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Hambitzer, Charles, d. 1918. DLC

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Hambitzer, Charles, d. 1918
 

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Biographical History

Charles Hambitzer (1878 or 1881-1918) was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, to a musical family. His great-grandfather was a violinist at the Russian court and his father owned a music store in Milwaukee. After studying with Julius Albert Jahn and Hugo Kaun, Hambitzer played in the orchestra of the Arthur Friend Stock Company, and taught piano, violin, and cello at the Wisconsin Conservatory. In 1908, he moved to New York City, where he joined Joseph Knecht’s orchestra at the Waldorf-Astoria, frequently appearing as a piano soloist. At the same time, he opened a music studio on the Upper West Side, and among his many pupils was the fourteen-year-old George Gershwin, who began his studies with Hambitzer in 1912. In 1914, Hambitzer’s wife died of tuberculosis, and in 1918 he succumbed to the same disease, exacerbated by an emotional breakdown. It has been widely suggested that his death caused the young Gershwin to abandon his own budding career as a concert pianist.

Hambitzer’s feverish approach to composition reflects a prodigious musical talent. His works include orchestral tone poems, incidental music for plays by Shakespeare and others (his Twelfth Night Suite was used for a Sothern and Marlow production), two operettas, and numerous songs and short instrumental compositions. Although a number of his tone poems were performed by the New York Philharmonic and his operetta, The Love Wager, toured the United States, few of Hambitzer’s works were ever published, since he seems generally to have lost interest in a piece upon its completion. Although he was under contract to compose theatrical music for the Shubert Organization, nothing resulted from this arrangement; this uncharacteristic lack of productivity has been attributed to creative and personal differences. In the 1930s it was reported that a number of Hambitzer’s manuscripts were in the possession of his family, although some relatives believed that his most significant scores had been retained by Joseph Knecht.

From the finding aid for Charles Hambitzer Music Manuscripts circa 1910-1918 ( Music Division Library of Congress)

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