Dec 22, 2019

The Death of Chopin's Godson Alexander Steinkeller

In the article "A Godson of Frédéric Chopin", which, on 5 September 2015, I published on this blog, I reported the discovery of a godparenthood of Chopin, who took over this duty during his second stay in Vienna, in 1831. In this article I was able to shed new light on the events during Chopin's second Vienna sojourn, a period of the composer's life which previously had been considered completely covered by Chopin scholars. Chopin's godson was Alexander Steinkeller, who was born on 4 March 1831, son of the Polish industrialist Peter Steinkeller and his wife Anielą, née Anthonin, and was baptized three days later in the parish church of St. Johann Nepomuk in the Viennese suburb of Leopoldstadt. On 6 March 1831, the Sunday following Alexander Steinkeller's birth, Frédéric Chopin was scheduled to give a concert at the Vienna Redoutensaal and did not have time to visit the Leopoldstadt before that event. The Sunday concert was eventually postponed, and on the following Monday, the christening could take place with the parish priest Joseph Gorbach officiating.

The entry concerning the baptism of Peter Alexander Steinkeller on 7 March 1831 (St. Johann Nepomuk, Tom. 5, fol. 64)

Anna Bittmann's and Chopin's signatures in the baptismal entry of Alexander Steinkeller. After Chopin had written down his address, but not his profession, the priest Joseph Gorbach crossed out the address and added the words "Privatier alldort, wohnhaft dermalen in Wien, in der Stadt Nro 1151" (St. Johann Nepomuk, Tom. 5, fol. 64).

Alexander Steinkeller's second godparent Anna Bittmann (1803–1854) was chosen, because she was a cousin of the child's father Peter Steinkeller.

Alexander Steinkeller's father Piotr Antoni Steinkeller. Portrait from Henryk Radziszewski's and Jan Kinderski's book Piotr Steinkeller. Dwie Monografie (Warsaw 1905)

After the discovery of Chopin's godparenthood in December 2013, Alexander Steinkeller's life was not a topic of my research. My work was focused on the publication of previously unknown information related to Chopin's circle of friends in Vienna. Only a systematic examination of all wills submitted to the Vienna district courts in the period from 1850 until 1938 brought about the astonishing discovery that Alexander Steinkeller, as if driven by an ominous force of homesickness, returned to Vienna, where in 1906, he put an end to his life by jumping out of a window of his apartment.

The earliest source for Alexander Steinkeller's presence in Vienna is a Meldzettel (certificate of registration), signed by Steinkeller's landlady Marie Münster and dated 27 February 1906, which documents Steinkeller's new address at that time as Dresdner Straße 53, and his previous residence as Volkertplatz 7 in Vienna's second district. Curiously, Steinkeller's notice of departure from this abode is given as 13 April 1906 in this document. A telling note on the right margin of the Meldzettel, however, reveals the circumstances of Steinkeller's exodus: "Mit Selbstmord geendet am 15./4 1906" ("Ended with suicide on 15 April 1906"). The word "geendet" was crossed out and replaced with "gestorben".

Alexander Steinkeller's last certificate of registration which documents his move on 28 February 1906, from Volkertplatz 7 to his last residence Dresdner Straße 53, and his demise by suicide (A-Wsa, BPD Wien: Historische Meldeunterlagen, Serie - B-Antiquariat)

On 27 February 1906, Steinkeller moved from Volkertplatz 7 in the Leopoldstadt to Dresdner Straße 53 in the district of Brigittenau.

Alexander Steinkeller's next-to-last residence, the house Volkertplatz 7 in Vienna's second district

Steinkeller moved into apartment no. 19 on the first floor (second floor American scheme) of the house Dresdner Straße 53 which is located in the right southeastern part of the building facing the Kampstraße.

Alexander Steinkeller's last residence, the house Dresdner Straße 53. The left part of the facade faces the Dresdner Straße, the right one faces the Kampstraße.

Because of a complete renovation of the apartments on the first floor in 2019, which included the merging of two apartments into one, the original door of Steinkeller's last apartment does not exist anymore.

The situation in June 2019 on the first floor of the house Dresdner Straße 53 where the door of Alexander Steinkeller's apartment was previously located. Two apartments have been merged into one and a new wall has been built with a new apartment door.

On 10 April 1906, Alexander Steinkeller wrote a will in which he bequeathed all of his property to his housekeeper Karoline Vetschy. This will was written on the official letter paper of Steinkeller's employer, the Moscow Fire Insurance Company.

The will of Alexander Steinkeller (A-Wsa, BG II, A9, 19/6). The reference number A IX 241/6 refers to Steinkeller's not extant probate file.

The transcription of this document reads as follows.

Administration of the Moscow Fire Insurance Company Moscow, on .... 189 ...
Published on April 18th, 1906, at the Leopoldstadt district court, section I

I declare in full consciousness that after my death I bequeath all objects, without distinction, which are in the apartment no. 19 on the first floor in the house Dresdnerstrasse no. 53, to my maid Karoline Vetschy who took care of me until the end of my life. Nobody else has the right to appropriate something from the apartment after my passing.

Given on April 10th, 1906               Al[exander] Steinkeller
David Münster, janitor, as witness
Aloisie Ognar as witness

I accept this gift
Karoline Vetschy

Karoline Vetschy, Steinkeller's universal heir, was born on 3 February 1881, at Vienna's General Hospital (Alservorstadtkrankenhaus, Tom. 121, fol. 152), illegitimate daughter of Agnes Vetchy. The child's godmother was the midwife Josefine Schemel. Nothing is known about Karoline Vetschy's later fate.

Because probate records from the A9 series of the Leopoldstadt district court are only preserved from the years 1899 to 1905, Alexander Steinkeller's probate file BG II, A9 241/6, which certainly would have provided vital biographical information, is not extant. On 15 April 1906, Alexander Steinkeller committed suicide by jumping from a window of his apartment onto the sidewalk of the Kampstraße. The cause of this act remains unknown. It seems likely, however, that Steinkeller was confronted with severe health issues.

The southeastern side of the house Dresdner Straße 53 towards the Kampstraße. From one of the four windows in the right-hand part of the first floor, Steinkeller jumped to his death.

The entry concerning Alexander Steinkeller's death in the Totenbeschauprotokoll (municipal death register) contains the note "Selbstmord d. Sturz v. I. Stockwerke" ("Suicide by falling from the first floor").

The entry concerning Alexander Steinkeller's death in the municipal death register (A-Wsa, Totenbeschreibamt 775)

On 17 April 1906, Steinkeller's burial was entered in the records of the Zwischenbrücken parish. Since the note in the death register is somewhat contradictory, it is not clear which spiritual ceremony was conducted by the parish priest, and if the deceased received a catholic burial at all. The most significant parts of the entry read as follows: "Steinkellner[sic] Alexander, katholisch, Privat, wohnh. Wien, XX. Dresdnerstrasse 53. Witwer, geboren am Dat[um] unbekannt in Wien, ? zuständig unbekannt. [Gestorben] an Selbstmord durch Sturz vom Stockwerke. Im Zentral Friedhofe. Nicht eingesegnet."

The entry concerning Alexander Steinkeller's obsequies on 17 April 1906. On the far right is the note "nicht eingesegnet" (not consecrated) (Pfarre Zwischenbrücken, Tom. 1, fol. 16).

Alexander Steinkeller was buried in the Zentralfriedhof, in a shaft grave in group 36, row 5, no. 213. These collective graves were provided for a time of 15 years, after which they were abandoned and leveled. In the years thereafter, group 36 was redesigned several times. Today, this group consists of several areas for decedents of different faiths.

That Steinkeller was a Russian citizen – and thus of Polish origin – is proven by the notice of convocation of possible heirs and creditors, issued on 7 May 1906, by the district court, which on 7, 9, and 12 June 1906, was published in the Wiener Zeitung.

The notice in the Wiener Zeitung concerning the convocation of Alexander Steinkeller's possible heirs and creditors (Wiener Zeitung 7 June 1906, 696)

                                   Alexander Steinkeller.
On 15 April 1906 the Russian citizen Mr. Alexander Steinkeller, agent in Vienna, XX., Dresdnerstraße 53, door 19, where he had his regular abode, died with the provision of a last will.
According to § 137 and 138 of the Imperial decree of 9 August 1854, Imperial Law Gazette No. 208, all heirs, recipients of a bequeathment, and creditors who are Austrian citizens or foreigners currently staying in the country, are being requested to file their claims to the estate with the undersigned court until 20 June 1906 the latest, in default whereof the estate, in disregard of these claims, can be released to the foreign authority or individuals legitimized by this authority.
I. & R. Leopoldstadt district court I, section IX, Vienna, on 7 May 1906.  [5541-1]
As far as research about Alexander Steinkeller's life is concerned, much work remains to be done. Several announcements in the newspaper Kurjer Warszawski, published during the late 1850s (for example on p. 751 of no. 144/1859), show that at that time Alexander Steinkeller was a business partner of his uncle Rudolf Steinkeller. According to the useful, but very often unreliable and fragmentary genealogical site, Alexander Steinkeller was married to Karolina Michalina Wojciechowska, daughter of Jan Nepomucen Wojciechowski. This name, of course, suggests a direct family relationship of Alexander Steinkeller's wife with Chopin's friend Tytus Wojciechowsky, a presumption that is also supported by the fact that Alexander Steinkeller had a cousin named Tytus Steinkeller who could well have been a godson of Chopin's friend. A photograph of Tytus Steinkeller, taken in the 1860s by Karol Beyer, is held by the photographic collection of the National Library of Poland.

Alexander Steinkeller's cousin Tytus Steinkeller (photograph by Karol Beyer, Pl-Wn, Ikonografii F.81274/W)

It is to be hoped that Polish researchers will take a closer look at Alexander Steinkeller's life. The reaction to the discovery of Chopin's godchild so far, however, does not suggest that Chopin scholars will soon address this matter.

The coat of arms of the Steinkeller family

Lorenz, Michael. 2015. A Godson of Frédéric Chopin. Internet publication, 6 September 2015.

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2019. All rights reserved.