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GRIEBEL, FERDINAND (Frederick), violinist, composer, and teacher; b. c. 1819 in Berlin, youngest son of Johann Heinrich Griebel; m. Johanna ——, and was survived by five children; d. 18 Feb. 1858 in Toronto.

Ferdinand Griebel’s father was a bassoonist, and his elder brothers Heinrich and Julius played oboe and cello in the Prussian court orchestra which performed for both the royal opera and the national theatre. All three achieved fine reputations. Ferdinand studied the violin under Léon de Saint-Lubin, concert-master of the Königstadt theatre from 1830 to 1847, and eventually joined its orchestra. He later had lessons from two famous violinists, Charles-Auguste de Bériot, probably during a visit to Berlin in 1838, and Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, who appeared in Berlin in 1841 and 1842. In the latter year Ferdinand and his elder brother Julius, the cellist, undertook a successful concert tour of Denmark, Sweden, and England. On 18 Jan. 1843 the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung of Leipzig (German Democratic Republic) praised Griebel’s recent performance of a violin concerto by Ferdinand David as that of a talented and skilled musician.

The political turmoils of 1848 set back cultural life in Europe but indirectly provided an impetus to music in North America. Marie-Hippolyte-Antoine Dessane* and Charles Sabatier [Wugk*] came from France to settle in Quebec and Montreal respectively, followed by Griebel and, later, by Theodor August Heintzmann* from Berlin. Early in 1848 Griebel had joined a group of some 25 musicians in Berlin who formed an orchestral cooperative, the Musik-Gesellschaft Germania or Germania Musical Society, for the purpose of settling and performing in the United States. In the original group Griebel was head of the first violin section. After a farewell concert on 4 May 1848 the group left Berlin, arriving in New York in September. The players gave several hundred concerts of high calibre during the next six years, performing in Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, and Quebec in 1850. The following year some members of the orchestra joined Jenny Lind for concerts in New England. Griebel was later reported to have visited Toronto with Lind’s concert troupe in October 1851, but his first documented appearances in the city took place in May 1852 with the troupe of the Irish soprano Catherine Hayes. On this occasion he performed a solo of his own composition and Paganini’s “Carnaval de Venise.” It is not known precisely when Griebel left the Germania orchestra but by the end of 1853 he had settled in Toronto.

Documentation exists for 36 public appearances by Griebel as a resident musician from January 1854 until 9 Feb. 1858, nine days before his death. Nearly all were at St Lawrence Hall. In concerts featuring an orchestra, notably the Toronto première of Handel’s Messiah presented on 17 Dec. 1857 by the Toronto Philharmonic Society, Griebel usually was the concert-master. On other occasions he played solos, of which his own composition on “Airs from Linda di Chamounix [Donizetti]” and “Carnival de Berlin” are typical examples. He also played more serious music, for example de Bériot’s Violin Concerto no.1 and “Concerto militaire,” and led a string quartet with Augustin Noverre, second violin, Mr S. Childs, viola, John Ellis*, cello. Griebel gave lessons at his Church Street address but no record of his pupils is known.

Griebel may be considered the first fully professional violinist to have settled in Canada. Even 20 years after his death his reputation survived as that of “the greatest violinist ever resident in this city. He was equally skilful in playing a solo, in leading the orchestra, or in interpreting chamber music, and had a remarkable talent for directing amateurs in their performances.” Yet Griebel’s income was inadequate for his family’s needs and his widow and children were left destitute. A subscription fund for their support was soon raised by such prominent citizens as George Duggan*, Abraham Nordheimer*, and James Dodsley Humphreys*, and three benefit concerts were organized, in 1858, 1861, and 1865. In the last a daughter, Alice Griebel, participated as a pianist. Mrs Griebel, a piano teacher, eventually moved to New York City, where she is said to have died about 1890.

Helmut Kallmann

AO, RG 22, ser.302, petition by Johanna Griebel for guardianship, 17 Jan. 1862. Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (Leipzig, [German Democratic Republic]), 45 (1843): 43. Globe, 19 Feb. 1858. Leader, 19, 23 Feb. 1858. Carl [Ledebur], Freiherr von Ledebur, Tonkünstler-Lexicon Berlin’s . . . (Berlin, 1861; repr. Tutzing, German Federal Republic, and Berlin, 1965), 207–8. Hermann Mendel, Musikalisches conversations-lexikon . . . (11v. in 6 and supplement, Berlin, 1870–83), 4: 358–59. The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (20v., London, 1980). Toronto directory, 1856. Helmut Kallmann, A history of music in Canada, 1534–1914 (Toronto and London, 1960). W. H. Pearson, Recollections and records of Toronto of old . . . (Toronto, 1914). D. J. Sale, “Toronto’s pre-confederation music societies, 1845–1867” (ma thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1968). C. C. Taylor, Torontocalled backfrom 1886 to 1850 . . . (Toronto, 1886). F. E. Dixon, “Music in Toronto, as it was in the days that are gone by forever,” Daily Mail and Empire (Toronto), 7 Nov. 1896: 9. H. E. Johnson, “The Germania Musical Society,” Musical Quarterly (New York), 39 (1953): 75–93. “Music and the drama,” Daily Mail and Empire, 14 Nov. 1896, pt.ii: 8. “Music in Toronto,” Mail (Toronto), 21 Dec. 1878, suppl.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Helmut Kallmann, “GRIEBEL, FERDINAND,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 21, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/griebel_ferdinand_8E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/griebel_ferdinand_8E.html
Author of Article: Helmut Kallmann
Title of Article: GRIEBEL, FERDINAND
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1985
Year of revision: 1985
Access Date: December 21, 2014