Theodore Eisfeld

The New York Philharmonic

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Biography
Theodore Eisfeld

1848–65

b. Wolfenbüttel, Germany, April 11, 1816
d. Wiesbaden, Germany, September 2 or 16, 1882

Theodore Eisfeld’s first concert with the New York Philharmonic Society was March 17, 1848. In 1852, for its 11th season, he became the first conductor to lead an entire season single-handedly (although he later shared conducting duties with Carl Bergmann from 1854 to 1865). He was a member of the board of directors continuously from 1850 to 1866, for nine of them as vice president. New York audiences also admired Eisfeld as a composer of virtuosic pieces, such as his Concertino for clarinet and orchestra, which the orchestra performed several times. As a member of New York’s musical community, Eisfeld pioneered the presentation of chamber music series in the city, and conducted the freelance orchestra for some of Jenny Lind’s concerts.

In Eisfeld, the musical decision-making power for the Orchestra was consolidated in one man of German birth, and for the next fifty years, every conductor of the New York Philharmonic would share this background. If the Orchestra’s repertoire during the first decade of its development reflected the international backgrounds of the conductors who shared in its leadership, with Eisfeld came a pronounced leaning toward the Germanic masters.

In 1858 on a return visit from Germany, Eisfeld was one of the few passengers rescued from the S.S. Austria which burned in mid-Atlantic (471 lives were lost). Surmounting the trauma, Eisfeld successfully conducted almost two-thirds of the Orchestra’s concerts in the six seasons after the shipwreck. In 1865, he was added to the Philharmonic’s permanent list of honorary members, which included at that time Mendelssohn, Spohr, Gottschalk, and Jenny Lind. He retired to Wiesbaden in 1866.

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