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  National Federation
  of Music Clubs

History

217 Waldran
Home of the Beethoven Club from 1927-1953

The Beethoven Club came into being as a result of the musical interests and activities of Martha Trudeau and three of her friends Norma Duke, Annie Dwyer and Isabelle Getz. All four young ladies were pianists, apparently accomplished ones, who enjoyed playing in a quartet organized by Martha Trudeau. Later two other members, Elizabeth Cowan and Mrs. Edward Tobey were added, and in on October 27, 1888, they decided to organize and named the group the Beethoven Club. Perhaps they chose the name because they were playing mainly Beethoven’s beautiful and challenging piano compositions, or perhaps because Beethoven was an outstanding pianist as well as composer. For whatever reason, the name was chosen and by 1891, 60 members had been added and the club decided to incorporate. [For a detailed biography of Martha Trudeau see the attached article from the E-Newsletter of the Trudeau Society in America written by Louise Trudeau, January 29, 2011.)

From the beginning the focus and purpose of the club has been the performance and support of classical music, not limited to Beethoven, but covering the full spectrum of classical composers and performers. The Club was also one of the first to organize younger pianists into a Junior Club. Mrs. Napoleon Hill, president from 1895 to 1903, was instrumental in setting up this division, which by the 1990’s had grown to include the Vivace Junior Group, the Performers’ Group, and even a Cradle Roll Roster. The Club also helped organize the Tennessee Federation of Music Clubs and provided the organization with its first two presidents.

In its early years the Club met in homes, churches, and downtown in the Women’s Society Building. By 1927 the Club had grown to the point that, under the leadership of Mrs. J. F. Hill, president for 18 years, it purchased the home at 217 N. Waldran and converted it to a clubhouse and recital hall. This was a large building with an exterior of ashlar stone, and an impressive interior of large rooms with hardwood floors and a handsome staircase. Many present day senior Memphians fondly remember playing their first piano recitals in this stately building. Throughout the 1930’s the hall was the scene of weekly performances presented by members as well as guest artists. Also in the 1930s the Club began presenting nationally known artists in concerts at the Goodwyn Institute downtown and at the South Hall of Ellis Auditorium.

This plan of presenting major artists continued into the post-WWII period. By the 1960s and 70s the Beethoven Club was a major presenter of nationally and internationally known opera stars, pianists, violinists, quartets, orchestras, etc. making the South Hall of the Auditorium the Lincoln Center/Carnegie Hall of the Mid-South. Following some of the concerts there would be receptions at the Clubhouse which was now at 263 S. McLean. In 1953, under the leadership of Mrs. Roscoe Clark, president from 1938 to 1956, the Club had sold the property on Waldran and purchased the smaller property on McLean, remodeling it from a residence into meeting rooms and a recital hall. Many middle-aged and younger Memphians fondly remember playing their first piano recital in this hall.


263 South McLean
Home of the Beethoven Club from 1953 to the present

True to its beginnings, the Beethoven Club has been a “seed-plot” for innovative ideas and performances groups which have “spun-off” and become important musical entities on their own. In the 1930s the Club began sponsoring operettas, light operas and musical revues put on by amateur actors, singers, etc. These productions found such favor with the public that they soon became larger, more professional, and eventually became the Memphis Open Air Theatre or M.O.A.T., which made the Overton Park Shell its home for many summers. Similar ventures in the field of opera led to the formation of the Memphis Opera Theatre, now Opera Memphis, an outstanding regional opera company. In 1962, the Beethoven Club founded the Mid-South Regional Metropolitan Opera Auditions, which today continues as an independent organization. As a result of the auditions, three local winners became “stars” of the Met: Patricia Welting (1962), Gail Robinson, (1966), and Ruth Welting (1968).

In recent years the focus of the Club has shifted from presenting the “big name” artists to discovering, promoting and developing local classical musicians, especially the young, gifted ones who need support and encouragement. The primary means of doing this are the Avanti Concerts at the Club and the two competitions sponsored by the Club. The Beethoven Piano Sonata Competition for ages 16-36, held biennially since 1989, in international in scope. The Young Artists Competition, held annually for the last 32 years, is open to regional musicians, ages 6-30, in six instrumental categories as well as voice.

For 128 years, through wars, depressions and political upheavals, this venerable institution has continued to enrich the cultural life of our city. Its members have been pillars of support for music in the churches and in the schools. Countless hours of providing musical programs for service organizations, sporting events, social events, and all that makes up the fabric of life in our community have bee given by club members. Young musicians have been trained, encouraged and rewarded. The great music of the masters has been performed, embraced and revered. Bravos to the “grande dame”! May she long raise her song of “beautiful music always.”

–Barbara Mashburn
President, 2008

 


Beethoven Club • 263 S. McLean Blvd. • Memphis, TN 38104 • 901-274-2504 or 901-493-0958
E-mail: beethovenclubmemphis@gmail.com