A Brief Biography of
CHRISTOPHER PHILIP WINKLER (1824 - 1913)
by David Winkler, great-great-grandson of the composer
Christoph Philipp Winkler was born March 26, 1824, in the little village of Gutenstetten (German for “good places”), in the province of Mittelfranken (Middle Franconia), in the kingdom of Bavaria (now southern Germany), just northwest of the present-day city of Nuremberg. Baptized as an infant in the Lutheran church, he was the third son of Johann Leonardt and Ursula Barbara Winkler, Johann Leonardt being a teacher in the town‘s public school.
After a time, Johann was promoted to a school in the town of Hersbruck. It was there that, at the age of seven, Christoph learned to play the organ. A relative who knew him later wrote, “I remember his telling me of playing in a large cathedral in Germany where it was so cold his mother warmed bean bags for him to keep his fingers from freezing as he played.” Later, for his advanced training, he went on to study at the Royal Conservatory in Munich, where he graduated third in his class.
No doubt the deteriorating political, social, and economic situation in Bavaria and the promise of a better life abroad encouraged young Christoph to leave his homeland as soon as he became of age. So, at the age of 16, he left for America, joining the wave of German immigration which took place in the middle part of the nineteenth century. As he wrote many years later:
Lutheran Church of St. John the Baptist in Guttenstetten, where Christopher Philip was baptized April 11, 1824.
I came to the United States in 1840, leaving home on foot & walking all the way to Bremen, where I took passage in a lighter [a barge used to transfer cargo] for Bremerhaven. I there was transferred with a big number of others, men mostly & a few women, to a brig [a large sailing ship] which brought us after a voyage of fifty six days to Philadelphia, Pa.
Having an older brother who resided in the state of North Carolina, I had to wait over 2 months before I could get the funds from him – I landed with 2 dollars in pocket – to travel to Yanceyville, Caswell County, N.C. I knew not a word of the english language, could make myself understood only in french & of course in german, still I managed to find my way as I now & then happened to meet german people who helped me.
With varying fortunes I worked in different parts of the U.S., principally, however, at Jackson, Tenn., where I was employed as head of the music department for 8 years, from 1845 to 1853. [This was at the Memphis Conference Female Institute, a Methodist institution. He also taught languages there]. Here I made the acquaintance of Miss Susan Margaret Bond, who in the fall of 1853 gave me her heart & hand, and we were married on the 16th of February 1854, since which day we have lived together in peace and quiet & as harmoniously as ever falls to the lot of mortal beings.
Earliest photograph of Susan Margaret Bond, taken in Memphis, c. 1852.
From Jackson, Christopher Philip and his new bride moved to Memphis in 1855, where he lived for the major portion of his adult life. Memphis was a new city, having been founded in 1819 by Andrew Jackson and two partners, and having been incorporated as a city in 1849. Susan’s parents and other family members, the Bonds, were prominent in the community of Bartlett, just north of Memphis.
The early years of Christopher Philip and Susan Margaret‘s marriage must have been difficult. Before their second anniversary, they had buried two children. Then came the years of the Civil War, in which Memphis was captured by Union forces after a battle on the Mississippi River in June of 1862. Somehow they lived through the military occupation of the city, the recurring yellow-fever epidemics of subsequent years, and the economic difficulties which ensued (the city‘s charter was revoked in 1879). All in all, they had nine children, six boys and three girls, but only the boys lived past childhood.
Earliest known photograph of Christopher Philip Winkler, c. 1861, with his wife, Susan Margaret Bond Winkler, and sons William Bond Winkler (left) and Philip Mason Winkler (right) .
In Memphis, Christopher Philip developed a multi-faceted career in music. He played organ and directed choirs in several churches and at the Jewish synagogue. He conducted opera and other musical concerts in the city.
He also maintained an active studio, teaching piano, organ, and guitar, with, as stated in one advertisement, “special attention given to the cultivation of the voice.” According to one newspaper account, “nearly all of the prominent singers [of the city] have shared in his instructions.”
In his more than 40 years in Memphis, “The Professor,” as he was affectionately known, became one of the leading musical figures in the city. The Morning News called him “the Nestor [i.e., the wise and venerable elder] among the musical fraternity.” And at his death, the Memphis Commercial Appeal hailed him as the “Dean of Memphis Musicians.”
The Professor with six female music students, c. 1900.
Christopher Philip was a man of vision who worked hard to establish the musical culture of the community. “When I came to the city in 1855,” he said in a newspaper article some forty years later, “the prevailing style of music was ‘Oh! Susanna, Don't You Cry,’ ‘Old Dog Tray,’ and ‘My Old Kentucky Home.’ Nothing else would go at concerts. The great moving power in those days were the choirs, although the music, except in the Catholic Church, was poor enough. There was very little improvement perceptible until after the [Civil] war.”
As the town grew and its artistic resources developed, the Professor was often called upon to help produce opera and other “finer” music. For 20 years he conducted the Maennerchor (a German male chorus). He also conducted at various times for the Mendelssohn Society and the Mozart Society. He was particularly interested in bringing people together to perform large works of excellent quality. He lamented that “the energy that is frittered away in the formation of so many little clubs, while productive of good results in a small way, is subversive of great achievements. We have many fine singers ... but a large number of them are unwilling to sink their individuality for the performance of great works.”
An article in the Memphis Morning News (May 4, 1902) noted his excellent work with the St. Peter Catholic Church, where he became organist/choirmaster in 1867. According to the writer, “None of the choirs in the city is superior to St. Peter’s, although it is composed of volunteers only, yet the beauty of the music serves to hold the members together, and only bad weather prevents them from attending rehearsals. Prof. Winkler has worked incessantly for the welfare of his corps of singers, hunting out and adapting the best music that could be found. Through his efforts the works of the modern composers have been made known to the worshippers at St. Peter‘s, while those of the older composers have not been neglected.”
Interior of the St. Peter Church (Roman Catholic), Memphis, where Christopher Philip served as organist/choirmaster beginning in 1867.
His musical gifts were impressive. Effie Henderson McAdow, a granddaughter who knew him well, recalled how “a man would come into his office and say, ‘Professor, I've got a tune running in my head’ ... the man would whistle the tune, and he’d write it down.” Another example was given by a Memphis journalist who told how, “as a specimen of his ability ... he wrote out the orchestra parts (studied from the piano score) to “Dorothy” [a comic opera by Stephenson & Cellier] in one week.” The Morning News article noted that, “As an organist, he ranks so high that his photograph has been inserted in the list of prominent American organists.” And the Commercial Appeal noted upon his passing that “His work in musical circles won him the esteem of all music lovers for many years ... His familiarity with the works of the old masters and his interpretation of difficult passages of the world’s best music won him no small prestige ... The history of music in Memphis will bear his imprint for a long time and his death will be felt as a personal loss by the older generation as well as by many of the younger school to whom he gave his services as teacher and adviser.”
Christopher Philip enjoyed a good reputation in the community and was known for his pleasant nature. Effie McAdow said, “He was a gentleman of the old school – courteous, etc. – very gentle in all his manners.” A Memphis newspaper noted that “Probably no other teacher who has ever lived in Memphis has been as generous with his time and talents in helping and encouraging ambitious but moneyless young singers and fitting them for an independent and self-sustaining livelihood and sowing seeds for future usefulness, which have brought an abundant harvest of thanks and gratitude.” And his obituary stated that “He avoided entanglements of any sort in musical circles and was never known to become involved in dispute or controversy.”
The Professor was active as a Mason, having advanced to the 32nd degree. Effie remembered that “He could recite the entire ritual from memory and did it for the Lodge here [in Ft. Myers].” He also used his musical gifts to provide music for various Masonic functions.
Christopher Philip Winkler c. 1870
Professor Winkler was very patriotic and loyal to his adopted homeland. In his 1903 will, he stated that “I have never been arrested, fined, or jailed, and I trust that my children and grandchildren will all follow in my footsteps and be good, upright citizens, loving their country and doing their duty under all circumstances.” In his song, “I Am a True American Citizen,” he declared: “Hurrah for these United States, this grand and glorious nation ... For this we know is true, the red, white, and blue, Where’er they go, there all will know that freedom goes along; Therefore we’ll sing and shout aloud, Hurrah for our dear country.”
Christopher Philip enjoyed reading philosophy and other subjects. In his 1905 will, he mentions a number of books to be given to various individuals, including an encyclopedia and some books on hydropathy (i.e., “water-cure“). He lamented that, “in this hurry [sic] world, where each conscientious man is compelled to meet others in the battle for existence & success it seems that none of our children will ever have sufficient leisure to give themselves over to study & quiet contemplation.”
He was blessed with physical health even to the end of his life. Effie said, “He was very active up until the day he died ... would walk to town, reading his newspaper on the way.”
A Memphis paper noted that, “Notwithstanding his age, he is as enthusiastic for music as ever, and, strange to say, does not use spectacles to see or write” (although he did wear glasses in his mid-life, as seen in one particular photograph). Evidence of a steady hand, even in his eighties, may be observed in the beauty and grace of his handwritten manuscripts. Effie wrote that “when he died he could write a prayer on the inside of a line drawn round a nickel.” His typical signature was “Ch. Ph. Winkler,” with abundant flourishes added. Unfortunately, this abbreviation sometimes led to an erroneous interpretation, as his first name in several city directories and even in his obituary was listed as “Charles.”
Professor and Mrs. Winkler in DeWitt, Arkansas on February 16, 1904, the date of their Golden Wedding Anniversary.
In his later life, he became quite hard of hearing. Sue Holderby, a granddaughter, said, “Grandfather Winkler ... was a dear, sweet soul. I remember one story ... Grandfather ... was standing in front of the fireplace one day, and accidentally standing on the cat’s tail, the cat was howling to high heaven. Grandmother went over to him, touched him on the arm and pointed to the cat. Grandfather said, ‘Poor Pussy, and she didn't even murmur.’ ” Glisson, another grandchild of Christopher Philip, remembered that “though deaf, he would instantly spot a wrong note [while teaching piano] and would rap the knuckles of the student.” Much of his music in my collection was written during this time, when his hearing was gone—but nonetheless, well-written, showing that, like Beethoven, he knew what the music sounded like even in his imagination.
The six Winkler sons, photograph c. 1887. Front row (left to right): Marion Pope Winkler, Philip Mason Winkler, William Bond Winkler. Back row (left to right): Eugene Hobday Winkler, James Wilkins Winkler, John Christopher Leonard Winkler.
Some time after the turn of the century, The Professor retired to his summer home in DeWitt, Arkansas. There he had a homestead which had been developed into a farm by his three eldest sons, particularly Philip Mason (my great-grandfather).
Later, he moved to Ft. Myers, Florida, where his oldest son, William Bond Winkler, was a medical doctor and one of the early settlers of the city. It was there that he passed away on March 23, 1913, just three days before his 89th birthday (which also happened to be Easter Sunday). Effie described that day as follows: “He died sitting in his rocking chair by the fire ... his wife sitting next to him in a smaller rocker with her hand on his.” His son, William, had brought some ice cream. William's wife, Lillian, “got up and fixed a dish for him and brought it and pressed it to his lips and he didn‘t move. She touched his lips again and shook him, and she said, ‘O Willie,’ and my father went [to look at him] ... and he was dead.”
He was buried in the Masonic cemetery in Ft. Myers (now part of the old Ft. Myers City Cemetery. Unfortunately, for some reason, a headstone was never placed on the grave, so we don’t know exactly where in the cemetery he is buried).
The family in Ft. Myers, Florida (four generations). Professor and Mrs. Winkler are seated on the left; to the far right, standing, is Dr. William Bond Winkler with his wife, Lillian, seated in front of him; to the left, standing, are Frederick Pope Henderson and his wife, Effie (daughter of William Bond and Ida Winkler); the children are Lilian Margaret Henderson and William Frederick Henderson, daughter and son of Frederick and Effie.
Most of the 70 or so compositions I have of his are for solo piano, with a few vocal pieces included, plus three for solo guitar. I believe these pieces represent only a fraction of his musical output. One newspaper article, for instance, noted that he wrote the orchestral parts for many of the operas and oratorios which were performed in Memphis. The article further mentions that “his compositions are mostly of a sacred nature, the entire service as sung at the Jewish Temple being the result of his work, while the quantity of adaptations, arrangements and compositions for St. Peter‘s and other churches is very considerable.” Unfortunately, there is a good reason why we have so little of his music today. D.H. Baldwin, who later developed the Baldwin line of pianos, had a store in Memphis (his headquarters being in Cincinnati) where Winkler had his office. In December of 1888, a fire at the store destroyed his entire musical collection. A newspaper article said: “During his entire musical career he has been gathering and storing gems of music, and he had the most extensive library of any professor in the South,” including “many manuscript arrangements.” This event occurred when Winkler was 64 years of age, so although he lived many more years, it seems likely that he never fully recovered from this great loss.
The style of The Professor’s music is typical of American light classical music of the late 1800‘s. His strong Bavarian roots are evident, as his more classical pieces have a Romantic quality similar to the works of German-Austrian composers such as Schubert, Schumann, and Mendelssohn. There are a good number of popular pieces such as the “two- steps,” marches, and waltzes. The vocal pieces are all based on sacred texts (except for the afore-mentioned patriotic song). All of the pieces demonstrate not only a finely developed skill in composition, but also a technical mastery of the keyboard. The emotional quality of the music is also indicative of the Professor’s character, as all of the pieces have a pleasant sound, never heavy or morbid or excessively complex.
Several novelty pieces are quite interesting. There are the colorful variations on “Dixie,” the music box imitation “The Cuckoo-Alarm Clock,” and the ragtime “Coon-Hollow.” Many of the pieces have a charming, sentimental style, e.g., “Heart-Throbs,” “La Separation, l‘absence, et le retour,” and “La Douce Melancolie (Reminiscences of My Childhood).” The “Recollections of Memphis,” with its quaint melody and extended embellishments, give us a clue as to what it might have been like to hear Christopher Philip sit down and play the piano in an improvisatory manner. It’s easy to imagine these pieces being played in the parlor of a home in the evening hours, with family and friends gathered ’round to enjoy the sounds of live music, recorded or broadcast performances of course being non-existent at the time. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to hear some of this music for yourself, for in doing so, you will hear echoes of an era which has passed.