a chorus of more than 50 singers and a 25-piece orchestra, required more musicians than Pittsburgh had musical professionals at that time. Undaunted, Tetedoux recruited eager amateurs, and pulled off a splendid performance. Rossini’s work was just one of many classics introduced to the city by Tetedoux and the Gounod Club, of which he was a founder.
Philip Dornberger (1880) came to Pittsburgh from Germany in 1866. In 1873 he returned to Germany to study music at the Leipzig Conservatory, winning the Helbig Prize during his three years there. When he came back to Pittsburgh, Dornberger became a music teacher at the Pittsburgh Female College.
Solo pianist and soprano singer Lily Frederick (1891) performed in concerts around Pittsburgh. She also taught piano and harmony at Curry University and was the head of the music department at Greensburg Seminary. She maintained a studio at 5546 Jackson Street in Highland Park. For decades, her students gave seasonal recitals at the Rittenhouse Hotel in East Liberty. A member of the Audubon Society, she provided in her will scholarships for graduates from Peabody High School.
Leo Oehmler (1894) was born in Pittsburgh. In addition to being well-known as a music teacher in his home city, he was also a violinist and composer of more than 300 works for violin and piano. He was hailed as a prodigy at age 6 when he displayed mastery of the violin. His sister, Clara, was a virtuoso pianist. They frequently performed together.
Oehmler, a graduate of Western University of Pennsylvania, studied music in Europe – the Royal Conservatory of Music in London and Stern Conservatory in Berlin. He was a part-time violin instructor at University of Wooster in Ohio. He maintained two teaching studios in Pittsburgh, one on Fourth Avenue, downtown, and the other on Craig Street in the East End. Among his composition students was American composer Charles Wakefield Cadmon. In his later years, Oehmler moved to Pasadena, California, where he became part of a small artists’ colony of Pittsburghers.
Born in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania, Eva Mae Andrew (1911) was a piano teacher in Westmoreland County for many years in the early 1900s. She also taught music at the McCrum School (McCrum National Training School for Slovanic Young Women) in Uniontown, Fayette County, Pennsylvania.
Music Store Owners
John Zweidinger (1855) ran a music store on Smithfield Street, near Sixth, where he sold pianos, cabinet organs and melodeons. Piano tuner Jacob Schoenberger (1872) was born in Germany. His music store, Lechner & Schoenberger, was located on Fifth Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh.
One of the most successful music stores in early Pittsburgh was Mellor’s, a downtown institution for more than 120 years. Founded in 1831 by John H. Mellor, the store was run by the Mellor family for four generations. English immigrant John H. Mellor was a Dollar Bank Trustee for more than 30 years. His son, Charles Chauncey Mellor, became a Dollar Bank depositor in 1857. Charles C. Mellor was also a musician, playing the organ at First Presbyterian Church on Wood Street for 22 years. A patron of all the arts, not just music, Mellor was a member of the Scalp Level School of painters.