Elkan Naumburg

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Elkan Naumburg
BornElkan Naumburg
Treuchtlingen, Bavaria
Died1924 (age 89)
ChildrenWalter Wehle Naumburg
George Washington Naumburg
FamilyWilliam Gabriel Tachau (nephew)
Elsie Margaret Binger Naumburg (daughter-in-law)

Elkan Naumburg (1835–1924) was a New York City merchant, banker, philanthropist and musicologist, best remembered for his sponsorship of the arts in Manhattan. From the last quarter of the nineteenth century, he used his wealth to promote public interest in symphonic and "semi-classical" music by helping to form and establish the Oratorio Society of New York and funding construction of the Naumburg Bandshell, which honors his name, on the Concert Ground of the Central Park Mall.[1]


Naumburg was born to a Jewish family in Treuchtlingen, Bavaria, in 1835, and emigrated with his parents to the United States at age 15 to escape the growing anti-Semitism of his native land.[2][3] He settled first in Baltimore, where he took a liking to chamber music. An amateur pianist with no formal training, he was unable at that time to afford purchasing concert tickets for famous performers like Vieuxtemps and Thalberg.

In 1853, at age 18, he moved to New York City, where he initiated a business career that was first highlighted as a successful merchant and then a merchant banker. He founded E. Naumburg & Co. in 1893 - one of the largest 'commercial paper' banks on Wall Street. Their chief rival was Goldman Sachs.[4] The parlor of his Manhattan townhouse hosted pianists, opera singers and string quartets, and soon became a forum for celebrities of the music field. With his success he chose to make access to fine music available to a broader public in New York, as one of his principal legacies. In 1873, Leopold Damrosch founded the Oratorio Society of New York in the 'back parlor' of Elkan Naumburg's 48th Street home. Bertha Wehle Naumburg (1843–97), Elkan's wife, gave it that name. Elkan, Bertha and Leopold were very good friends, and like Leopold, Elkan also gave one of his son's the name Walter. Elkan probably helped to form the group and he served briefly on its board, when it first began.[5] Richard Arnold, Leopold Damrosch, Marcella Sembrich, Theodore Thomas, and others performed weekly in the Naumburg family parlor during the 1870s, 80s, and 90s, entertaining such Gilded Age critics and artists as Henry Theophilus Finck and Albert Henry Krehbiel.

In 1890, Elkan Naumburg founded the New York Philharmonic's first pension fund. Later he helped introduce renowned conductors like Vasily Ilyich Safonov and Willem Mengelberg to that orchestra.

He soon got the idea of presenting free symphonic concerts in Central Park. Patterned after concerts conducted by Theodore Thomas in the Central Park Garden, the Naumburg Concerts commenced in 1905 and have continued without interruption ever since, almost always in Central Park. Today, they are the world's oldest continuous free outdoor classical music concert series. Originally performed on Central Park's Mall in an octagonal, pagoda-shaped bandstand designed by Jacob Wrey Mould, the programs featured popular waltzes, abbreviated operas, one or two movements of a symphony, or short arias, performed for audiences of strolling or picnicking Manhattanites, many of whom took to dancing as dusk fell and the gas lights came on.

In 1912, the old wood and cast iron bandstand was deemed inadequate, so Naumburg offered the city $125,000 to build a new bandshell of cast and Indiana limestone details. His nephew, the architect William Gabriel Tachau[6] (1875-1969), designed the structure—an innovative half-dome on a high section of drum, which later came into frequent use—in 1916. Building began in 1921, and it opened on September 29, 1923, with a 60-piece orchestra conducted by Franz Kaltenborn playing selections from "Aida" and "Carmen", the William Tell Overture, the Blue Danube Waltz, and movements from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. The concert closed with a new march—"On the Mall"—by Edwin Franko Goldman, dedicated to 88-year-old Elkan Naumburg, who was in attendance.

Elkan Naumburg died the following year, 1924, and is interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City. His sons Walter Wehle Naumburg (married to ornithologist Elsie Margaret Binger Naumburg) and George Washington Naumburg (married to Ruth Morgenthau) [7] continued the free concerts in Central Park.[8] Walter W. Naumburg also continued and augmented the family tradition of supporting classical music by establishing the Walter W. Naumburg Prize in 1926. When he died, in 1959, the perpetuation of both the free Naumburg Orchestral Concerts in Central Park and the Walter W. Naumburg Prize were endowed by a provision in his will. Elkan's grandniece, Eleanor Naumburg Sanger, later co-founded WQXR-FM with her husband Elliott Sanger, New York's classical music radio station, and Elkan's grandson Philip Henry Naumburg helped found the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. A great-grandson of Elkan Naumburg, Christopher Walter London,[9] currently runs the concert series and foundation aided by a board of trustees, and with the public support of the 'Friends of the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts'.


  1. ^ The New York Times, February 19, 1989.
  2. ^ Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company (1959). "Walter W. Naumburg 1867-1959" (PDF). New York Community Trust. New York: Walter W. Naumburg Memorial Trust. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
  3. ^ "NAUMBURG, U.S. family of bankers and philanthropists". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  4. ^ The New Yorker, December 7, 1957 pp.42-44
  5. ^ NYT's May 31, 1955, Walter W. Naumburg's speech at the public unveiling of a plaque dedication ceremony on the Naumburg Bandshell honoring his father, Elkan, and the 50th anniversary of the concerts summer season, before 4,000 people
  6. ^ "E.S. Naumburg, 92, A Patron of Music In Family Tradition". The New York Times. July 4, 1995.
  7. ^ https://www.henrymorgenthaupreserve.org/
  8. ^ See http://www.naumburgconcerts.org/ and History & Archives, 100th Anniversary - A Booklet
  9. ^ https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopher-w-london-ba578210/