Detailed History - English

Adelaider Liedertafel 1858- a Detailed History

In 1836, the birth year of South Australia, 151 passengers from the ship "Buffalo" under governor Hindmarsh landed in Glenelg (then called Holdfast Bay), and formed the colony of South Australia for the British Crown. South Australia was then (and of course still is) the only British colony in Australia populated with free immigrants. At no time were convicts deported to South Australia. The first Germans immigrated to Australia in 1838 to escape economic, political and religious hardships in their home country. Some of these Germans later moved to other colonies (now states) to seek their fortune.

The ALT can trace its roots back to the early 1840's, since antecedent choirs which eventually formed the ALT were established from those first German immigrants in 1838. An Adelaider Liedertafel was formed in 1850/51 under the conductorship of Carl Linger, the composer of Song of Australia. Rehearsals were held in Wiener-Fischer's cafe in Rundle Street until 1855. 


During that time Carl Linger was also conducting a different choir at a German Club in the Hotel Europe on the corner of Grenfell Street and Gawler Place. In 1855 this choir merged with the Adelaider Liedertafel.

Parallel to this development yet another choir, the Deutsche Liedertafel, was founded in another German Club at the Hotel Hamburg in 1848/49 at the instigation of A.F. Cranz. At its first concert in April 1850 this Deutsche Liedertafel had 31 members.In 1856/57 a large number of younger members of the Adelaider Liedertafel left the Hotel Europe and moved their practice sessions to the Hotel Hamburg. There, on a suggestion by J.W. Schierenbeck, both groups joined and officially founded the Adelaider Liedertafel. At the first General Meeting on 1 September 1858 J.W. Schierenbeck was elected president and Carl Linger was confirmed as conductor. The Adelaider Liedertafel and the Deutsche Liedertafel were officially merged on that date under the name Adelaider Liedertafel.

This was only one year after South Australia was granted self-government and gained its own parliament. Today, the choir celebrates this day as its foundation date. 

On the 3rd of July 1860 a banner was donated to the choir by Mr A Armbrüster, noted citizen, Rundle Street tobacconist and ALT member in appreciation of the choir singing at his wedding some weeks before. This banner is still in the choir's proud possession today.

(In 2008 the choir discovered the original minutes book from the early days ... click here)

In 1861 a German choir developed in the Barossa Valley, near Adelaide. This choir, the Tanunda Liedertafel, still has a strong following. Also around this time, the Liedertafel Arion was founded in Melbourne, Victoria, in 1860. Several German choirs that were founded in Queensland and New South Wales around this time unfortunately did not survive the passage of time - mainly due to the World Wars.

Carl Linger was the inaugural conductor of the Adelaider Liedertafel. In his native Berlin he had studied music and later composed numerous works, including two operas, several symphonies, cantatas and other orchestral works. In 1849 Linger migrated to South Australia where he gave music lessons and conducted several choirs. He conducted the Adelaide Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the fore-runners of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. In 1859 he won a national competition for a patriotic song with his "Song of Australia". It is still performed today at official functions, particularly in South Australia.

More information about the authors of "Song of Australia" (and the song itself)

Carl Linger died at age 52 on 16 February, 1862. On the day of his funeral business houses in Adelaide closed their doors - such was the level of respect he commanded in the community. His Adelaider Liedertafel and the Brunswick Brass Band led the cortege through Adelaide streets to the West Terrace cemetery where some of his compositions were rendered at the graveside. Since then, every year on Australia Day (26 January) a commemorative service is held at the Carl Linger Memorial which was erected  over his grave. The annual service is attended by Federal and State members of Parliament, representatives of various service and patriotic bodies and, of course, his Adelaider Liedertafel.

1863 Photo

1863 Photo

In its early years the Liedertafel performed many concerts exclusively with songs in the German language. On the 29th October, 1878 at the choir's 20th anniversary concert in the Adelaide Town Hall, songs in English formed for the first time part of the choir's  repertoire. The success was such that it is thought to have stimulated the founding of several Australian choirs.

The 25th anniversary concert on 10th October 1883, under the conductorship of C. Püttman and under the patronage of His Excellency the Governor of South Australia Sir W.L.F. Robinson, was a great success for the Liedertafel and a significant social event for Adelaide.

Concerts by the Liedertafel retained their attraction for the general public despite strong support for English-singing choirs. These concerts, which included very good orchestras, soloists and guest choirs were usually of a very high standard. In 1904 Liedertafel  membership stood at 143 and there was even a waiting list!

The absolute high point of the choir's concerts came on the occasion of its 50th anniversary concert on the 17th September, 1908. Held on what was the Exhibition Grounds behind what is now the State Library on North Terrace, honoured guests included His Excellency the Governor of SA - Sir G. le Hunte and Lady le Hunte; The Chancellor of Adelaide University, Sir Samuel J. Way and Lady Way; The Vice Chancellor of Adelaide University, Dr and Mrs Barlow and he Imperial German Consul, Herr H.C.E Mücke.

Guest choirs were the Adelaide Orpheus Society, the Adelaide Choral Society, the Adelaide Bach Society, the Port Adelaide Orpheus Society, the Adelaide Glee Club and the Broken Hill Quartette Club. At least one of these choirs preceded the ALT (although they are now all defunct or have combined with other choirs). A full orchestra was in attendance. Interested people can inspect an original copy of the concert's programme  in the Mortlock Library. To inspect an on-line copy of the programme click here. The programme speaks of the great pride that the German immigrants and their descendants had in Australia, and the Governor of SA spoke of the immense value that German immigration had been to the young colony. Alas, all these noble sentiments were to count for nothing only five years later with the outbreak of World War I.

In 1910 the Adelaider Liedertafel became a member of the German Singers Association (the German Association, not its Australian affiliate - this was instituted in 1979).

Conductor Hermann Heinicke, who led the Adelaider Liedertafel from 1891, brought smaller German choirs to join with the Liedertafel and is credited with having gained for the choir much recognition. He resigned early in 1914. His position was taken over by Mr F. Ochernal. The last entry in Adelaider Liedertafel records prior to the outbreak of World War I was made on 17 June, 1914.

The outbreak of World War I saw many members of this hitherto popular choir interned, and wide-spread anti German sentiment precluded performances. Possessions and records of the choir were stored in hidden places by friends and supporters. Unfortunately as is usually the case where records were stored under these circumstances, many irreplaceable  records were lost or destroyed. However, the Adelaider Liedertafel's most precious possession, its 1858 banner, was not lost forever. It was finally restored to the choir from its hidden resting place many years later. For further reading about the treatment of Australians of German heritage, see South Australian attitudes towards Lutheran Schooling and The Effects of the First World War on Australia's German-speakers. Hermann Homburg, an ALT member and the Attorney General of South Australia, was forced to resign his office despite the fact that he had been born in SA and had never left it.

After the difficult war years the remaining members of the Adelaider Liedertafel were reorganised by Hermann Homburg (his nephew, Robert, is the current conductor of the Tanunda Liedertafel). He was supported by Hermann Menz (of biscuit company fame), Emil Metz, Albert Behrndt, Jack Schwartz, H. Behrndt and others. The Liedertafel found it difficult to foster German song, maintain German culture and generally lift the image of the German populace. Membership increased slowly to 36. The choir practiced on Tuesday nights in the hall of St Stephen's Lutheran church in Adelaide, under the conductorship of F. Ochernal.

Because Carl Linger had made such an immeasurable contribution to the musical culture of South Australia, a memorial was erected on his grave in 1936 (South Australia's centenary year), through public subscription, as a mark of appreciation and respect for a great musician. At the inauguration ceremony the Adelaider Liedertafel combined with the Tanunda Liedertafel to sing under the baton of well-known and respected conductor Fritz Homburg (Hermann's son).

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, once again many members of the Adelaider Liedertafel were interned and public singing of German songs came to a standstill. Friends in Tanunda stored sheet music and other records, but once again, much was lost.

The following is an extract from "A SHORT HISTORY OF THE SOUTH AUSTRALIAN GERMAN ASSOCIATION", by Dr. Ian Harmstorf, contained on the SAADV website. The full text can be found here. This extract refers to the treatment meted out to Australians of German descent during the World Wars, almost all of whom were loyal Australians and many of whom went to war for Australia.

In Adelaide German was no longer taught in the schools and if the German language or customs were kept up in the home and this was discovered, enormous suspicion fell on the family concerned. The children were subject to ridicule in the schools during those sad times. Many people of German descent had in the period 1914-1918 anglicised their names, often by translation but usually by changing the spelling to a more English form. Some Lutherans also decided life was easier among the ranks of the Methodists or Church of England. This attitude of distrust for things German existed for quite a few years after both wars. In those politically less sophisticated days the difference between cultural loyalties and political loyalties was rarely understood. It was commonly thought that if one tried to keep up German cultural traditions then this indicated political sympathies. Added to this were groups within the South Australian society who always saw the Germans as a threat to the 'British way or Life' or perhaps, as they stated, set up an 'imperium in imperio' a [German] state within a [South Australian] state. The moral courage and strength of character of the men and women who were prepared to openly support their German heritage in these conditions cannot be overestimated and deserves the highest commendation.

Soon after WW2 Hermann Homburg again took it upon himself to resurrect the Adelaider Liedertafel, despite his advanced years (he was 71 at the time). In 1945 eight members met in his home to sing their beloved German songs and formed what was to become the nucleus of the Adelaider Liedertafel post-war. These people were J. Schwartz, H. Behrndt, H. Rothe, H. Schroeder, G. Koops, H. Bülau (until 1947), H. Menz and H. Homburg. E. Molkenthien returned in 1949/50. The group was conducted by E. Metz.

Practices were held at friends' homes in Hahndorf and, among others, at the house of Hans Heysen, the famous landscape artist who was a friend of H. Homburg.  Later, practice sessions were again held at the German Club in Flinders Street which had escaped confiscation during the war by virtue of being private property.

Despite their best efforts, progress was slow. There were even attempts to recruit members from the Loveday Internment Camp on the River Murray. Despite the odd occasion when singers performed at private homes or for informal gatherings, all attempts stalled. But the choir wasn't ready to die yet. In February 1954 five enthusiasts met in the German Club building on the site of today's SAADV. These men (Werner Branscheid, Siegried Garshagen, Hermann Homburg, Karl Gerd and Erich Molkenthien) set themselves the task of reviving the  Adelaider Liedertafel. Due to their hard work and perseverance and the tenacity of the few active singers in the early days the choir with its proud history was up and running again.

Around this time in Adelaide a German building company, Wender & Dürholt, was contracted by the State Government to build five hundred homes for the SA Housing Trust. This company, which had come to SA in 1952, brought a great wave of migrants in the years that followed. Wilhelm Söns Sr, a master joiner by trade who worked for Wender & Dürholt was an accomplished amateur musician, and conducted a group of singers at the Warradale German camp (the site of the present day Army barracks). When they became aware of this German male choir, the Adelaider Liedertafel contacted them and the two choirs combined under the ALT banner. This occurred in March, 1954. Wilhelm Söns was the first conductor of this combined choir. His son Willi Jr joined the ALT in August 1954 at age 17, and is today the choir's longest serving member. For a closer look at this fascinating piece of ALT (and, more importantly, South Australian) history, have a look at Henry Smith's history of Wender & Dürholt in SA.

The Adelaider Liedertafel affiliated with the SA German Association (SAADV) in 1956. The caretaker at the club in those days was a Valentin Heck, a tailor by trade, who was appointed conductor in 1958.

On September 8th, 1956, the choir honoured one of its long-standing members from before the war, Hermann Homburg, with a "Ständchen" - an impromptu performance - in appreciation of long service. Herr Homburg was a solicitor with the law firm Homburg and Melrose of Grenfell Street (and a former SA Attorney General), and had been involved with the Adelaider Liedertafel since shortly after WW1 including a long stint as president from 1919 - 1939. It can be seen from the references to Herr Homburg in this history how big a debt the choir owes to this man. After the Ständchen Herr Homburg wrote a note of appreciation to the choir, and it included these words:

Steh' wie ein Fels im brandenden Meer
Mit blitzended Augen schau' um dich her,
Du tapf'rer Sänger, ohn' Furcht und Scheu,
Stark in der Tat, im Glauben true!
Trau' deiner eigenen Kraft allein!
Beuge dich nimmer! Halte, was dein!

Loose translation:
Stand like a rock in the boiling sea
Look around you with flashing eyes
You brave singer, without fear or shyness
Strong in deed, true to your faith
Trust only your own strength
Never bow! Hold on to that which is yours!

On 27 June 1958 the choir celebrated its 100th anniversary in the SAADV clubrooms. The jubilee concert was conducted by Willi Söns Sr. Guest choirs included the Tanunda Liedertafel under Fritz Homburg and the Deutscher Volksliederchor under Günter Petersen. Over the next year or so, membership of the Adelaider Liedertafel increased to over 40 singers.

In 1960 the Adelaider Liedertafel travelled to Melbourne to partake in the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Melbourne German Club "Club Tivoli".

The choir's constitution was updated in 1968, when it was decided to add the year of foundation to the choir's name. Since then, the choir's full name has been Adelaider Liedertafel 1858. Also in 1968, the 110th anniversary of Adelaider Liedertafel 1858 saw a commemorative concert performed in the Union Hall of the Adelaide University. It was a great success for German singing. Participating choirs were Liedertafel Arion from Melbourne, the Deutscher Volksliederchor from Adelaide, the Tanunda Liedertafel and the Adelaide Glee Club. 

In 1970 the Adelaider Liedertafel 1858 travelled to Melbourne for Liedertafel Arion's 110th anniversary. This get-together was later declared to be the first "Festival of German Song" (Sängerfest) in Australia. At this concert on 2 May the Adelaider Liedertafel 1858 was conducted by Peter van der Linden and found a very appreciative audience.

The second Sängerfest was again conducted in Melbourne, with 6 participating choirs. It was a great success, and choir leaders agreed to hold a Sängerfest every two to three years thereafter. The next was held in Wollongong on 3 November 1973 on the occasion of local choir Sanssouci's 10th anniversary. In 1974, five choirs met in Adelaide's new Festival Theatre to celebrate the Deutscher Volksliederchor's 20th anniversary. All these meetings and concerts helped to promote German singing in Australia and also gained recognition for participating choirs.

Celebrations for the 120th anniversary of the Adelaider Liedertafel 1858 in conjunction with the fourth Sängerfest began with a service at the Carl Linger memorial at the West Terrace Cemetery on the morning of 3 June 1978. In the afternoon of the same day the Choral Concert took place before a capacity audience in the Festival Theatre. Nine guest choirs from various states including Queensland and Western Australia took part in this most memorable German concert in Australia. The massed choir of 400 singers, male and female, opened the concert with the Australian and German national anthems under the baton of Adelaider Liedertafel 1858 conductor Joannes Roose. Items from individual choirs as well as the SA Police Band followed in rapid succession. As the applause finally died down, members of the Adelaider Liedertafel 1858 experienced a proud moment when the German Consul, Herr Dr. F. Kroneck, presented the "Zelter Plaque" to the choir in recognition of its services to German song. The president of Adelaider Liedertafel 1858, Mr. Norbert Petersen, thanked the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany for this great honour on behalf of all choir members. 

In 1979, the Adelaide Deutscher Volksliederchor celebrated their 25th anniversary of foundation with a concert in the Festival Theatre on 17 June. Six choirs (including Adelaider Liedertafel 1858) participated, with four coming from interstate. On the following day a meeting of choir leaders decided to form the Australian German Singers Association, following a suggestion by Günter Petersen. In time, the Association became affiliated with the German Singers Association.

For a chronological history of Sängerfeste in Australia, click here.

In May of 1980 an Adelaider Junior Liedertafel was formed at the instigation of Ludwig Merget and Joe Kraus. The choir's aim was to create and foster interest in German choral singing among young people. Unfortunately, this choir has not survived the passage of time.

Today Adelaider Liedertafel 1858 is the oldest continuing choir in South Australia, the oldest continuing male choir in Australia and is among the oldest choirs of any type in Australia (we have heard there is a mixed choir two years older in the state of Victoria). Through numerous public performances and recordings for radio and television this choir of mainly German immigrants and their descendants and friends has built itself good standing and recognition in the general community. The choir travelled to Germany in 1983, 1987 and 1995.

The Adelaider Liedertafel 1858 has attended all but one Australian Sängerfest since the first one in 1970 (in 1995 the choir was on a tour of Germany). In 2008 the choir hosted the 14th Sängerfest during the year of our 150th anniversary.

The choir in 1983

On the 13th of March, 2005 the choir participated in a combined male voice concert, joining the Adelaide Plains Male Choir,  The Lobethal Harmony Club, the Metropolitan Male Choir of South Australia, The Tanunda Liedertafel and male members of the Woodville Concert Choir on stage at the Adelaide Festival Centre. Almost 300 male voices rendered an unforgettable  concert.

Since the start of the new millenium the choir has enjoyed many highlights, but the staging of the 14th Sängerfest in conjunction with its 150th Jubilee in 2008 was a triumph. The choir received high praise for the innovative musical content of the combined choirs concert, for the quality of the venue (the Adelaide Town Hall and its renowned acoustics) and the efficient and enjoyable quality of the social events. An important even occurred in June 2015, when the choir became a legal incorporated body.

And what of the future for Adelaider Liedertafel 1858? The huge wave of German immigration which fed all German culture in Adelaide in the years shortly after World War II has stopped to a trickle. The choir's strength at the time of writing (2015) is 26, which is about half what it was only 10 years prior. Even so, rarely do we perform at full strength. The average age of its singers is over 75, and quite aside from the lack of numbers the singers' age will preclude any more visits overseas or lengthy interstate visits. Whilst the enthusiasm of its current membership is still high, it is difficult to foresee a time when Adelaider Liedertafel 1858 will again reach the glorious heights of its achievements during the early 1900's and during the years after WW2. This of course is a plight common to most ethnic choirs in Australia, and probably most other choirs as well. It is hard to interest young Australians in choral activities, and no doubt the ALT's task is made harder due to its ethnicity. A monumental decision was made late in 2017 when the choir decided that due to falling numbers it would join with the Deutscher Volksliederchor for rehearsals and performances. The DVC has also experienced difficulties in mustering sufficient numbers to stage performances, and it got to the stage where the Adelaider Liedertafel had insufficient tenors to perform at a satisfactory level. It therefore made sense to combine the two choirs for performance purposes. At this stage the arrangement is still experimental, and the individual choirs have mantained separate committees and bank accounts.

I urge any reader of these pages who is interested in keeping alive the long and honourable history of German singing in Adelaide to give support to the cause. If you can hold a tune, join the choir. Even if you don't want to join, come to our concerts.

Grüss Gott, mit hellen Klang
Heil deutschem Wort und Sang!

Bill van de Water
Tenor 2, Alt1858 (ret.)

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This page was first written in August 2002 and last updated Thursday, 18 June 2015