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Cleveland's Most Famous Zither Player

As a classically trained musician, Henry Wormsbacher was a dominant force in promoting the native instrument of his homeland, the concert zither. In this article, author Alissa Pesavanto details the life and works of Henry Wormsbacher, Cleveland's most famous zither player. Originally published in Germania Newspaper, March 1994, the author has extended her kind permission for the republication of this article.



A fact little known to most residents of Cleveland, Ohio and to most German-Americans is that one of America's most famous performers on the Alpine folk instrument - the concert zither - lived in Cleveland from 1915 until his death in 1934. German-born, Wormsbacher became America's most import zither composer and promoter, with his pieces published both in Europe and America. An indefatigable promoter of his native instrument, Wormsbacher became the most influential zitherist of his generation, becoming president and musical director of the American Zither Verband, and a renowned zither composer. His zither pieces are among the most popular ever written, becoming a permanent part of the American zither club Repertoire.

Born January 23, 1866 in Giessen an der Lahn, Germany, Wormsbacher first learned zither at nine, his teachers being G. Sontag and Phillip Grassman. At 23 he came to the United States in 1887, settling in Jersey City, NJ in 1890 until 1914. There he founded the Columbia Zither Club, directing it for 25 years, and taught zither at the New Jersey Conservatory of Music. Soon after moving to Cleveland, Ohio in 1915, he became the Cleveland Zither Club's music director, living in Cleveland until his death on June 18, 1934 at home on 1357 St. Charles Avenue in Lakewood; he is buried at Lakewood Park Cemetery in Rocky River, Ohio.

Though a Clevelander, Wormsbacher's influence on both American and European zither culture was far-reaching. After arriving in America, the ambitious Wormsbacher soon was to attend, perform and compose for and direct seven congresses of the American Zither Verband from 1914 to 1930, serving for years s the AZV/UZPA's president. The AZV was founded 1912 and renamed in 1919 as the United Zither Players of America. Though previous attempts had failed to create a lasting national American zither organization to encourage zither playing, the American Zither Verband's success and longevity ( its last congress held 1937 in Rochester, NY ) was due in no small part to Wormsbacher's enthusiasm, leadership, and organizational skills in promoting the zither.

Part of Wormsbacher's success lay in the fact he knew virtually everybody in the zither world of his time, including such America players as A.K Fahrner, A.W. Schepp and Alberta Krader and European zitherists Richard Grünwald and Josef Haustein. The American players mentioned were also influential members of the Verband's board of trustees, which decided the location of and the music to be played at future congresses. Fahrner himself helped establish the Davenport, Iowa Zither Club ( founded c. 1880 ); Krader later established the Los Angeles Zither Ensemble in 1958. That the zither was an indispensable part of Germanic immigrant culture is shown by the fact that at least 39 American zither clubs were founded at various times from 1877 onward. Today, four exist - in Chicago, IL ( est. 1913 ), Buffalo, NY ( est. 1883, revived 1954), Philadelphia, PA ( revived 1993 ) and Omaha, Nebraska ( est. 1993 ). In the wake of WW1's destruction, the UZPA's journal, The Zither, in 1920 mentioned that Wormsbacher most generously "sent 2500 marks for the relief of the Zither teachers of Vienna...upon Josef Haustein's 70th birthday...a substantial financial gift, collected and sent by President Wormsbacher, was gratefully received by him."


Henry Wormsbacher Advertisement Courtesy of WHMC-C ©

A classically trained musician, Wormsbacher composed at least 150 works, many written for zither. This writer has found at least 36 zither titles by him, the most popular at the various American zither congresses and among zither clubs being his Fest Marsch in C dur ( Festival March in C Major), Jubiläums's Gavotte, Op. 12 ( Jubilee Gavotte), Mit vereinten Kräften ( With United Strength ) and Siegskrone Gavotte ( Victory Crown Gavotte ). Both a German-American and a German-Romantic composer, many of his works have derived from both Alpine and American places such as Alpenblümchen ( Alpine Floweret ) Ein Sonntag in Kentucky ( A Sunday in Kentucky ), Ein Ausflug im Gerbirge ( An Excursion in the Alps ), Erinnerun an die Niagara-Fuälle ( Memories of Niagara Falls, Klang vom Erie-See ( Sounds of Lake Erie, dedicated to the Cleveland Zither Club ), and Wald Einsamkeit ( Forest Solitude ). He also wrote marches, gavottes, concert overtures and fantasies, with some composed specifically as show pieces for several zither congresses. Wormsbacher's pieces were much in demand, being both printed and sold in America and Europe by such publishers as Hans Dondl in Munich, Hans Ragotzky in Berlin and Anton Smetak in Zurich, Wormsbacher even ran a music store from his home in Cleveland, selling both his and others zither works and methods, guitars, mandolins, violins and zithers.

In short, Henry Wormsbacher was an extraordinary human and musician. Had his achievements been accomplished upon a better-known instrument than the zither, he probably would have become one of America's foremost composers. Even so, the American zither's current obscurity does not diminish Wormsbacher's place in American music history. Attaining international reknown during his life attests to Wormsbacher's success in promoting the zither, an instrument which is now enjoying a big revival in central Europe and Japan and a smaller one at present in America.

For the enjoyment of the zither community, the following works by Henry Wormsbacher are provided in the following table.

Index Composer Arranger Title Publisher Notes
SM-0003 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Wald-Einsamkeit Mandolinata Code: C / Dedication: Herrn Johannes Pugh in Altona freundlichst gewidmet
SM-0004 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Scherzo C-Dur Mandolinata Stamped "Henry Wormsbacher, Music Publisher, 1988 East 59th St., Cleveland, O. / Code: O
SM-0006 Joh. Schrammel Henry Wormsbacher Wien bleibt Wien! Mandolinata Stamped "Henry Wormsbacher, Music Publisher, 1988 East 59th St., Cleveland, O. / Baltimore Zither Club / Code: O
SM-0008 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Flüsternde Rosen (Whispering Roses) Mandolinata Stamped "Henry Wormsbacher, Music Publisher, 1988 East 59th St., Cleveland, O. / Baltimore Zither Club / Code: O
SM-0021 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Crown of Victory (Siegeskrone) Gavotte Henry Wormsbacher, Jersey City, N.J. Code: O / Stamped: Elizabeth Zither Club, Elizabeth, N. J. / Hartmann Bros. & Reinhard, Importers and Publishers of Zither Music, New York / Dedication: Herrn Joh. Pugh, Zitherlehrer in Altona freundlichst gewidmet
SM-0022 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Herzensgruss! Mandolinata Code: O
SM-0036 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Im Freundeskreise! Mandolinata Code: O / Compliments of Rudolf Mueller
SM-0037 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Triumph-Marsch Mandolinata Code: O / Dedication: To the United Zitherplayer's of America! / Compliments of Rudolf Mueller
SM-0059 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Mein Liebling! Mandolinata Code: OC / Dedication: Herrn Paul Krenzer, Cleveland O. / Compliments of Rudolf Mueller
SM-0068 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Glückliche Herzen (Merry Hearts) Mandolinata Code: O
SM-0079 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Ein Ausflug in's Gebirge Hans Dondl, München Code: O
SM-0117 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Im Waldesgrün! Mandolinata Code: O / Stamped: Baltimore Zither Club, Henry Wormsbacher, Music Publisher, Cleveland, O. / Voices: Zither 1,2
SM-0205 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Serenade Pathetique Henry Wormsbacher, Cleveland, O. Code: O,C / Dedication: To my dear friend Mr. Wm P. Hilton, Lakewood, O. / Compliments of Jane Curtis
SM-0221 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher In Olden Times (In Alten Zeiten) Henry Wormsbacher, Cleveland, Ohio Code: O / Dedication: To my esteemed friend Dr. Juan Antiga, Habana, Cuba
SM-0222 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher The Conqueror! Henry Wormsbacher, Cleveland, Ohio Code: O / Dedication: To my dear Friend, Robert H. Paubel. Meriden, Conn.
SM-0225 Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Remembrance of Niagara Falls (Erinnerung an die Niagara Faelle) Henry Wormsbacher, Cleveland, Ohio Code: O / Dedication: To my dear friend Dr. Juan Antiga, Habana, Cuba

We are seeking copies of the following known works by Henry Wormsbacher. If the reader should have these works, or other works by him not mentioned below, please contact us.

Index Composer Arranger Title Publisher Notes
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Alpine Flowret Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Alpen-Idylle Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Ein Sonntag in Kentucky Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Ein Waldfest, Toengemalde Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Empire March, Op. 32, 1902 Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Erinnerung an Tonawanda Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Festmarsch I C-Dur Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Freiheitgeist, March Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Friendship Gavotte Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Gavotte Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Herzliche Wilkommen Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Hilton March Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Im Lindenhain Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Im Waldensschatten!, Walzer-Rondo, Op. 93 Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher In Bluhenden Mai Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Jubilaums Gavotte, Op. 12 Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Klaenge vom Frie See, 1915 Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Mit Vereinten Kraften, March Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Narcissus! Blumen-Gavotte, Op. 74, 1924 Musikverlag "Mandolinata", Berlin Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Off to the Races, Op. 33, 1903 Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Opening March Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Paraphrase ueber das estlandische Lied, Spinn, Spinn Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Reisebilder Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Serenade Romantique Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Tenbusch March Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Traumbild-Fantasie, Op. 49 Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Twilight in the Forest Code:
SM-0X Henry Wormsbacher Henry Wormsbacher Zur Fruehlingszeit Code:



Henry Wormsbacher Compositions. Advertisement. The Zither. Volume 1 Number 1. 1920: 14. Franz Schwarzer, Papers, 1840-1951, Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Columbia, MO.



About the author: Allisa Pesavento earned an M.A. in ethnomusicology from Kent State University in August, 1994. Her master's thesis, The Concert Zither in America, is regarded as one of the best resources on the Alpine zither in America. Her thesis includes illustrations, information from historical archives, details covering the evolution of the zither from the German scheitholt and its relationship to America's appalachian dulcimer. The cost, which includes shipping via priority mail, is $42 to the US and Canada and $45 shipping to Europe and Japan. To order, send your payment with intent to purchase to the following address:

Alissa Pesavento
351 Bend Hill Road
Fredonia PA 16124

To learn more about the Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Columbia, visit whmc.umsystem.edu. Do you have material of historic interest related to the zither that you would like to share? If so, contact us.