Ritter, Frederic Louis



Composer and writer on music; born at Strasburg, of Spanish descent; was a pupil of Hauser and Schletterer in his native city, of Georges Kastner in Paris, and after additional study in Germany was on his return to France appointed professor of music in the Protestant seminary at Fenestrange, Lorraine, 1852. Four years later he came to America, and settled in Cincinnati, where he organized the Cecilia and Philharmonic Societies, respectively choral and orchestral, and gave a lasting impetus to the musical progress of that city. In 1861 he removed to New York City, where he soon became conductor of the Sacred Harmonic and the Arion Choral Societies, the latter being a German male chorus of international standing. Here he elevated the standard of music by bringing out many important compositions, unheard before in this country, and in 1867 planned and conducted the first musical festival of any significance heard in New York. The same year he was called to the directorship of Vassar College, remaining, however, a resident of New York City until 1874, when he resigned his two positions as conductor and removed to Poughkeepsie. He held the post at Vassar till shortly before his death, which occurred at Antwerp, in the summer of 1891. In 1878 he received from the University of New York the degree of Doctor of Music.


His compositions include orchestral and instrumental: five symphonies, and several overtures; a cello concerto, and a piano concerto; a fantasia; string quartets; a septet; trios and other music for piano; a fantasia and fugue for organ. Choral and vocal: Psalm 95; organ, Psalm 4, Psalm 46, Psalm 23; over one hundred German songs and other songs and choruses. The Persian song-cycle Hafis, and the overture, Othello, as well as a number of other works, have been performed by the New York and Brooklyn Philharmonic Societies. He has been classed with the modern Franco-German School of composers, and while a most influential musical pioneer in America, ranked by Elson with Leopold Damrosch and Theodore Thomas in this respect, he was always in spirit a foreigner, notwithstanding his long residence in this country.


Though an able conductor and a thorough teacher, his literary works represent the best and most comprehensive of his activities. His History of Music held for some time the first place among English books on this subject. Music in England is considered in Europe an authoritative work. Music in America deals mainly with the   opera and with orchestral societies in New York. The Realm of Tones, translated from the German, also appeared in 1883, to which Dr. Ritter appended a list of brief biographical sketches of American musicians. A Practical Method for the Instruction of Chorus Classes was the outgrowth of his work as a conductor. The articles which he wrote for periodicals in Germany and France, as well as in English, were instrumental in bringing about a better understanding in those countries of the real status of musical effort and attainment in America, previously belittled.


His wife, nee Fanny Raymond, born in Philadelphia, 1840, is an accomplished musician, known by her writings on musical subjects, and the translations of same from foreign languages, the latter including Schumann's Music and Musicians, Ehlert's Letters on Music to a Lady, and original works, Woman as a Musician, and some famous songs.