Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thinking Theodore Presser; a Regular Guy and his Bear

The Etude Music Magazine (1883-1957) was a significant was a source of support for music teachers and an outlet for composers, teachers and educators for 74 years. In 2003 I created an edition of piano lessons in the grand style originally published in The Etude.

Many people are unaware that the Theodore Presser publishing company developed from The Etude Music Magazine (1883-1957). Those who were aware of this may be surprised to discover that Presser once owned a pet bear, loved flowers, and "was a delight to see" at football games.

Theodore Presser (1848-1925) was a character, and three months after his death in October 1925, the Etude dedicated part of the January 1926 edition to his memory. An article by William Roberts Tilford gives insight into the quirks that made his personality colorful:

"Like most men of large accomplishments he possessed an uncanny capacity for work. During the forty-three years he was engaged in music publishing, no man in his business equalled him in this respect. [...] For years, after a severe day’s labor at his business, he would take home great bundles of work and spend his evenings investigating manuscripts, signing checks, auditing bills, and so on. [...]

"This capacity for work, combined with his great determination and strong will, became an excess in his last days. His best friends and counsellors found it impossible to prevent him from doing things which were obviously injurious and liable to shorten his life. In order to get physical exercise, he persisted in sawing heavy logs, clearly a dangerous exertion for a man of seventy-seven with an uncertain heart. He never rode when he could walk, and only in his very last years could he be persuaded to use the elevator except when a climb was too high. [...]
He was at his office four days before his passing; and only a few hours before his death he was struggling valiantly in behalf of a plan he had to help the teacher of music.

"Many of those who for years had known of the enormous accomplishments of Theodore Presser were surprised when they met him.; and often they would exclaim, 'Is that really Theodore Presser?' This was largely because of his great simplicity. He hated affectation and complexity of any kind. A bombastic person amused him greatly. Few men have ever retained so little of their worldly goods during their lifetime and given away so much. He had a fine home in Germantown [Pennsylvania] adjoining the far more expensive building he erected for retired music teachers. For a man of his means he lived very simply and without ostentation. In his business house he lunched daily with his employees, making little distinction between them as to their position in the business. [...]

"While unostentatious, he was extremely social and dreaded to be without congenial company and companions. A conventional, old fashioned picnic to the woods gave him far more delight than anything that pretended to be formal, and a hike with a group of boys was a special diversion. In a small group he was an extremely animated conversationalist and enjoyed humor immensely. He dreaded public speaking; and although, when inspired, he could make a very excellent talk upon subjects in which he was interested, he had a fear of audiences and frequently confined himself to notes.

"He had a habit of expressing himself in a peculiar and emphatic manner which he understood perfectly himself, but which was often misinterpreted by others. This sometimes led to misunderstandings in later years, and to the sacrifice of friends, which pained him greatly. It thus often became necessary for those who did understand him to interpret his meaning; and this he appreciated greatly if accurate, but detested when it became apparent to him that he was in the least falsely interpreted. [...]

"His love for animals was very great and he looked forward to the end of the day when his little dog would romp joyously to greet him. At different times he possessed many kinds of animals—-crows, parrots, rabbits, pheasants—-and he once acquired a bear which he kept until it became too strong for any domestic confines. He gave the bear away and shortly after the beast was found strangled at the end of his chain. Mr. Presser always insisted that the bear committed suicide because he had lost a good home. He reproached himself for giving the animal to others, who, he feared, had been unkind to it.

"Flowers were a passion with him, and his gardens and greenhouse were a constant source of delight. Every new and rare plant was a treasure. He continually wrote to distant points for new specimens. Once, when returning from a trip to Bermuda, I brought him a small collection of tropical plants. His reception of the plants so overwhelmed him that he quite forgot the donor.

"In sports he retained to his very last days the naive enthusiasm of a child. At a football game he was a delight to see. He frequently attended professional baseball games and his usual inquiry at the end of the day was, 'What’s the score ?' He enjoyed playing games himself and eagerly hunted companions to play with him.

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