Paur Play

Once in a while, you hear in the news about how a librarian discovers something interesting hiding on the shelves, like the recent Paul Revere print found at Brown University.  Here’s my story (cue chung-chung Law and Order sound effect):

Before the longtime head of the Music Department, Kathie Logan, retired recently, we conducted a shelf inventory. One discovery was a packet of letters from the early 1900’s, held together with rusty straight pins. The only thing known about them was that they were written in part by the contentious conductor of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, Emil Paur (pronounced Power). Kathie did not recall anything about them. They might have come into the library before she arrived in 1984.

Paur, conductor of the Pittsburgh Orchestra from 1904 – 1910, was somewhat controversial in his day. Our Music Archives house a collection of scrapbooks from George H. Wilson, the manager of the Pittsburgh Orchestra at the time. All I knew was that Wilson did not get along with Paur, and actually quit the Orchestra because of him.

On closer inspection, I found 34 letters from 1905-1914 between Paur and William C. Hamilton. There were typewritten copies of what Hamilton sent to Paur, and original, handwritten responses from Paur to Hamilton. The contents of letters indicated a close personal relationship between the men, with Hamilton acting as Paur’s agent or manager, and describe the atmosphere and circumstances surrounding Paur’s tenure as the conductor of the Pittsburgh Orchestra. The letters include dealings with finances and personalities, “to be kept in strict confidence” gossip, machinations of Orchestra Committee members, warnings from Hamilton for Paur to stay away from this one or that one, and a lot of sour grapes. Obviously, Hamilton was a key player in the dealings and controversy at the time. Passages are peppered with family events and dinner parties.

I knew a little of the back story of Paur, but who was Hamilton? No, he is not found on Google. I went to look at A History of Pittsburgh Music, 1758-1958 by Edward G. Baynham.  This is one of the go–to Pittsburgh music reference books¹. He wasn’t mentioned in there either. I searched the Pittsburgh Music Information File.  Paur is there, but no Hamilton. I looked at A Short History of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, 1896 to 1910 by Richard J. Wolfe² and once again found nothing specifically about Hamilton. Then I went to the Concert Programs of the Pittsburgh Orchestra and found my first clue.

Here was my path:

Clue one –William C. Hamilton is named as an orchestra committee member in early concert programs.

Clue two – from the concert programs: There is a “S. Hamilton Co.” where tickets to the concerts are sold – is there a connection?

Clue three – There is a card catalog (yes, they still exist!) in the Pennsylvania Department that contains names with volumes in which biographies of Pennsylvanians can be found. Aha! Success! I found him (I had to wade through other William Hamiltons, but I did find my man) in Pittsburgh of Today: Its Resources and People by Frank C. Harper. William C. Hamilton succeeded his father Samuel Hamilton as the president of “S. Hamilton and Company,” a prominent music store in Pittsburgh from 1870 through to the 1940s. So there was a connection to “S. Hamilton.”

Clue four – I went to another card catalog (yes another one) in the Music Department for the detailed index to the Musical Forecast, a music magazine from Pittsburgh from 1921-1948. There is a small obituary and small blurb about W. C. Hamilton in those volumes.

Clue five – I went back to Baynham and read about Samuel Hamilton, W. C.’s father, and music entrepreneur.

From all this information, I was able to write a short blurb for the finding list that I posted online:  William C. Hamilton.

With my interest piqued, I went to the Oliver Room to look through George Wilson’s scrapbook all about Paur. Wilson was the manager of the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, as well as the Pittsburgh Orchestra housed there. He also managed the Art Society of Pittsburgh. He rubbed elbows with the likes of Mr. Andrew Carnegie. Wilson’s family donated 45 of his scrapbooks to the library, including the one containing newspaper clippings and correspondence about his feud with Paur. Amazingly, Mr. Wilson saved all of the newspaper and magazine articles pertaining to the feud, including negative press, and (BONUS!), two letters from William C. Hamilton himself, full of vitriol toward Mr. Wilson, with Wilson’s script on the top of the letters reading “not answered.”

Some selected highlights from Mr. Wilson’s scrapbook Pittsburgh Music Archive #37, Box 11:

 From April, 1907, “Paur or Manager, and the Committee Chose Conductor” “Among the matters upon which the manager and the conductor failed to agree, it is said, was the action of the latter in bringing to public notice his abilities as a pianist, and the implied contention of the manager that the orchestra was becoming known as an organization for the exploitation of a piano manufacturing concern.”

[That piano manufacturer was none other than W.C. Hamilton]

From April 18, 1907, “More than Jealousy”  “Luigi von Kunitz, concertmeister of the Pittsburg Orchestra, issued a statement tonight in which he says he has been forced to resign from the organization because he would not obey private mandates from Emil Paur, the conductor. He charges that Mr. Paur is connected with some piano manufacturer, whose make he insists on the musician using.”

From the Pittsburgh Post [Gazette?], May 1907, “Pittsburgh Orchestra has Brightest Kind of Prospects” “Gustav Schlotterbeck and W. C. Hamilton [are] in full charge of organization’s affairs. W. C. Hamilton [will be] Acting Director, who will manage the affairs of the orchestra here. Gustav Schlotterbeck … will book orchestra and manage out-of-town engagements.

Did Hamilton in fact coerce orchestral musicians into using certain instruments to his own gain, as seemed to be the contention of Wilson? Mmmm. Maybe you’ll have to read this amazing original source material from just over 100 years ago for yourself.


1. This book started as a scholarly dissertation for Baynham’s PhD in history and was expanded upon and privately published afterwards.  It is extremely well researched, but unfortunately, doesn’t have great bibliographic notes, and is a fairly dry read.

2. This is another scholarly dissertation.


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10 responses to “Paur Play

  1. Kristine

    Thank you for this interesting post. It is obvious you put a great amount of time and effort into your research. As a native of Pittsburgh, I am always happy to learn more about the history of the city.

  2. Sheila

    And might I add that if you explore information for people places and things do check our IMLS – Iron & Steel database:
    You will find personalities you have discussed there.

  3. This is a very interesting blog and I enjoyed reading it. I am originally from Erie, Pa. This is a great historical gem.

  4. I LOVE card catalogs and miss them dearly. I remember vividly my grammar school librarian teaching us how the information was organized. We practiced by making our own cards for various books.
    And, original source material. I haven’t heard that one for a while. In fact, I think that entire concept is crtically missing from most “opinion makers” repetoires. Thanks for the intersting post.

    • Joelle

      The library did get rid of quite a few card catalogs, but there is still so much information that has never been entered into a computer. So Much!

  5. Pingback: Well Isn’t That Special | Eleventh Stack

  6. Robin Elliott

    Thanks so much for this interesting post. I am writing an article about Luigi von Kunits, and enjoyed reading this tidbit of information about his disagreement with Paur. Robin Elliott, University of Toronto

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