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  • Writer's pictureVesper North

I Found My Ancestor on Wikipedia -- and he's kind of awesome

In researching my family tree, I found out that my great-great-great grandfather was kind of a big deal in the 19th century. Though times have changed, and most won't recognise his name now, I thought I'd introduce the modern world to my draft-dodging, musical composing, opera creating ancestor.

Photo of Eduard Friedrich Bernhard Mollenhauer
Eduard Friedrich Bernhard Mollenhauer

Eduard Friedrich Bernhard Mollenhauer, or Edward, was born in Erfurt, Prussia on April 12, 1827--Taurus, we would have gotten along famously. Erfrut is the largest city in the state of Thuringia, located in central Germany, where Martin Luther allegedly conceived the idea of Reformation--so, you know, party town.

Landscape of Erfurt
Photo from

He studied under Moravian-Jewish violinist and composer Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (composer of "The Last Rose of Summer") and German violinist and composer Louis "Ludewig" Spohr ("Nonet in F major, Op. 31")--becoming famous for his playing by the age of twenty-five, which is more than I can say for myself. He also shared his music in Saint Petersburg under the patronage of the Archduchess of Dessau, which was well received. (It would be a hundred years before Germany wore out its welcome with Russia.)

My knowledge of Prussian history is next to non-existent. As I do not know the exact year Edward left his home (possibly somewhere between 1850-1852), I cannot say as to which conflict he was fleeing. To avoid conscription, Edward fled to England and, eventually, New York. The closet conflict I could find would be the Schleswig Holstein Question and, as a New York Times article from 1865 describes it: "The disagreement between Prussia and Austria on the Schleswig-Holstein question grows more entertaining as it goes on. Each of these powers entered into the war against Denmark with the full intention of cheating each other, and pocketing the lion's share of the spoils."

So, G^3 paps heads to England where he plays with the Jullien Orchestra and then America, which is also at war--kind of 0 for 2--but he is not drafted and can continue to his career as a musician. Huzzah. Edward soloed with the New York Philharmonic for six years and was one of the "originators of the conservatory system."

In his lifetime, Edward made his bread solely as a musician. In his twilight years, he played with his son and grandson--my great-granduncle and first cousin three times removed (I had to Google to make sure I got that right, thought I think I might still be wrong.) The three played together, receiving rave reviews for their performances. "The famous Mollenhauer Trio Violinists and Composers was an event which will be remembered by those in attendance for a long time to come. Such perfect ensemble, such clear and faultless intonation, such transparent and poetical phrasing we have never listened to before, were the expressions of those present."

Program from the Three Generations: Mollenhauer
Program from the Three Generations: Mollenhauer

Unfortunately, it's difficult to find Edward's work online. He wrote the grand opera, "The Corsican Bride"; two comic operas (didn't know that was a thing), "The Breakers" and "The Masked Ball"; and three symphonies, "one being the 'Passions', string quartets, songs and violin pieces."

Edward's famed piece of music that stood the test of time is "The Boy Paganini"--possibly named after his mentor's teacher, Niccolò Paganini.

I've always loved music. I did musical theatre for a spell and took a turn at song writing. I've never successfully picked up an instrument--I tried teaching myself but my dyslexia made the endeavour quite frustrating. I'd need a teacher with iron patience. Maybe music's in my blood--if that is such a thing. Finding Edward was inspiring--I'm two-thirds Axis powers so it was cathartic to find someone like Edward in my family tree--especially since I'm an artist--the only one in my family, until now.

Mollenhauer trio with their violins.

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