Student Summer Scholars Manuscripts


German-American, Immigration, American Music



Included in

History Commons




William Henry Pommer (1851-1937) presents an interesting case study of German-American composition in the Midwest. Pommer’s family was among the first settlers of the self-consciously German town of Hermann, Missouri. Pommer first studied in St. Louis, then traveled to Leipzig and Vienna, where his teachers included Reinecke and Bruckner. Upon returning to the US in 1875, he was active as a composer for about twenty years and also became a prominent music educator in Missouri schools and universities. Pommer occupies a unique compositional position; he interacted with American performers, composers, and educators for most of his life, but received his foundational studies in traditional German schools. Though Pommer’s music varies widely between genres, it also demonstrates several aspects of stylistic consistency across genres. He often alternates between complex and simpler harmonies and textures; delights in incongruous, apparently arbitrary juxtapositions; and frequently silences the accompaniment so that a solo line is heard completely alone. This paper focuses on these stylistic distinctions in Pommer’s operetta The Legend of St. Etheldethelwethelberga, and his String Quartet in G Minor. We discuss how his stylistic decisions appear deliberately to mediate between old and new worlds. His mixture of diverse elements defines his German-American identity as a combination of his European musical heritage and new sounds and idioms being created in America.