Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Elsässer, Carl Gottlieb (1817–1885)

by Kenneth Hince

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Carl Gottlieb Elsässer (1817-1885), musician, was born on 7 June 1817 at Höfingen near Stuttgart, son of Johann Gottlieb Elsässer, teacher, and his wife Johanne, née Belser. Elsässer received his early instruction in music from his father and from the Stuttgart organist Kocher. He completed his studies in Dresden under the minor composer and organist Johann Schneider, returned to Stuttgart, and was active as a conductor and teacher until the political unrest of 1847-48. At this time he replaced the Kapellmeister P. J. von Lindpaintner (1791-1856) who, with his orchestra and the members of the Royal Theatre, was placed under interdict by the King of Württemberg. Late in 1849, after the collapse of the liberal movement in the German States, Elsässer went to England to become music director of a private college run by Dr Heidelmaier at Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

In 1853 Elsässer migrated to Victoria and spent the rest of his life in Melbourne as a music teacher, conductor and composer. The success of some of his pupils, among them Amelia Bailey and Geraldine Warden, speaks for Elsässer's competence as a voice and keyboard teacher.

Retiring in temperament, Elsässer took little part in public life. He conducted the Melbourne Philharmonic Society for one season in 1861 and the opening festival concerts of the German Turnverein next year. He appeared occasionally as guest conductor with various local choral societies but never held a regular position with any of them.

An active composer, he was often represented in contemporary programmes, mostly with part-songs, but also with more ambitious choral and orchestral works. His compositions include the cantata Praise the Lord (1860); Wedding Cantata (1863), which was performed at Sir Henry Barkly's banquet in honour of the wedding of the Prince of Wales; Peace Festival Cantata, also known as the Sieges Cantata (1871); Victoria's Dream, a competition cantata for the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880; and Songs of Praise (1882). Very little of his music was published, however.

A stroke in April 1884 deprived Elsässer of speech but friends supported him until his death on 5 January 1885 at his Hawthorn home. He was buried in the Lutheran section of the Melbourne cemetery. His wife Johanne Louise, née Raff, survived him; they had no children.

Elsässer's impact on music in Australia was probably more generic than personal. With many other emigrant musicians, he brought to Victoria the characteristics of early nineteenth-century German music and helped to form a taste and convention which were perceptibly different from those current in England. This German-oriented movement was never as firmly established in Victoria as it became in South Australia, but its effects persisted well into the twentieth century.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian Series (Melb, 1882)
  • Musical Society of Victoria, Catalogue of the Musical Library (Melb, 1909), 1st supplement (1916), 2nd supplement (1920)
  • Australasian, 3 June 1871, 3 May 1884, 10 Jan 1885.

Citation details

Kenneth Hince, 'Elsässer, Carl Gottlieb (1817–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/elsasser-carl-gottlieb-3480/text5329, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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