Casper Friedrich Artes
By Gloria M. Barron, great
grand-daughter of Casper Artes.
If you have any information or
questions about Casper Artes,
please e-mail Gloria.
This is the story of Casper Friedrich Artes, born in Merken, Saxe
Meiningen, Germany, March 29, 1816. His mother died while
was an infant, and his father was burgomeister of Merken.
Casper's father left the upbringing of his son in the hands of the
There had been many musicians, artists and poets in the Artes
among them, Grandmother Artes' own husband, so the pious old lady
from bitter experience that "artists" generally were paupers,
provide for themselves or their families. The strong-willed
grandmother decided then, that any tendencies toward art which
displayed by young Casper should be discouraged. She
that he should study for a career in the Lutheran Ministry.
The child's inborn talent could not be suppressed. From the
he could reach the piano keyboard standing on tip-toes, Casper
not be kept from the instrument. He memorized every melody
heard, and then came home to re-create the tunes on the
"Oma", Casper's affectionate name for his grandmother, became
when neighbors commented on the childs unusual proclivity for
When the boy's father commented one evening that the lad appeared
a true prodigy, that was too much for the old lady. In order
frustrate Casper's artistic inclinations, Oma had the piano
the attic, thus removing the temptation. Never again was the
sound of music heard in the Artes home, so long as Oma
The old lady could not turn off the music that surged from within
boy's soul. At every opportunity, he would slip away and
the dusty attic, where he would fondle the keys and run his
silently over the smooth black and white ivory. Soon Casper
that by detaching the strings inside he could "play" the piano
any sounds to give him away . . . only he could "hear" the
When time came for little Casper's first day at school, he
the usual child's reticence, and Oma had to all but drag the
boy down the cobblestone streets to the school. As they
the school the magical sounds of a piano, floating from the music
caught the child's ear, and his protests stopped. This did
escape Oma's attention, and she became apprehensive, but the boy
be educated. She hoped that with her guidance the boy might be
into other channels.
Casper did well in his studies. He spent every free moment -
lunch time and after school hours, standing hidden outside the
the music room, listening and watching as the other children
the lessons which were forbidden to him. Casper memorized
sound, every position of the fingers, then, when the class was
the room empty, he would slip inside to practice what he had
He practiced this "self-instruction" for months without detection,
until one day the young music instructor returned and heard Casper
playing. The instructor stood silently behind the little pianist
listened as the boy ran through the intricate exercises with
Turning to leave, Casper's face blanched with fear when he saw the
instructor. "Who taught you to play the piano like that,
asked the instructor. "No, no one, Herr Meister." "No one?!
now, that was a very difficult, advanced exercise you were
playing. Where did you learn it?" Reluctantly the boy
the instructor how he had watched from outside and practiced later
everyone was gone. The instructor was impressed by the young lad's
ardor, and suggested that Casper enroll for instruction.
sadly explained that this would be impossible, due to his
stern injunction against music. Loath to allow the boy's
to go undeveloped, the instructor told Casper he would teach him
secret. And thus, Casper's musical tutelage was begun.
The young music instructor also worked as the church organist,
had access to the mighty organ, and was able to introduce Casper
instrument on which the boy was destined to become one of the
The instructor had persuaded the parish priest to ask Casper's
if the boy could work in the church on weekends, running errands,
helping to do what needed to be done. Oma, unsuspecting, was
delighted to have the boy work in such an environment, so Casper
able to practice every Saturday and Sunday on the great organ,
his grandmother knowing about it. During the summer vacation
months, Casper had even more opportunities to practice, and his
The music instructor became convinced that the boy could become a
master organist - but he would need more advanced instruction and
constant practice, which was impossible under the restrictions
upon him. Soon, the instructor knew, Casper's grandmother
have to be told of the boy's talent and his potential
Oma's enlightenment came in dramatic fashion that winter.
Casper's father came rushing home one winter evening, breathless
the exciting news that King William Friedrich III was touring the
country, making personel appearances ... and that the king would
Merken on Christmas Eve! As Burgomeister, Casper's father would
the pleasurable duty of greeting the royal party! The whole
family would sit in the pew right behind the king, during midnight
On the day of the king's arrival, work crews were out at dawn,
the snow from the streets and walks. Banners and bunting
hung everywhere. In the church, Casper polished all of the
candlesticks and placed new candles in them, as the priest
the new alter cloths and vestments which had been saved for just
special occasion. The king was very pleased with his
As everyone filed into the church for mass, though, a "crisis"
developed. The young organist stopped the Burgomeister
the church and told him that his page turner had taken ill --
Casper fill in for him? His father agreed to let Casper help
From the very first chord heard, as the sound of the great organ
the church, everyone was aware that there was something awesomely
different in the sound. There were comments buzzed about the
church, to the effect that the young organist was certainly
himself, no doubt inspired by the presence of the king.
The organist, of course, was young Casper. Hesitant and frightened
the instructor first pressed him into service, the boy lost all of
fears as soon as the first mighty notes rose from his touch.
was totally immersed in the music as he played.
King William was visibly impressed, and after the services, he
that the magnificent organist be brought before him. When
instructor brought Casper down from the loft, the king could not
believe it. "I ask to see the organist, and you bring me
child!" protests the king.
Despite the assurances of Casper's tutor, neither the king nor
else could believe it was actually the young boy who had brought
such masterful sounds from the organ. The king insisted on
taken to the organ loft, where he commanded Casper to sit at the
organ. "You will play for me again, and this time I shall
The boy played and there was no question in anyone's mind that he
indeed, the master organist they had heard. The king grew
misty-eyed as he listened to the boy's playing. As the last
died away there was a long moment of silence. Then the king
spoke, emotionally. "You are indeed Little Mozart, come back
play for us again!" Royal endorsement was bestowed upon
and he was given permission to use the title "Court Organist".
After this event Grandmother Artes could no longer refuse
for Casper to enroll in advanced studies. However, she
that he was to continue his regular schooling, as well. If
could not live without his organ music, well and good -- but his
was still to be that of the ministry. Casper would accepted
conditions, ANYTHING, just so he could continue his music!
Casper's fame as "Little Mozart" spread far and wide, and he was
upon to play the organ at church feasts and in concert all over
Germany, but his genius was not restricted to music. He was
truly phenomenal scholar, and at the age of fifteen he was
the University of Heidelberg, where his preparations for the
began in earnest.
Casper ranked high in all of his classes. He became a master
languages, fluent in English, French, Hebrew, Spanish, Arabic,
and Latin. He was a particularly avid scholar in
philosophy. He was a well rounded student, taking part in
activities. He even acquired the traditional student's badge
honor -- the accolade scar of the dueling sword.
His true love, however, remained music. He discoursed
passionately on the subject any time he could get his grandmother
listen. It wasn't until Casper was seventeen and visiting at
grandmother's death bed, that the old lady finally relented.
had done all she could to give him a useful, purposeful life, but
was obviously by nature an artist. On her death bed, Oma
Casper from his promise to become a minister, and freed him to
music his life.
Casper was twenty-five when he met and married Anna Catherine
Bierschenck in 1841. In the years that followed Casper
what his grandmother meant when she spoke of the hardships in the
of an artist. Faced with a constantly increasing family,
could no longer subsist on the stipend that the royal patronage as
court organist brought him. To supplement his income, Casper
organ lessons to the young people of Leipzig, and even took a
job teaching in the Hebrew school. Less and less time was
available for his own music studies. Casper and Anna had a
of thirteen children, six of whom were born prior to 1851, thus
family required more and more of his time and energy to support
During the late 1840's a great wave of militarism was sweeping
Germany - a wave that was to reach its crest in the Revolution of
1848-49. Many musicians, like Richard Wagner found great
the militancy of the times, and expressed it in their music.
Casper Artes, however, saw that the unrest threatened the liberty
the German people. He became an outspoken opponent of the
militaristic power of the Kaiser and a champion of civil
Thus Casper's name was enscribed as a "socialistic agitator" who
be dealt with. Fearing for the safety of his family, Casper
must leave his homeland to seek refuge in America.
He and Anna made their escape plans in secret, and through the
influential friends, they obtained passage to America on a sailing
vessel. In order not to arouse suspicion, they could not be seen
preparing to leave, and when they did depart it was by dead of
leaving all of their cherished possessions behind, taking only the
clothing needed for the trip. All of Casper s beautiful
operas left behind, later to be destroyed in vindictive
After six stormy weeks at sea, Casper and his family arrived in
York City. The year was 1851. With his family safe in an
apartment, Casper entered on a round of interviews with various
employment prospects. One day while looking for work he
to pass by the Old Trinity Church ... and what happened was
in a newspaper article, as follows:
"...hearing the organist of Old Trinity at practice, Artes
introduced himself, and was invited to try the organ. He sat down
it, lost himself in the swell of its splendid volume and purity of
and played away in a mood of ecstasy, while the church organist
amazed delight, himself lost to all but the wonder of what he was
hearing, ... the sightseers in the churchyard and passersby on
were drawn into the church by the majesty of his touch, until,
had ceased playing in a low and plaintive diminuendo, it was to
discover the church crowded almost to overflow capacity. The
people stood in awed silence. The church organist was overcome
tears. It was as if some Pied Piper of Hamelin had newly risen and
that way to charm the grown children of the metropolis!"
After this story appeared, other reporters came to Artes,
about his background for "followup" stories about the "Pied Piper"
had caught the public's fancy. With this publicity to
him, job offers flooded in to Casper and it became a question of
choosing where he wanted to practice his art.
Anna found New York City terrifying, The only time she ventured
the apartment was to buy fresh food from the pushcart vendors that
passed each day. One day Anna purchased a basket of large
delicious-looking plums as a treat for the children. After a
couple of bites, the children indicated something was wrong with
plums, so Anna tried one herself. There WAS something
wrong! She rushed to a neighbor's apartment and asked what
strange fruit was. Told it was a tomato, Anna blanched and
back to her children. Tomatoes, as everyone knew, were deadly
poisonous! Anna quickly tossed out the remaining tomatoes,
Casper couldn't accidentally eat one, then she gathered her
about her in a circle. Fully convinced they were all going
die, Anna forced herself to be calm, and sat telling the children
stories, while waiting and watching for the convulsive
was sure would appear soon.
When Casper came home that day, he convinced Anna that the
were perfectly safe, and calmed her fears, but New York City
fearsome nightmare to Anna. Casper lovingly reassured his
that they would find another place to live ... a place where
were green, where she could have her own garden again, and bring
children in a familiar comfortable environment.
Casper accepted an offer from a group of men who were founding a
seminary of arts in western Kentucky. Casper packed up his
and they set out on the long and harrowing trip to the sleepy town
Henderson, Kentucky. They travelled part of the way by steam
train and the remainder by steamboat, down the Ohio River.
The seminary blossomed and prospered from the very
indications pointed to a great financial as well as artistic
success. Then, at the end of the first year, the founders of
seminary suddenly disappeared, absconding with all funds and
the staff unpaid and stranded. The teachers attempted to
seminary operating and pay off the debts left by the founders, but
by one, the staff dwindled until only Casper Artes was left.
was his duty to close the seminary permanently.
Another great personal tragedy occurred during this period when
Casper's and Anna's six-year-old Theresa contracted
The two sat up day and night with their daughter, praying for a
miracle. en the doctor made his house call on the third day of
Theresa's illness, he had to give the tragic news that the child
but hours to live, nothing could save her. Interviewed years
doctor recalled the story in these words:
" ... When I called the third day and recognized that my good
Death, had signaled his coming in an hour or two, I could not
them in their loneliness, and dared not hide the truth. I
them as gently as I could, sitting there by the little bed.
will be beyond all pain in an hour,' I said to them. And I
see the professor yet, with a set face, rise and walk firmly to
next room, seat himself at the piano and begin to caress the keys
infinite lightness into old airs some of the familiar to me.
shocked me that he could play the piano at such a moment. I
fancied he had not understood me and so I resolutely rose, went in
him, and putting my hand on his shoulder, said, 'Did you
She is dying!' 'Yes!' he nodded. 'I know. But these
songs that sung her into life and to sleep many a night from back
the old country until now. I play them to her once more for
last sleep. Maybe she will hear, maybe she will know.' And
for an hour we sat in the two rooms until the music, and the
life, died softly, together."
Casper accepted a position with St. Paul's Episcopal Church in
Henderson, and supplemented his income by giving private
in music and academic tutoring to the young people who needed more
advanced schooling than the public schools could offer. He
remain St. Paul's organist for more than a generation.
records show that he did not miss a single service in thirty
When the Civil War broke out in America, life became hard for
but particularly for Casper and Anna, whose family had increased
steadily. Music lessons became a luxury no one could afford,
Casper continued to instruct the truly promising young musicians
charge. Quite often he was paid in much needed foodstuffs.
Casper and Anna saw five of their children die in infancy.
Perhaps the five little graves in St. Paul's cemetery are part of
reason Casper remained in Henderson the rest of his life.
He was known as "The Professor" or "The Old Music Master."
affectionate esteem in which he was held is difficult to define in
terms of present day values and ideals, but there was a wondrous
affair between Casper Artes and the little town of Henderson which
equals the love affair between, say, Lincoln and the Union - or
After so illustrious a beginning, and so exciting and dramatic a
it seems incongruous and anti-climactic that Casper's life story
end in such quiet dignity.
One Sunday, as church goers filed out after services at St.
old master organist finished playing his final hymn, closed the
of his organ, ran his fingers lovingly over the smooth wood, then
leaned forward and rested his head on the instrument. No
regrets. No dreams of "what may have been." Casper
had completed his journey, and it was a successful
The Old Music Master
A Small-Town Christmas Memory
by Young E. Allison
Printed in the Louisville
Courier-Journal, December 21, 1919.
If Christmas did no more than heat up old memories for those old
to have them it mould be a fine season, well worth the year's
preparation. Memory has curious chemical processes. It turns water
wine, age into youth, pains that were into pleasures that are and
achieves the immortality of the soul by the resurrection of the
dead into present life if only for the short atom of a moment.
first Christmas tree may rise up again, all alight, glowing as in
fairyland, standing right before the front door of heaven, which
remember, opened thereon. Through that entrance a really earnest
might hear, if he tried hard, the very voices of angels in the
notes of the old church organ sounding above the rumble of bass,
whole melting into a glory of sight and sound that survives
as some rare dream in the morning.
I remember the first Christmas tree in the old church in the
town where I was born -- in that little Western Kentucky community
where aristocracy was all democratic. The first Christmas tree I
ever seen except in the cold black and white of book pictures. I
one of the smallest of those of the Sunday school who marched with
radiant faces of cherubim upon that splendid gleaming sight, with
old organist of St. Paul's filling the arches of the great roof
the beauty of overwhelming loveliness of sound that rolled up and
poured down again and enveloped us all in wonder and joy.
That organist, the old German music master, was the inspiration,
beginning and the end of musical art in the little town. His long
sinewy artist fingers had first brought the thrall of artistry to
see him through the haze of years, already grown shadowy, a figure
romantic, half pathetic, but all appealing and noble. Beau ideal
simple courtesy, wrapped in dreams, absent-minded, patient,
solitary in the crowd. He had emigrated from a little city in soft
Saxony following the Revolution of 1848-49, into which he had been
drawn by student sympathies with Liberty. He had studied at
(from which he bore upon his forehead the accolade scar of the
sword) and was finished in music at Leipsig. He was one of a
group of Germans and French, seeking freedom, who came brothers
together and founded an ambitious seminary of arts in the rich
town in the middle of the last century, and soon came to
They brought with them the strange, exotic leaven of old world art
culture to a community in which. on the basis of slavery, existed
peculiar aristocracy that expressed itself mostly through what may
called the etiquette of manners. All soon passed on except the
music professor, who remained in the soil of his adoption. From
associates came the knowledge of his early life. How he had been a
prodigy of music in the little duchy and was called "the Little
Mozart." Long afterward came the revolutions, the upheavals, the
throwings-out and flights, and so the artist of great promise
Prometheus Bound to our little rock in the mid-American
when he should have walked unbound amidst the art culture of
Thus fate grinds splendid dreams to dusts powder.
I see him now as I first remember him, already an old man, with
white hair, almost wholly bald on top of his great head. Many and
a Sunday morning he sat perched on the cushion of his box seat at
pipe organ in the choir loft of old St. Paul's. Then inevitably
would come the lacquered snuf-box, which he invariably offered
smile in grave familiar jest to anyone who might be observing him.
had come out of the snuff-box age, a remainder of it, behind which
might perceive shadowy figures, moving in an olden society. Our
bass-singer, tall, Indian-like, athletic leader in the new
would once in a while insert the tips of his finger and thumb in
responsive grave courtesy and smilingly withdraw them and proceed
perfect grace through fluttering motions, apparently with winged
fingers, to flick the aromatic rappee to his nostril. But he
It was all Barmecidal and well understood between them. For there
once been a scandal that stretched from choir gallery to the
rail over that. The basso had actually partaken of the snuff and
midst of the solemn pause over "The Body and the Blood" the great
resonance of his mighty voice had exploded in a concussion,
half-sneeze, half deep-mouthed bark of a cough, that shook the
groining of the sanctuary. And it was repeated in one resounding
"har-rash-oo" after another; the solemnity was dashed with a
that threatened to be ridiculous, until he unfolded his mighty
from his chair, dashed stoopingly out of the choir door, down the
winding stairs and emerged on the street to fight it out in the
I see the old professor, dressed in his black broadcloth, wearing
tall silk hat, with his snuff box and handkerchief in one hand,
umbrella under the other arm, walking with his slow and uncertain
along the walks of the old town. His eyes are strained upward
at nothing in particular, his mind "pasturing far away in the
mead of dreams." There is snuff upon his shirt front, and like the
figure out of a gallery of old portraits he stumbles his
way along to the homes of his pupils. He taught my two sisters the
piano. One of them, prepared by assiduous practice, was able one
delight him with an unexpectedly good performance of the task set.
expressed his pleasure with a courtly bow and smile and
sat down at the piano to reward her with his own best playing --
forgot himself and other pupils, until with sudden awakening he
hurriedly, bowed himself out with smiles and explanations and went
way. Some minutes later the bell rang, she opened the door and
stood the professor, heated and apologetic:
My hat!" he said, with a smile of self-depreciation, pointing to
bare head and then to his hat standing there upon a chair in the
"I left it there, and only now have I perceived it when walking
The fine old professor! For more than a generation he was organist
St. Paul's, in whose chronicles it is noted that he missed not one
service in thirty years of that time. In those days there was not
flattering esteem for male practitioners of music. But in his
art commanded respect from our dullest materialists. He was
in a glamor somehow, and legend covered him. I have wondered if
has not been the reward of every good workaday musician in every
self-centered town of the old times. He was modest and never spoke
himself. But there was the universal faith in town that he was one
the greatest organists of the world, lost by some miracle in our
obscurity. Certainly the bishops and big clergymen who came to us
church councils and visits, listened to his playing in amazed
and open wonder.
We who loved music there also spoke to each other in awe of the
operas he had written and that were yet in manuscript --
Germany, because he was too modest to batter at the doors of Fame
now to be produced, alas! because there was then no producing of
in America. Those wonderful operas, that it was said he arose at
midnight sometimes to play over upon his own piano, immersing
in their beauties -- playing them in camera, and in pianissimo and
revisiting his youth and conquering the world in the microcosm of
own rapt solitude! I have often wondered what became of those
whether they were shadows from legendary space, or what they
were. I never knew.
He was a composer to my knowledge; at least an improvisatore at
organ and the piano. On Sundays I have stood in the choir loft to
him "play the congregation out" with swelling paean pouring out
every pipe from the whole keybank; the music rolling up into the
pointed arches of the ceiling and falling back in a hood over the
moving people. It was all improvisation, during which he was
transfigured, lifted out of himself into some world apart from us,
marveled at his gifts.
During all the years of my youth his was the seat of all musical
authority. Presiding at piano or organ, he set the seal of art on
concerts. When the Golden Dramatic Company came, as it did twice a
year, for a stay of several weeks, he was its sole and complete
orchestra for entr'actes and for that form of entenainment between
drama and opera well-defined then as melodrama. When I hear these
and duets thrummed now upon pianos, I can see him again and hear
And there was the fine old professor, beckoning on all that
melody with a masterful nod of the head, a lift of the warning
a flash of the inspired eyes. Whenever, as often happened, the
broke into generous applause after his entr'act playing, he would
and make his acknowledgment in a bow that ranks in my memory
that imperial sweep of comity with which Anton Seidl half a
later was wont to bend to the world's audiences and lift them to
own plane, matching their intelligence and his skill on equal
with a splendid benevolence. I was 13 or 14, and impressions then
become memories fixed forever.
Printed in the Louisville Courier-Journal, December 21, 1919.
Comments of the Vestry:
Mrs. Atkinson was asked to act as organist during the illness of
Artes. Mr. Artes went to Evansville on Oct. 17, 1886. He died
Nov. 20, and was buried in Fernwood on Nov. 22. The Vestry placed
wreath of flowers upon his grave, and Mr. Barrett recorded in the
parish register - "Caspar F. Artes, for twenty six years the
and efficient organist of St. Paul's Church - a chivalrous
an upright man - an unobtrusive Christian - a surpassing artist -
constant friend"; all of which was the substance of the Vestry's
of sorrow and condolence.
Mr. Barrett, in a memorial sermon on Prof. Artes, said:
"Few men, I think, knew Prof. Artes well. Of course everybody was
familiar with his genial smile, his cordial salutation, his
never-failing politeness, which characterized him as a true
But few, I think, realized his unusual intelligence, his wide
and his thorough appreciation of all that pertains to the spirit
times and the good of man and our country...
"To tell the truth, Mr. Artes' true language was music. ... He
well the great masters and loved to commune with them. But he was
himself a master among the masters."
He had come to Henderson on Mar. 4, 1852. He was born at Melkers,
Meiningen, Germany Mar. 29, 1886.
The Vestry requested the Rector to look in to designs for a
glass window in memory of Prof. Artes.
"The Vestry of St. Paul's Church, at a meeting, Nov. 23rd 1886,
the following minute and ordered that it be entered upon the
Record Book; also that it be published in our city papers, and a
of it be sent to the family of the late Professor Caspar F. Artes:
"As Vestrymen of St. Paul's Church we desire to express our
sorrow at the death of our friend and brother, Professor C. F.
who has for the past twenty-six years been our most faithful and
"We desire to record our deep appreciation of him as a chivalrous
gentleman, an upright man, an unobtrusive Christian, a surpassing
artist and a constant friend. With all the scenes of our personal
history has he been long and intimately associated. In the Sunday
School, at Confirmation, at the marriage ceremony, at funeral
obsequies, at the Sunday service and the week-day lectures, amidst
Christmas festivities and Lenten solemnities, and Easter joys, he
been a prominent and an appreciative participant.
"We shall long hold in loving memory his exceptional fidelity and
genius; and we indulge the hope that we shall meet him again and
with him in the praises of Eternity.
"To his sorrowing family we extend our sincere sympathy, and
them of our good wishes in whatever state it may please God to
Window photo by David Motz
Articles originally compiled for the web by David Motz, former
webmaster for the St. Paul's Parish
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