An Institute of Note

On February 3, 1899, a new piano teacher hung his shingle at 214 North Mulberry Street in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The teacher was Dr. William A. Wolf, and the date was the 90th anniversary of the birthday of German composer, Felix Mendelssohn. On this day, Dr. Wolf and his wife Lottie opened what would become the premier music studio in the county. Students would travel long distances by trolley to receive their lessons at the Wolf studio. For the next approximately seventy years, the Wolf Institute of Music trained many of the best musicians in the area.

Dr. William Wolf

Dr. Wolf was only twenty-three years old when he opened his Lancaster studio, but he already had impressive credentials. He studied music from an early age. As a young man, he travelled to Boston to take a course of instruction at the New England Conservatory of Music under the Italian pianist, Ferruccio Bosoni. He did post graduate studies under Milton Pyne who was the organist at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Later, he went to Europe, where he studied under Dr. Hugo Reimann and Dr. Karl Piutti in Leipzig. Returning to New York, he became a student of the Hungarian composer, Rafael Joseffy. After opening his studio in Lancaster, he continued to study music and became an expert in classical and liturgical music. In 1920, he founded the Pennsylvania Council of the National Association of Organists and served as its president for many years. Dr. Wolf composed many music works for pianoforte, organ, and voice. His civic involvement included serving as president of the Union Fire Company and the Lancaster Automobile Club.

One of Dr. Wolf’s early students was Miss Frances Fairlamb Harkness. The first recorded recital by Miss Harkness occurred in November of 1909 when she would have been a junior in high school. Frances Harkness graduated from Quarryville High School in 1911 where she delivered the Salutatory address. In her address, which she titled “The True Ring”, she emphasized the importance of being true to ourselves and our fellowman. She concluded with the phrase, “Nothing gives such upright dignity to the conscience than to be what one pretends to be.” Miss Harkness continued her studies at the Wolf Institute after her graduation and eventually advanced enough to become one of the instructors there.

In 1913, Dr. and Mrs. Wolf purchased the Jonas Martin mansion at 423 West Chestnut Street. Jonas Martin was a successful Lancaster businessman who commissioned C. Emlen Urban to design a home for him in 1886. This historic house became the William A. Wolf Institute of Pianoforte and Organ Playing. Two years later, he commissioned the construction of two Knabe concert grand pianos and had them installed at the institute.

The Wolf Institute of Pianoforte and Organ Playing

In January 1918, the Wolf Institute sponsored a benefit concert for the Red Cross at the Lancaster Y. M. C. A. Frances Harkness and Earle W. Echternacht delighted the audience at the benefit concert. Earle Echternacht went on to become the organist at Trinity Lutheran Church where Mrs. Lottie Wolf was a member.

In June of that year, tragedy struck as Mrs. Wolf died unexpectedly as she was recovering from surgery. The surgery was successful, and the doctors expected her to recover but she had a sudden relapse and died from the complications of the surgery. She was forty-five. The family held her funeral services in the Chestnut Street house.

On February 3, 1919, which was Mendelssohn’s birthday and the twentieth anniversary of the Wolf Institute, Dr. Wolf staged a special, two-pianoforte recital at the Martin Auditorium of the Y. M. C. A. He called it “A Pretentious Concert by Local Musicians” and it featured Mr. Earle Weidler Echternacht and Miss Frances Fairlamb Harkness who were both graduate students at the institute. On August 14th of that year, Dr. Wolf and Frances Harkness were married in a private ceremony at the Lutheran Church of the Covenant in Philadelphia.

Frances Harkness Wolf

The new Mrs. Wolf furnished the house with furniture and china that she inherited from her aunt who lived on the Main Line outside Philadelphia. She also decorated the house with a collection of artwork by a group of women artists from Philadelphia known as “The Ten”.  Mr. Wolf continued to teach music until his death in 1965. He held a special recital each year on February 3rd to commemorate Mendelssohn’s birthday. He also held end of term recitals in June although Dr. Wolf did not believe in holding formal graduation exercises. He held to the belief that pupils finish their studies only when competent, and that their ability to learn is not measured by a standard of weeks, months, or even years. As the pupils of the Institute became proficient on their chosen instrument, they were given credit for their work by degrees until they were in a position to receive the Teachers’ Certificate, the most coveted of the Institute’s awards.

Mrs. Wolf operated the institute until her death in 1973. In her will, she established their home and music studio as a public charity known as the Wolf Museum of Music and Art. She specified that the Museum was to host small house concerts and serve tea afterwards. The Museum was run by a board of trustees. The museum was open to the public for various events and was a stop on the annual Lancaster Holly Trail.

In 2021, the global pandemic, along with some large maintenance expenses conspired to put the trust into financial stress. In 2023, the trustees sold the building and its contents, and the proceeds were used to establish The Dr. William A. & Frances Harkness Wolf Music Scholarship for aspiring Lancaster County musicians. Scholarship applications are offered to the students of members of the Lancaster Music Teachers’ Association, and the deadline for the 2024 season is February 16. See https://www.wolfmusicscholarship.org/ for details.