Carl Beck, choir, orchestra, and band conductor, was born in Ilmenau, Thuringia, on April 26, 1850. His first name appears as Karl in some sources. Beck was educated as a musician in Germany, came to the United States as part of a music group in 1875, and settled in New Orleans. In May 1884 he moved to San Antonio to become conductor of the Beethoven Männerchor and the Mendelssohn Mixed Chorus. An energetic and progressive leader, Beck conducted excerpts from Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser and Lohengrin at the 1885 State Saengerfest in Houston. This may have been the first performance of Wagner in Texas. When San Antonio hosted the festival in 1887, Beck organized a forty-six-member orchestra that performed Felix Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony, possibly the first complete symphony to be heard in Texas.
Beck had an orchestra of more than two dozen players to complement his choruses and also to perform independently. The orchestra played a subscription series of six concerts at Muth's Garden in 1894, with concertmaster Wilhelm Marx as soloist. The need for a concert hall was satisfied in 1895, when the Beethoven Männerchor built the 1,200-seat Beethoven Hall on South Alamo Street. Beck programmed the music of Wagner whenever he could muster the forces necessary. During the 1896 State Saengerfest, hosted by the Beethoven Männerchor, he presented four concerts that included six Wagnerian works, in addition to music by Giuseppe Verdi, Ludwig van Beethoven, Camille Saint-Saëns, Carl Maria von Weber, and Edvard Grieg. The combined forces united to perform the "Spring" section of Joseph Haydn's oratorio The Seasons. By the 1890s Beck had also developed an accomplished band, an addition that enabled him to promote popular music. Even with the band, Beck programmed Wagner in potpourri arrangements, and a wider audience than usual came to hear the performances.
In 1904, after twenty years in San Antonio, he moved to Odessa, where he organized a band of fourteen members that played from Toyah to Abilene. When enthusiasm waned, Beck moved to Pecos and later to Kingsville. In July 1919, after Arthur Claassen had left San Antonio, Beck again accepted conductorship of the Beethoven Männerchor and returned to the Alamo City, where he died on October 2, 1920. See also GERMAN MUSIC.
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Theodore Albrecht, "101 Years of Symphonic Music in San Antonio," Southwestern Musician/Texas Music Educator, March, November 1975.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 29, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1994
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: