Performer. Composer, Music Merchant, Concert Promoter, and Teacher. Henry Kleber, an accomplished and versatile musician, was a major influence on the development of the musical culture of Pittsburgh. He exerted his influence as a performer, composer, music merchant, impresario, and teacher.
Henry Kleber, born in 1816, emigrated at age 16 from the German city of Darmstadt with his family in 1832. Henry?s first job in Pittsburgh was teaching music at an exclusive girl?s academy. A gifted tenor he performed concerts beginning in 1836. Angered in 1850 by an unfavorable review from music critic Henry Shaad, he chased the music critic into a store beating him with a cowhide whip. He was fined $100 and court costs. Henry published the first of his hundreds of light dance compositions in 1839. At St. Paul's Cathedral and the Third Presbyterian Church. Henry served as organist and choir director. He organized the first band west of the Alleghenies called the Citizen?s Brass Band. He is also credited with organizing the Troubadours club in 1874 and the Mozart Club in 1878. Kleber was a member of the Pittsburgh Philharmonic Society which was a forerunner of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Kleber also produced concerts with local and national artists.
Kleber opened one of Pittsburgh?s first music stores in 1846 called ?Sign of the Golden Harp? at 301 Third Street. His store was the first to import pianos over the Allegheny Mountains on the new canal. He sold pianos, melodeons, violins, brass horns, sheet music, flutes, accordions, and drums. Upright Chickering pianos sold for $250 to $700 and Steinway grand piano sold for $1000. The store prospered and moved to bigger quarters in 1850 and again in 1862 to Wood Street.
Kleber gave music lessons at his store. He conducted informal musicales with his pupils at the homes of wealthy Pittsburghers. One of his pupils was Stephen Foster. Kleber sold a piano that he imported from Germany to a musician friend of Stephen Foster, Mary Woods. It was on the Woods piano that Foster wrote several of his early compositions. Kleber was a close friend of Foster collaborating with him on several compositions. Kleber sang a moving aria from 'Joseph in Egypt' at Stephen Foster?s funeral at the Trinity Church in 1864. Actor Felix Bressart played the part of Henry Kleber in the 1939 movie biography of Stephen Foster entitled ?Swanee River?
Henry Kleber died in 1897 having greatly contributed to the musical life of Pittsburgh.
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