Francesca Falk Miller.

Across the little space; the life of Dr. Louis Falk, as told to his great-grand daughter, Dorothy Cara Strong online

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I have often wondered, my little one, if those who pay great
prices to sit in lordly boxes enjoy the music one-tenth as much as
that earnest student up in his top-most seat of the cheapest balcony,
especially if he has gone without a few meals to secure it. For to
many, the hunger for good music will win over the hunger for food.
Men never yet have lived happily by bread alone.

Our little room at the pension, Cara mia, was fearfully and
wonderfully arranged. Two cots, each with a gay "pieced" quilt
for a spread, faced each other across the room, with a common table
between them for our candle. At the other end, next to our one wide-
silled window, stood a chiffonier, which we shared. I say "shared"
in great truth, for in the matter of ties, handkerchiefs, socks, et
cetera, it was always the first man to the bureau drawer. Unusual,
but simple when it came to haste in the dark, winter, morning hours.
In the center of the room was a long ink-stained desk, where we did
our lessons in composition and harmony. There were initials carved
on that old flat desk, Cara mia. Initials of students long since gone
out into the world and perhaps into the silence. And I too carved
"L. F." in crooked letters, which Barney promptly baptized in ink.

My daily organ practice was done on the top floor of one of the
older college buildings. On the lower floors lived the families of
professors connected with the school. Every day, from two until
five, I would be found on the old organ bench with a huge pile of
music beside me, shutting out eveiything but my all-absorbing work;
giving myself over to the luxury of solitude.

However, one cannot shut out sound; it penetrates even thick

Below this lofty practice-room lived an old harmony teacher
whom we affectionately called "Largo" — as his girth and shape of
waist-line was a fearfully amusing affair. He invariably wore a
faded red lounging-gown and a black silk skull-cap, and smoked a
long pipe that emitted a vile odor. He was clever, stern, and prone
to giving sound advice. He must have listened to all that went
on around the building, for nothing escaped his old eyes and ears.


Simply let me pull out an extra loud "stop" in the old organ, or
give the pedals crescendo, and my door would immediately open to
admit 7nein her)' — rank pipe and all — who would cross the room,
silently puffing, select the stop that disturbed him, push it in care-
fully, turn and leave the room without one w'ord to me. In fact, he
never seemed to notice that I was present.

Of course, within a few moments the stop was pulled out again,
and I continued with my ])ractice. But alas for German argument I
Once more the door would open, the old man would enter and the
entire performance be repeated. Had I rebelled or even cjuestioned
his authority, it would have meant trouble for me in the school. I
tried, however, to win him over. I continued with the stops that
offended, but it brought about the same result. The old fellow
simply corrected what he thought was my mistake and went out
silently. At last I gave up to his inexhaustible patience and left
the organ as he wished it to be.

]\Iy chum and I made few personal friends. l)ut were always ready
to join the crowd of .students at the Ilofhrau. We couldn't afford
much beer in those days, but if one was very careful to keep his
stein-lid down when the waiter came around, our companions never
really knew whether they were being refilled or not. AVe ate the
free pretzels and toasted everyone from the Kaiser down to the
student's boot-black on the corner, with a rousing "liocli!"

On Saturday evening there was always a dance, but never l^eing
at ease with the girl students or village belles, and a wretched dancer
in the bargain, I seldom cared to attend. On Sunday everyone had
to go to church, but this was never a hard.ship because of the organ
music and the famous choir.

It was to the opera and symphony orchestras, however, that my
heart was continually turning. I never forgot, Cara mia, how I heard
Wagner's immortal Loliengrin! It was an experience that comes
but once in a lifetime.

The performance was given in Dresden, in that beautiful city's
Opera House. This seemed as far away to us as heaven. By rail
it was out of the question, but by a little mail boat from Torgau
it was within the limitation of our purse. However, Torgau was
about fifteen miles from Leipzig, and this being before the days of
the automobile or even good wagon roads, except between the larger
cities, we had but one choice — we walked.

It was easy to miss one day at our classes, for tlie Ilerr Professor
encouraged just such enthusiasm as we were showing. Not daring
to stop along the road for lunch, we partook of a heartier breakfast
than usual, taking a few crackers and slice of cheese in our pockets
to munch while we tramped. We had to cover the fifteen miles before
the afternoon boat.


It was a clear, cool October day. Little clouds raced across the blue
of the sky, throwing .shadows on the dust of the road beneath our feet.
The grapes in the vineyards we passed were waiting the first cold kiss
of frost, so had not been gathered. Somewhere in a cottage a woman
sang to her child. Life seemed .so full of joy and love and fulfillment.

We reached the steamer in time, and with a sigh of relief sank
down on her deck stools to enjoy the scenery along the Elbe. We
did not mind the uncomfortable, rather dirty little boat, so wrapped
were we in the dark forests and sudden patches of colorful fields or
gardens on the river's bank. Several towns slid by and then at
last — Dresden. I shall not try to describe my first impression of that
charming city on the Elbe. Only to say, that never in later years,
did such awe and ecstacy possess me. I could not speak from very
joy and wonder over all I saw. So, my Cara, is youth's reaction at
eighteen ! '

After the opera was over, we took a still dingier and smaller
l)oat that ran only after midnight to carry freight. But Barney and
I were so filled with the beauty and glory of Wagner, that w^e never
saw the deck at all. We only looked at the stars over our heads, as
we lay stretched out on the benches, trying to rest a bit before our
long walk back to Leipzig. Neither of us could .sleep. We were
still hearing that immortal prelude.

From Torgau we walked the long fifteen miles again. All
through the rest of the night and the grey hours of dawn we trudged,
that we might not miss another day at our classes. And at nine
o'clock, we staggered in to the halls of the conservatory, without even
the time for our breakfast coffee.

Tired? I fell a.sleep in class, Cara mia, half-way through a
counterpoint example. Only the sharp click of a pencil on my ear
woke me up. But when I explained to my irate professor w^hat had
caused this unusual drowsiness he became delightfully sympathetic
and sent me home for a two-hour recess in whicli to take a brief
nap and snatch a bit of lunch.

But oh, that Wagner evening in Dresden, my little one ! Some-
day you too will under.stand the great power of the master; will
sympathize wdtli the woes of Elsa and Elizabeth ; will thrill to the
fatal "Twilight" that fell upon the ancient gods, and will weep
with tragic I.solde. Can you not see us that long-ago night in Dres-
den? Bending over in our high gallery seats to watch the great
audience far below us? They resembled a garden of variegated bloom —
all color, light and perfume. Gay parties in the circle of curtained
boxes. Soldier, Diplomat, Royalty. From our high perch the or-
chestra resembled a mound of black swarming insects, with glisten-
ing antenne, that were the brass instruments. The artists on the
stage seemed like little pigmies in a puppet show. But oh, the
music! That glorious roll of sound sweeping from the pit and .surg-


ing up into the very dome of the opera house. I closed my eyes
dizzy with ecstacy.

Wagner! Creator of musical drama! Past master of human
emotion tuned to the rhythm of great orchestration ! Interpreter of
life, love and death !

So passed the months. So ran the years. It seemed but the
flight of a dream before my four years of study were over and it was
time for me to go home.

I was now nearly twenty-one. I had lost my freckles and most
of my awkwardness. I grew taller, thinner, and more of a blonde than
a red-head. My new German clothes were baggy and poorly fitted,
while my shoes were bought for durability and not for style. But
my liands were entirely satisfactory, Cara mia, for they were supple
and the fingers long. They could reach from one organ manual to
another with ease, and never fumbled over intricate passages. If I
ever had so much as a scratch on my fingers, I would actually suffer.
They had a sensitiveness beyond the average. A dancer's soul lies
in his rapid feet; a singer's in his throat. My soul lay in my long,
nervous, supple fingers.

By the time I reached my graduation, I had absorbed the German
musician's life completely — it is a wonder that I ever went back to
the States. Four years in the musical center of the world does
something to you. You become a part of its very existence. But
home lay across the wide ocean — home, father, and my young
brothers. Yes, and the dear people of Chicago who had helped to
give all this to me, and who were eagerly awaiting my return.

Only one person in all Germany came to see me graduate from
the Leipzig Conservatory, Cara mia — Frau Maul, my dear old nurse.
Having her there seemed like my own mother's blessing. My grand-
parents had passed out of my life, I did not miss them very much,
I admit. Only when love comes unasked is it desired. Let them have
their j^ride, their family coat of arms — which is a very lovely thing
for you to cherish, my little one — their lineage from old Falkenburg
baronic days, and their wealth, thought I. They could not vision
all the richness of life that I possessed through my music — in my
long, thin fingers. A signet ring of the Von Falkenburgs came to
America, Cara mia, but as a second son I never owned it. What
became of it, I never knew.

The voyage home seemed slow and almost endless, for once on
my way, I was wild with impatience to be home. I was proud of
my successful concert-tour. I had warm letters from famous in-
structors, great sheafs of autographed music, a bag full of presents
for my dear ones, a large blue ring on my first ( !) finger, and —
shades of Teutonic influence — a large blonde moustache on my upper
lip ! And so I returned to Chicago !




I was scarcely prepared for the changes that awaited me in
Chicago upon my return. The city had grown so rapidly in the
four years of my absence. And not alone in size, but in l)eauty and
dignity as well. The quiet avenues were bordered with shade trees
and neat little front yards all exactly alike. Houses were varied
from "Queen Annes" to "Brown Stone Fronts" with sidewalks
that also differed with the level of the lot, raising some and lowering
others, so that one had a feeling of going up and down little hills —
which after all was not so bad, Cara mia, in a very flat country.

The business section — never dreamed of as "The Loop" in those
days — had changed so rapidly and so materially during my absence,
that I felt almost a stranger in my own home town. A fine new
hotel had sprung up on Randolph Street, and two large department
stores. Over the block or asphalt pavements of the main residential
streets, sedate phaetons, dignified surreys or rakish tetering cabs
passed in endless procession, drawn by horses of every rank and
condition from smart, shining "spans" to a single, plodding, old
family nag. Now and then a gentle Shetland pony would join the
others, my little one, to be the envy of every child that saw it pass.

Michigan Avenue had grown beyond its boundary at 12th Street,
as had Wabash Avenue with its "elegant" homes and "noble"
churches. They reached far (?) out into the new "South Side" — in
fact beyond the "twenties." In 1864 the Illinois Central's last
local stop was the 16th Street Station, from the steps of which, one
could look far over the sandy prairies to a distant Convent, where
I had trudged twice a week, crossing a stile at Avhat is now 22nd
Street, to give lessons in harmony to young pupils whose families
were connected with the Holy Name parish, where I was organist.
I picked up more burrs on these walks, Cara mia, than you will
probably see in your entire life-time.

There will be so many books for you to read of early Chicago,
and so many lovely old prints to admire, that I need not take the


time to si)(^ak ol' nil this. As n school '/]v\ you iiuist «:o to The Chicago
Histoi'ieal Society where you will find more of interest than I could
ever give to you. l>ut of that early, intimate musical life, that will
1)0 so soon forgotten, I can tell you much, for it was the very food
upon which my soul was fed.

After the few weeks I allowed myself to visit relatives and
friends, I entered into the business for which I had been so thor-
oughly trained. Pupils came in astonishing numbers to me, as well
as concert engagements. I was offered the position of organist in
Unity Church on the corner of North Dearborn and *Whitney Streets,
where Dr. Robert Collyer was the minister. As he had founded
the church after his exit from the Methodist faith and because of
its spectacular growth and popularity of its preacher, my Lutheran
lelatives rebelled at my serving so new and strange a religion. I
really believe, Cara mia, that they feared for the salvation of my
immortal soul. And I am sure they thought the jolly minister would
some day grow horns. But as I was now of an age where I could take
care of my own soul and run my own affairs, I accepted the offer
gladly and became a staunch admirer and friend of the famous and
popular Dr. Collyer. I remained at Unity Church until the great
fire of '71, revelling in that noble old pipe-organ and the spacious
aisles of the fine old church. During that last spring I gave weekly
organ recitals, drawing flattering crowds from all parts of the city,
at which popular vocal and violin artists of that day assisted.

I was now beginning to acquire the reputation of an excep-
tionally good organist — an honor which I fervently hope I deserved !
There were many reasons for this. I was newly returned from
Eui'ope, Avhere I had made a concert tour with no small success.
I could teach the "pipe organ" — as it was called — with understand-
ing, as well as the many difficult branches of musical theory. And
above all this — I loved my work. JMay I humbly quote, my Cara,
f]'om one of Chicago's well-known newspapers'?

"Mr. Falk was one of the first to make organ concerts popular in
Chicago and the Middle-west. He has probably given more of this
sort of entertainment than any living musician in this country. His
playing is characterized by great brilliancy, combined with the utmost
ease in manual ])edal dexterity. In the matter of producing beautiful
and novel effects in combinations of stops, his rei)utation is the

I only write of this, Cara mia, for you to know" and treasui-e as
l)art of your own inheritance. For remember, my dear child, that
no one stands alone on the heights ; there are many others who
share honors. No one person receives all of God's great blessings,
for He has a way of disti'ibuting His gifts.

* Walton Place.


f ^ AT ?|

{Corner of y. Dearborn Jc Whitney Sts. )

Buoiixij, May 7, 1871,

at 3 1-2 O'clock P. M.

IVlFl.|L.QUrjS FALKr Organist.

PAi?T ll.

/. Grand l'olu//tary, yfelj


o Air, "With jiioics Hearts", rr^,,yt^f

^- Tiect. d: Air, "Arm Arm ye Sraye" , ^""^^^

(Judas .Ma(;ca'ia(;us. ^


3. Andante, 'Secthoren


A. "'^uth and Aaomi", Toplijf


PA:R.? tli.

,5 O/f'crtoirc, ) Satiste

^' Trover, \ ' ^arisre


(j\ Airjrom " Za jFaroritc'' , 'Donizetti


7 • Overture, Aubcr


f ^

jjr^si CoMiTTi & LoEUR, Job Printers, fi4 Randolph St.

Concert: Unity Church, 1871




And now I come to my life-long friend — probal)ly the one closest
to me in my sixty years of music in Chicago. I refer to Di-. Florenz
Ziegfeld, founder of the Chicago Musical College and patron of all
the arts.

Dr. Ziegfeld was born in Jever, Grand Duchy of Oldenburg,
Germany. His father had occupied an official position at Court and
his son had received an unusually fine education. His title of
''Doctor" was a medical degree, but he never practiced this pro-
fession, preferring music to all else. He was a fine pianist and
became quite a famous teacher of that instrument. He was also a
Lutheran and a Mason.

In 1867 Dr. Ziegfeld had started a school known as the Academy
of Music, the headquarters of which was in the Ziegfeld home on
Wabash Avenue. But this did not grow into the great institution
he had anticipated. He wanted a conservatory of musical learning
that would conform with the ideals of Europe. Surely the time was
ripe for a greater venture, so upon my return to Chicago he called
a meeting of his teachers and a few close friends to hear his extensive
plans and join him in enlarging the school already begun.

Can you go back with me, Cara mia, to that high-ceilinged room
known as "the back parlor" in the Ziegfeld home! Can you visual-
ize the tall windows with tasseled drapes of red plush? The great
book-cases and huge desk? The center gas-lamp with ornate crystals
hung in garlands around a painted china shade? And the gallery
of old-world portraits on the papered walls?

We sat around the marble-topped table — m.en like W. L. Tomlins
and John Root — listening to the brusque voice so filled with fervor
and determination that it swept us all into a vortex of enthusiasm.
And before we parted that night, the famous old school — still in
existence — was begun. The Chicago Musical College, with Dr. Flor-
enz Ziegfeld as its President.

For nearly two years we continued to have the headquarters in
the Ziegfeld home — both parlors being in daily use. My organ
lessons were given in the church where I played, but all instruction in
musical theory and composition was given at the house. I would
often teach a harmony lesson to the accompaniment of baby feet, as
Flo. Jr. and Carl played in the bedrooms above. The other children
were not then born.

In the spring of 1871 we took the school to the Crosby Opera
House and were there when the city burned that next October. But
in less than three weeks following this great disaster, we opened
our doors once more at 800 Wabash, where we remained until we took
quarters in the fashionable Central Music Hall, famous center for
the greatest concerts this city has ever known.

Dr. Ziegfeld crossed to Europe every summer during the vacation
of the school, bringing back some of the most famous instructors of


the old world. In tho^e early days he added to the Faculty names
like August Hyllested, Scandinavian pianist; L. Gaston Gottschalk,
brother of the composer ; Dudley Buck, who later went to Brooklyn ;
Emil Liebling and later S. E. Jacobsohn, who had been concertmeister
with the Thomas Orchestra in the east in 1872. In the year 1887
the president's oldest son, Florenz, Jr. — then a young man in his
early twenties — became the treasurer of the school, where he remained
until the stage called him to become one of the world's greatest

In 1897 the College moved to a beautiful new building of its
own on Michigan Avenue. From then it grew in size and fame until
it stood at the top of the list of great American schools of music.
During those days following the World's Fair, many other famous
teachers came into the faculty. Bernard Listemann, great violinist
from Boston; Arthur Friedheim and Hans von Schiller, celebrated
pianists; William Castle and Mrs. 0. L. Fox, heading the vocal de-
partment, and later Edward Moore, Herman Devries, Adolph Miihl-
mann, Adolph Brune, Felix Borowski and Rudolph Ganz. And
some of the names of the pupils, who graduated from this great
school . . . Gena Branscombe, Arthur Rech, Clare Osborne Reed,
Leon Marx, Arthur Hand and many, many others; some to found
new schools, and others to take their talent onto the concert stage.

But I am far ahead of my story, Cara mia, and you will weary
of all this detail. I must return to 1871 and to the beginning of
another famous institution, which sprang into life from the ashes of
a burned city — The Apollo Club. Your great-grandfather was one
of the charter members, Cara mia, and also the accompanist for the
concerts. Silas G. Pratt was president and George Upton conductor,
Avhile in the fine chorus were many of the greatest singers of that
day. Later W. L. Tomlins took the baton, holding the position of
conductor for over twenty-five years. During the first season the
club brought to the city the Theodore Thomas Orchestra for four
concerts, and — (quote) "from these concerts dates the history of
orchestra in Chicago."

In 1921 The Apollo Club celebrated its golden anniversary with
five remaining charter members as guests of honor, Philo Otis, Charles
C. Curtiss, Dr. E. H. Pratt, Warren C. Coffin and myself. It was
a strange experience, my Cara, to be seated in Orchestra Hall listen-
ing to new voices and new musicians playing the accompaniments,
in an atmosphere charged with memories fifty years old. Even
Harrison M. Wild, who conducted in later years, was absent. Only
five old men, reminiscent

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Online LibraryFrancesca Falk MillerAcross the little space; the life of Dr. Louis Falk, as told to his great-grand daughter, Dorothy Cara Strong → online text (page 3 of 7)