Hermann Kotzschmar, a German native, lived in Portland from 1849 until his death in April of 1908. He was an extraordinary musician and is recognized as a pivotal influence in Portland’s rich cultural life.
The German musician lived with Cyrus Libby Curtis and his wife until the birth of their first son in June of 1850. By this time the Curtis family had such fond feelings for the young musician that they gave their child his name; the boy was christened Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis.
Hermann Kotzschmar became known as the premiere musician in Maine. In 1891 a small concert hall was built on Congress Street in Portland and the owner named it “Kotzschmar Hall” to honor the musician. In 1900 a group of thirteen Portland musicians formed a club which still meets regularly, more than 100 years later, to discuss, perform and celebrate music. The group took the name of the then venerable musician, Kotzschmar, who served as their first president. In 1905 Kotzschmar was awarded an honorary degree from Bowdoin College, and an honorary doctorate in music from Eberhardt College.
For at least 50 years, Hermann Kotzschmar was involved in every worthy musical endeavor in Portland. His incredible gift of music, plus his warm and gentle personality endeared him to all. He gave generously of his time and talents, all in aid of the art which he so dearly loved. In doing so Hermann Kotzschmar awakened Portland’s musical life in a way that would not have happened without him.
On January 24, 1908 Portland’s city hall suffered a disastrous fire. Plans were immediately begun to rebuild city hall, and as the work progressed it was suggested that a grand organ be included in the large auditorium.
With the death of his childhood friend fresh in his mind, Cyrus H. K. Curtis stepped forward and offered the gift of an organ to the city. Mr. Curtis had only two stipulations: that the organ be built by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut, and that it be a memorial to the man whose name he carried, Hermann Kotzschmar. The organ was dedicated on August 22, 1912 to the memory of Mr. Curtis’ namesake, Hermann Kotzschmar.
After the construction of the organ was complete, the city council realized that it would be necessary to create a governing group to oversee the new municipal organ. Accordingly, on July 1 1912, a municipal music commission was created.
The Portland Music Commission was the first of its kind in America. It was recognized by the city government as one of its departments, and created further cultural advancements in Portland with the Kotzschmar Organ. The commission was charged with selecting a city organist, caring for the instrument and providing music programs. Whenever the organ was hired for an event in the hall, it was decreed that only the Municipal Organist should perform.
From the beginning of its existence, the position of Municipal Organist has been a central component of music in Portland. The city’s first Municipal Organist, Will C. Macfarlane, created a series of free Sunday afternoon organ concerts that lasted for many years. The Municipal Organists frequently scheduled a winter series of concerts that brought musicians to Portland from around the country and abroad.
The Music Commission and Portland’s 4thMunicipal Organist, Charles Cronham, were instrumental in the creation of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, an organization that remains part of the city’s cultural fabric today.
In 1933, the Music Commission was abolished following a dispute between the city council and one of the chairmen, but the position of Municipal Organist endured, and Portland is one of only two cities to maintain this important position.
Excerpts from Behind the Pipes: The Story of the Kotzschmar Organ by Janice Parkinson-Tucker