By Myra Lee Adams Goff
An outstanding early citizen of New Braunfels and one who contributed much to the culture of the community was a man named Stefan Haelbig. Haelbig organized many of the early musical groups and was the music instructor of hundreds of children and adults alike in voice as well as musical instruments. He generally made music a big part of the community. His studio was moved to Conservation Plaza and open for all to see.
Stefan Haelbig emigrated to New Braunfels from Germany through Indianola in 1868 at age 40. His obituary states that he worked in the woolen mills and resided at the Waisenhaus (orphanage) for a year and a half, giving music instruction from there. He instructed piano, French horn, cello, violin, cornet, clarinet and voice.
Haelbig had received extensive musical training in Germany. He had been the bandmaster of a Regimental band in the Austrian Army, and had played Wagnerian (Richard Wagner) music while Wagner himself was the conductor. With a few local musicians, he was able to put together an orchestra to perform the finest of classical music. Those local musicians were listed as Father Blum, Hermann Schimmelpfennig, Mr. Wenzel, Bose and Eberhard. They, however, were amateurs but Haelbig exhibited the greatest patience and persistence, thereby guiding them into playing the classics. Many fine musical events were held in the old Matzdorff’s Halle and Seele’s Halle on the Guadalupe. Concerts were also held at the Seekatz Opera House, featuring the Haelbig orchestra and selected singers.
Not only in instrumental music was he a leader, but also in vocal music. He founded and became leader of the Maennerchor and Concordia Mixed Chorus. He organized the New Braunfels Music Club and its orchestra. Mrs. Lottie Faust was the pianist for this orchestra. In addition he gave lessons several times a week in San Antonio.
When Haelbig was 83, a celebration was given in his honor. Joseph Faust and A.C. Coers told of his abilities and called him the soul of music in New Braunfels. They raised their glasses and gave a toast, “Er lebe hoch, Er lebe hoch, Er lebe hoch”.When the glass was raised, the salute was given in this manner, showing high admiration The literal translation is “He lives high”.
Before being moved to Conservation Plaza, Haelbig’s studio was located on Seguin Street. After he vacated it, the building became Voigt’s Shoe Repair and that’s how I remember it. There was after all a time when people had their leather shoes repaired instead of replaced. Putting on a new sole or a new heel could add years more service to a shoe. The building was moved to Conservation in the early 1980s and the lot became the site of Pizza Hut and is now Taqueria El Tapatio.
There are some interesting things inside the Haelbig studio at Conservation Plaza. You would expect a piano, although it is not Haelbig’s. Paul Jahn’s cello stands up against the wall. Al Schnabel’s trumpet, the “wiggle and wobble with Al Schnabel” orchestra leader and student of Haelbig. There are pictures of former students, names familiar from the past like: Bading, Fischer, Gerlich, Gruene, Heidrich, Naegelin, Marckwardt, Koebig, Jahn, Oelkers, Voelcker, Coreth, Altgelt, Schultz .There is a tiny trumpet, no longer than 8 inches called a piccolo trumpet. Used in classical music, this instrument plays tones higher than a regular trumpet.
Remember that Haelbig once played Wagnerian music in Germany with Richard Wagner as conductor? Hanging on the wall are three pictures from the operas, “Ring of the Nibelung”, a collection of fantasy-filled operas of Norse Mythology. The first picture is the Rhine Maidens, the second is Siegfried Slaying the Dragon, and the last is Brunhilde, all characters from the four Ring operas. Glorifying ancient war heroes in mythology, Wagner operas became controversial at different times in history.
Stefan Haelbig died at age 90. His obituary ends with, “Here in the beautiful city of New Braunfels, he made an impression which is more beautiful and more lasting than any monument of marble – the love and appreciation of music”. Er lebe hoch, hoch, hoch!