The Schubert – Abt Stein
By Dr. Casey J. Hayes
Most loyal readers of Prosit! know that my collection is strictly focused upon steins with music boxes. Oftentimes, I am able to find a stein that was made to have a music box, but no box is included. This is a frequent find, as so many of the musical mechanisms from the late 19th and early 20th centuries did not survive; delicate springs, pegs, keys and eternal screws ended up broken, lost, or simply discarded over the past century or so. I am fortunate to have many friends who are “on the lookout” for musical steins for me and will occasionally come across a real rarity. One of these rare gems is the Reinhold Hanke #992; a salt-glazed half-liter stein which boasts frontal reliefs of both composers Franz Schubert and Franz Abt.
My friend George Schamberger in Florida sent me a pic of this stein asking if I would be interested. Initially, I was skeptical, as I have little interest in most salt-glazed steins (I love color). However, even as a PhD in Music, I had never heard of Franz Abt. Franz Schubert, of course. Schubert is legendary as a composer of Deutsche Lieder, and was certainly amongst the top four composers whose music was widely distributed during the last half of the 19th century onward. The emergence of the Viennese Parlor Society and the widely popular Schubertiads which took Viennese high society by storm in the 1820’s, secured Schubert’s immortality. Even in death, Schubert was buried next to Beethoven; an illustration of the musical public’s view of Schubert’s importance in the scheme of Viennese nationalism and artistic prominence. Why, then, was Schubert placed on the same stein as a relatively unknown composer? With much gratitude to George Schamberger, I purchased the stein and began my research.
When looking through our own organization’s plethora of information, this particular stein is shown in the c. 1888 catalogue that is posted in our member’s library. It was NOT in the 1872 catalogue. Here is my best guess as to why.
Franz Schubert, by the late 19th century, had reached immortal status. He was considered the musical voice of the Metternich-controlled Biedermaier Period and unsurpassed in the genre of the Lied. However…Schubert was NOT German, nor was he prone to associate with anything considered Germanic. During the Belle Epoch, Austria was torn internally by the desire for “kleindeutcher” nationalism, and the need to be connected to the greater German nation. With the newly-freed peasants, the urban areas were burgeoning with diversity and, perhaps out of necessity, we see a gathering of the Austrian nationalistic forces during this time. All things Austrian (legitimately, as Schubert, or adopted, as Beethoven) were brought to the forefront to stir nationalistic emotions. Both Beethoven and Schubert’s graves were relocated from the obscure Währing cemetery to a prominent place in the Zentralfriedhof Wien in 1888, close to the Stadtpark where monuments to both composers were erected in 1872. Truly, Schubert belonged to the Austrians; the composer of the beloved German Lied was not German at all. However, during the 1870’s and 1880’s, Germany had an answer to the ever-popular Schubert in the form of one Franz Abt.
Franz Abt was born in Eilenberg, Saxony, just northeast of Leipzig. He was an amazingly prolific composer, having penned over 3000 compositions, most of them Lieder. Abt was not only gifted as a composer, but was known throughout the world as the finest choral conductor of the time. It is even noted that at one time he conducted EVERY choral ensemble within Zurich; winning award after award with whichever ensemble he conducted. Oftentimes, Abt would conduct his own choral compositions, writing a great deal of music for Männerchor, feeling that the all-male ensemble was sadly under-served (he was not particularly impressed with the many Männerchor works composed by Schubert). Abt’s popularity grew to immense levels to the point that he embarked upon a highly-successful tour of the United States in 1872, where his music was snatched up throughout every port of call. Soon, Abt’s music sales rivaled those of Johann Strauß II in many of the larger, more Germanic cities throughout the US. Upon returning to Germany, Abt resumed his post in Braunschweig as director of the Hofkapelle until his busy schedule forced him to retire to Wiesbaden in 1882. It was here, in 1885, that Abt died; his funeral declared a national event. Monuments to Abt were erected in both his home city of Eilenberg as well as his adopted city of Brauschweig. At the time of his death, certainly within the Germanic states, Abt was every bit as popular as Schubert. Unfortunately, history chooses those who will ultimately be immortalized and Franz Abt has sadly been set by the wayside.
When we look at dates, we can see that, with the Hanke Stein being included in the 1888 catalogue, it would have certainly have been designed at some point during the time Abt returned from his US tour in 1872 (remember that #992 was not included in the 1872 Hanke catalogue) and his death in 1888. How better to immortalize an important German composer of Lieder than to place him on the same stein as Schubert? Abt was certainly the pride of the German Lieder and a prominent place alongside Schubert would have been absolutely acceptable and not in the slightest bit offensive to those who viewed Schubert as superior in every way. This was simply a nationalistic expression of pride in Germany’s answer to Austria’s Schubert.
Since acquiring the stein and researching Franz Abt, I have selected a lovely, late 19th century mechanism to place in the bottom of the stein. Key-wound and very appropriate for a stein with composers, the mechanism came to me from a broken stein of approximately the same age. Oftentimes, when I come across older mechanisms, I take the time and the money to have them restored to their original condition by my team of craftsmen on the West Coast. They will occasionally ask me why I take the time and money to restore the mechanism as opposed to simply purchasing a newer one. To me, it would be like putting a new pewter lid on an old stein; authenticity means more to me than cost, as I would guess it does to many of Prosit!’s readers. The study of Franz Abt has inspired me to continue my research into the under-appreciated gem (his music is really quite lovely, albeit commercial for the times). The Schubert-Abt Stein stands as a legacy to a composer who was been lost through the test of time, and I, for one, will work on bringing these lyric melodies to life.