Biography of Albert M. Steinert

To the fortunate few who are born with superior gifts and a genuine love and understanding of the beautiful, there comes a unique opportunity for service. Too often they neglect this opportunity, they fail to render a faithful accounting of the talents which have been entrusted to them. But in the exceptional instance, when great natural gifts are accompanied by a rare and truly noble spirit, how rich is the influence which is thus added to the life of a community or nation. It is in such terms that those who knew Albert M. Steinert are accustomed to think of him. He was immensely gifted, a lover of all fine things in art. His particular and dearest interest, however, was music and all things pertaining to it, and he made it the work of his life to try to bring to others some knowledge and appreciation of an art which meant so much to him. Here was a man who could draw from music the spiritual and emotional values with which it surely speaks to those who are trained to hear. And yet he was not one who retired to a solitary, selfish pleasure. In living things, he wanted others to live them too. He wished to pass on to others the fire that rekindled his own being, that their lives might also be richer, fuller and more glorious. Such was the labor of his life.

Albert M. Steinert was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on February 5, 1868, a son of Morris and Caroline (Dreyfus) Steinert. His father, a record of whose life appears in the preceding biography, was the founder of the music house of M. Steinert and Sons, which came to occupy a leading place in this field and to have stores in many cities. Albert M. Steinert received his early education in the public schools of his native New Haven, and early in life became an accomplished violinist. With the example of his father before him, it was natural that he should be drawn toward a career in music, but his own gifts were so great, and so obvious even at an early age, that it would have been little short of tragedy if his life had been lost to music. Fortunately this was not the case. His technical mastery of the violin made it easy for him to take the concert stage, and on a few occasions he toured with Arthur Friedheim, one of the greatest pianists of his time and a favorite pupil of Liszt. Mr. Steinert also accompanied his father and that eminent critic and musicologist, the late Henry Edward Krehbiel, performing with them on their educational tours. Thus to his technical mastery of musical instruments, he added a thorough knowledge of musical history and evolution, and early acquired the soundness of musical judgment which can only arise from a familiarity with all the standards and canons of the art along with instinctive good taste. Mr. Steinert also demonstrated the versatility of his talents in other ways. About 1892 he came to Providence, Rhode Island, to take charge of the local branch of M. Steinert and Sons. Here his activities were to center until the time of his death, and here he achieved success in the material tasks of life with which many another man would have rested content.

But Mr. Steinert was one of those, as another has written, who feel and live things that are not bought and sold by the dozen and gross, but make for interests, satisfaction, culture, and refinement. He considered that he had a duty to perform in the city of his residence, and he set himself the task of raising the standards of musical taste and appreciation in Providence. No man was better fitted for this task. Mr. Steinert recognized at once the inestimable value of fine concerts in the musical development of the city. He personally assumed the responsibility of bringing to Providence most of the outstanding musical attractions of the past thirty years, and without his influence it is likely that they would never have come here at all. He brought the leading artists and orchestras, often at a considerable financial loss to himself, finding his sufficient reward in the gradual improvement of the city’s musical taste. In all this period he did not sponsor a single musical offering that was cheap or commonplace.

A list of those whom Mr. Steinert brought to Providence is large and includes the most noted names in the whole realm of music—Ysaye, Marteau, Sarasate, Heifetz, Chaliapin, Kreisler, Rachmaninoff, Hoffman, Yolanda Mero, Thibaud, Paderewski, Bauer, Gabrilowitsch, Roland Hayes, Schumann-Heink, John McCormick, Albert Spalding, Toscanini, with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra and others. Frequent visits to Europe and to American musical centers, kept him well abreast of progress in the art, and in close touch with those who sought to keep alive and perpetuate the traditions of Beethoven, Brahms, and the Wagnerian music-drama. It is not to be wondered at that, with his immense knowledge of and enthusiasm for music, his sureness of taste and great personal charm, he numbered among his friends most of the foremost musicians of the last quarter of a century. As Dr. Faunce, president of Brown University, well wrote of him in a letter to Mrs. Steinert after her husband’s death:

All of us know how much his career has meant to the higher life of Providence. His love of the beautiful in art and in music and in literature has stimulated hundreds of our people to understand the things that are worth while. He has left behind him a monument more enduring than marble and has taught us all that the lifting of the spirit means more than material gain.

In spite of the fascination which he found in music, Mr. Steinert did not retire to the seclusion of a cloistered art. He was alive to all that went on about him, and took an enlightened interest in the community life and progress. He was a prominent figure in Providence civic affairs, and exercised an important influence in the ranks and councils of the Democratic party, both of the State and Nation. At one time he was the candidate of his party for the office of State treasurer in Rhode Island, and he was also a Presidential Elector in the Wilson campaign.

Mr. Steinert found time to collect a remarkable number of fine paintings and beautiful objects of art. At great expense of time and money he also acquired one of the finest collections of ancient instruments in existence. Here we have another instance of the impeccable taste which was his, and the fact that in his leisure moments he chose to devote himself to such pursuits well illustrates how surely the culture of the ages had become a part of his very life. Mr. Steinert’s father had presented a large collection of such instruments, comprising clavichords, spinets, and harpsichords, to Yale University. Conspicuous among the old instruments in Mr. Steinert’s own collection are two very fine double-banked harpsichords made by Hans Ruckers of Antwerp about 1613, two old spinets of about the same period, and a beautiful harpsichord which belonged to the Medici family and bears the coat-of-arms of the Medicis. Two clavichords of primitive construction, dating from about 1630, may also be mentioned. This superb collection is, in itself, a splendid memorial to Mr. Steinert’s zeal, learning, and discriminating taste.

On January 7, 1901, Albert M. Steinert married Marie Alice Phillips, of New York City, who survives him. They became the parents of two children: Kathryn Lillian, a graduate of Lincoln School and an honor student in her junior year at Wellesley College at the time of her death. She was nineteen years old. Alice Marie, a second daughter, passed away at the age of nine.

Mr. Steinert died on December 15, 1927. Word of his passing brought to the people of Providence a sense of indescribable loss. “It is not until we have lost a prized possession,” wrote a friend of Mr. Steinert’s in an appreciation of his life, “that we realize how truly great and valuable it was, and this not completely until we seek to replace it. Occasionally from in our lives some one passes on, and it dawns upon us how important to us and to society his life has been, how much he has done, how many persons have been benefited by his efforts, and how much better a large number of people have been from his having lived. … At such times the sum total of his energies comes to us. His qualities appear before us in more impressive aspects and in larger number than ever before, because we have not before addressed ourselves to the task of summarizing his qualities and estimating the worth of his work.”

Yet, while he lived, the honor which Mr. Steinert truly won, was abundantly rendered to him. If more words of praise are spoken for him now, it is only because those whom he has left behind him seek to recapture anew something of his spirit in speaking of his loss. “Lofty designs must close in like effects,” wrote Browning. But the work which such men accomplish never ends. It becomes a part of the spiritual heritage of the Nation and will remain as long as our country endures.

Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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