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1873), Higgli (Leipsic, 1880), Frost (London, 1881), and the article in
Wurzbach's "Biographisches Lexicon" (Vienna, 1876). The article by Sir
George Grove, in his "Dictionary of Music" (London, 1883), for critical
accuracy and thoroughness of information leaves little to be desired.
There are also many excellent and profoundly appreciative notices of
Schubert and his works scattered through Schumann's "Gesammelte Schriften
über Musik und Musiker," 2ᵉ Aufl., Leipz., 1871. From the sources thus
enumerated, as well as from a long study of Schubert's songs and piano
music and an acquaintance more or less extensive with his other works, the
foregoing sketch has been prepared.

[Illustration: John Fisher.]

[Illustration: Erl King. Pilgrim. Opera - "The Domestic War." Diana. The
Fisher. FRESCO IN VIENNA OPERA HOUSE. - From a photograph.]

[Illustration: LUDWIG SPOHR

_Reproduction of a lithograph portrait by Schlick, made in 1855, Spohr
being then in his seventy-second year._]




Ludwig Spohr, celebrated as a composer and as a violinist, was born on
April 25, 1784, at Brunswick. His father, a physician, and his mother both
had musical inclinations, the former being a flute player and the latter
a pianist and singer. They left Brunswick when Ludwig was two years old
and went to Seesen, where the early childhood of the future composer was
passed. The boy's musical gifts made themselves known early in life and
he sang with his mother when he was only four years old. According to
his own story in his autobiography, he began to play the violin without
instruction at the age of five. He must have shown some talent, for he was
turned over to Herr Riemenschneider for instruction. In a short time he
was allowed to practise music with the family in the evenings and with his
parents performed trios by Kalkbrenner for violin, flute and piano.

About the year 1790 or 1791, Dufour, a French violinist, arrived at Seesen
and the boy, having heard him play, did not rest until he became the
Frenchman's pupil. Dufour perceived the child's great gifts and persuaded
Dr. Spohr to abandon the idea of educating his boy in medicine, and to
decide to make a musician of him. While studying with Dufour, Spohr made
his first crude attempts at composition, even beginning an opera, which,
however, went no further than an overture, a chorus and an aria. Dufour
advised that the child be sent to Brunswick to continue his studies.
At Brunswick he lived in the house of one Michaelis, a rich baker, and
studied the violin under Kunisch, of the Ducal orchestra, and counterpoint
under Hartung, an old organist. Hartung was very severe with his young
pupil and scratched out so much that the boy felt that none of his ideas
were left. However, the ill health of the organist brought the lessons to
an end in a few months, and this was all the instruction in theory that
Spohr ever received. He now continued his studies by reading scores,
which Kunisch obtained for him from the theatre library. He made such
progress that he appeared at one of the concerts of the Catherine School
with a violin composition of his own. His success was such that he was
invited to play at the subscription concerts of the Deutsche Haus and was
allowed to play for practice in the theatre orchestra, where he became
acquainted with much good music.

He was now, by the advice of Kunisch, put under the instruction of
Maucourt, the leading violinist of Brunswick. A year later the young
violinist set out for Hamburg with a few letters of introduction and
a determination to appear as an artist. He failed, however, to get a
hearing, and his money being exhausted, he set out on foot to return to
Brunswick. In his despair he determined to make a personal appeal to the
Duke of Brunswick, to whom he drew up a petition and presented it when
he met the nobleman, walking in his park. The Duke asked who had worded
the petition. "Well, who but I myself?" answered Spohr; "I need no help
for that." The Duke said: "Come to the palace tomorrow at eleven; we
will then speak further about your request." Upon which the boy departed
quite happy. The Duke questioned Maucourt about Spohr's ability, and when
the lad called the next day told him that he was to play one of his own
compositions at the next concert in the apartments of the Duchess. His
performance so pleased the Duke that the nobleman promised him instruction
under competent masters and appointed him chamber musician, Aug. 2, 1799.
Spohr's salary was small, but it made him independent, and enabled him to
take his younger brother, Ferdinand, to live with him.

At first the young chamber musician heard a good deal of French music,
but an operatic company from Magdeburg introduced him to Mozart's music,
and he says in his autobiography, "Mozart now became for my lifetime
my ideal and model." He spent whole nights studying the scores of "Don
Giovanni" and "Die Zauberflöte." Now, too, he played chamber music and
first learned Beethoven's quartets. Finally the Duke asked him to select
a teacher among the great violinists of the day. He at once named Viotti,
but he had given up music for the business of selling wine. Ferdinand Eck
was the next choice, but he declined to receive pupils. Francis Eck, his
younger brother, accepted the Duke's offer and Spohr was sent with him to
St. Petersburg, where he had engagements to fill. They left Brunswick on
April 24, 1802. Owing to Eck's engagements his instruction of Spohr was
irregular, but the boy gained much instruction from constantly hearing
him. The young violinist was very industrious, often practising ten hours
a day, composing considerably, and painting for recreation. While on this
tour he wrote his first published violin concertos, Opus 1, A minor, and
Opus 2, D minor, and the "Duos Concertants" for two violins, Opus 3.
In St. Petersburg he met Clementi, Field and many minor musicians, and
played frequently in chamber-music rehearsals. He also wrote in 1803 for
Breitkopf and Härtel, the eminent Leipsic publishers, an article on the
state of music in Russia. He returned to Brunswick in the summer of that
year and heard Rode for the first time. He gave a public concert which
pleased the Duke and resumed his duties as a member of the orchestra.

In 1804 he started for Paris with his fine Guarnerius violin, given him by
Remi, a Russian violinist. Just outside of Göttingen it was stolen from
the carriage. Spohr returned to Brunswick and with the Duke's help got
another violin. Then he made a tour, playing in several German cities,
including Leipsic, Dresden and Berlin, in the last place having the
assistance of Meyerbeer, then a clever pianist thirteen years old. In
1805 Spohr became leader of the Duke of Gotha's band. He married Dorette
Schneidler, a harp-player, and wrote for her and himself some compositions
for harp and violin. He wrote his first opera, "Die Prüfung," which
reached a concert performance. With his wife in 1807 he visited Leipsic,
Dresden, Munich, Prague, Stuttgart, Heidelberg and Frankfort. His second
opera "Alruna" was written in 1808, but it was never performed, though
accepted at Weimar. In this year Spohr went to Erfurt to see Napoleon's
congress of princes, but found that ordinary human beings like himself
could not enter the theatre which they attended in the evenings. He
persuaded the second horn player in the orchestra to allow him to take his
place and practised on the horn all day. In the evening, being forbidden
to stare at the august audience, he viewed the assembled potentates in a
small mirror which he had taken with him for that purpose.

The year 1809 is important in Spohr's history for two reasons. While
making a tour he received at Hamburg a commission for an opera, "The
Lovers' Duel," and at Frankenhausen in Thuringia he conducted the first
music festival in Germany. For the second of those festivals in 1811
he wrote his first symphony in E flat. The opera was also finished in
the winter of 1810-1811. His first oratorio, "Das jüngste Gericht," was
written for the Fête Napoleon at Erfurt and produced there Aug. 15, 1812.
It was in the composition of this work that he found himself hampered by
his lack of skill in counterpoint. He bought Marpurg's work and studied
it. But Spohr was dissatisfied with his opera and with his oratorio. He
felt that he was too much under the dominance of Mozart, and resolved to
free himself from that master's influence. He says in his autobiography
that in "Faust" he was careful to avoid imitating Mozart.

In 1812 he made his début at Vienna as violinist and composer with such
success that the leadership of the orchestra at the Theatre an der Wien
was offered to him. The conditions were very favorable, so he gave up his
position at Gotha and betook himself to the Austrian capital. There his
duties were burdensome, but he was in the musical centre of Europe. He met
Beethoven, and was on terms of friendship with that great master, whose
genius, however, he did not fully appreciate. Among his treasures when he
left Vienna was a canon for three voices on some words from Schiller's
"Maid of Orleans" written for him by Beethoven. Spohr's "Autobiography"
contains some interesting anecdotes about Beethoven's conducting.

Spohr's Viennese sojourn was successful, but on account of disagreements
with the manager of the theatre he left the city in 1815, and made a
visit to Prince Carolath in Bohemia. His next musical undertaking was the
conduct of another festival at Frankhausen. His cantata, "Das befreite
Deutschland," was there produced. He afterward went on a tour through
Germany, Switzerland and Italy, and his eighth violin concerto ("Scena
Cantante") was written to please the public of the last-named country. In
Italy he met Rossini, whom he never admired as a composer. He also met
Paganini, who treated him with much courtesy.

[Illustration: Fac-simile of letter from Spohr deploring the death of his
wife, in 1834.]

In 1817 he returned to Germany. While travelling and giving concerts with
his wife, he received an offer from Mr. Ihlée, director of the theatre
at Frankfort, to become conductor of the opera there. He accepted the
offer and at once set out for his new post. One of his first acts was to
obtain the consent of the managers to the production of his opera "Faust"
which he had written in Vienna five years before. He says, "At first, it
is true, it pleased the great majority less than the connoisseurs, but
with each representation gained more admirers." His success encouraged
him to new dramatic attempts, and he set to work on an operatic version
of Appel's "Der schwarze Jäger" (The Black Huntsman). He soon learned,
however, that Weber was at work on the same subject, and he abandoned his
opera. While looking for a new libretto he wrote the three quartets, Opus
45. In September, 1818, he began work on his "Zemire und Azor," of which
the text had been previously used by Grétry in his "La Belle et la Bête."
Disagreements with the managers of the Frankfort theatre caused him to
resign his post there in September, 1819.

In 1820 he visited England at the invitation of the Philharmonic Society
of London. His début was made at the opening concert of the season, March
sixth, when he played with much success his Concerto No. 8. At the next
concert he was to have appeared as leader. "It was at that time still
the custom there," he says in his autobiography, "that when symphonies
and overtures were performed, the pianist had the score before him, not
exactly to conduct from it, but only to read after and to play in with the
orchestra at pleasure, which when it was heard, had a very bad effect.
The real conductor was the first violin, who gave the tempi, and now and
then when the orchestra began to falter, gave the beat with the bow of his
violin." Spohr induced Ries, the pianist, to let him make an experiment,
and he conducted, after overcoming the opposition of the directors, with
a baton, for the first time at one of these concerts. The success of the
new method was so great that the old way went out forever. His symphony
in D minor was produced at this concert, and at the last concert of the
season another of his symphonies was heard for the first time in England.
At his last concert, his wife, who had been since her arrival in England
busily engaged in mastering the Erard double action harp (she had before
played the single action instrument), appeared and was much applauded. Her
health subsequently failed, and she died in 1834. Spohr married a second
time in 1836. His second wife was Marianne Pfeiffer, the elder of the two
daughters of the Chief Councillor of Cassel. She was a good pianist and
played together with Spohr with considerable success. She died Jan. 4,

Spohr visited Paris for the first time on his way home from England.
In the French capital he made the acquaintance of Kreutzer, Cherubini,
Habeneck and other eminent musicians, all of whom received him with
courteous consideration and showed a warm interest in his music. He gave a
concert at the Opera with satisfying success. Cherubini was particularly
pleased with his work, and Spohr tells with pride how the old martinet of
the Conservatoire made him play one of his quartets three times. Spohr
returned to Germany and took up his residence in the artistic city of
Dresden, where he found Weber engaged in producing "Der Freischütz,"
already a pronounced success in Vienna and Berlin. Weber was offered the
post of Hof-Kapellmeister by the Elector of Cassel, but he declined it
because he did not wish to leave Dresden. He warmly recommended Spohr,
who received the appointment, accepted it, and on Jan. 1, 1822, entered
upon his duties in the city which was to be his home for the rest of his
life. The first new work studied there under his direction was his own
"Zemire und Azor," which was produced on March 24, and repeated several
times in the course of the year. His family arrived at Cassel in March,
and he settled down in the domestic circle and began the composition of
"Jessonda," which he finished in December, 1822. In a letter written in
January, 1823, he says: "I have been latterly so much engaged upon a new
opera that I have somewhat neglected everything else. It is now ready, and
I am right glad to have completed so important a work. If I expect more
from this opera than from the earlier ones, it is because of my greater
experience, and the inspiration I felt in the study of almost every number
of the successfully written libretto." The opera was produced on the
birthday of the Elector, July 28, 1823, and was at once successful. Spohr
writes (Aug. 2, 1823): "This work has made me very happy, and I have
reason to hope that the opera will please much in other places."


Reproduced from a lithograph portrait drawn by W. Pfaff.]

[Music: Sextett

Louis Spohr]

At this time Spohr continued the composition of chamber music and formed
a quartet, consisting of himself, Wiele, solo violinist of the court
orchestra, Ferdinand Spohr, viola, and Haseman, 'cello. About this time,
too, he wrote the first of his four double quartets, which were then a
great novelty. He visited Leipsic and Berlin to conduct first performances
of "Jessonda," which in both cities achieved great success. In 1824, he
enjoyed the society of Mendelssohn during the winter in Berlin. Returning
to Cassel he wrote his opera "Der Berggeist," which was produced at the
marriage of the Elector's daughter on Mar. 23, 1825, and was well received.

In the same year Rochlitz, editor of the Leipsic _Music Journal_, offered
him the text of the oratorio, "The Last Judgment," and he set to work on
it at once. The oratorio was produced in the Lutheran church of Cassel,
on Good Friday, Mar. 25, 1826, and made a deep impression. In 1827, he
produced another opera, "Pietro von Albano," which in spite of Meyerbeer's
enthusiastic praise, had little success. In 1831, he finished his "Violin
School," a book of instruction which is still held in esteem though not
regarded as the best. In 1832, political disturbances, in which Spohr
played the radical and offended the Elector, interrupted the opera
performances at Cassel for a long time, and the artist devoted his time
to oratorio and instrumental composition. In 1832 he wrote his most noted
symphony, "The Consecration of Tones," and in 1834 he was at work on his
"Calvary," which was produced at Cassel on Good Friday, 1835. He went
to England a second time in 1839, to conduct "Calvary" at the Norwich
Festival. The success of the work was so great that he was commissioned to
write "The Fall of Babylon" (the book by Edward Taylor) for the Norwich
Festival of 1842. In 1840 he conducted a festival at Aix-la-Chapelle, and
in 1842 he produced Wagner's "Der Fliegende Holländer" at Cassel.

He had heard much in its praise from Dresden, and having read the work was
at once pleased with it. In writing to a friend he said: "It interests
me, nevertheless, in the highest degree, for it is written apparently
with true inspiration - and unlike so much of the modern opera music,
does not display in every bar the striving after effect, or effort to
please. There is a great deal of the fanciful there-in; a noble conception
throughout; it is well-written for the singer; enormously difficult, it
is true, and somewhat overcharged in the instrumentation, but full of new
effects, and will assuredly, when it once comes to be performed in the
greater space of the theatre, be thoroughly clear, and intelligible....
I think I am so far correct in my judgment, when I consider Wagner as
the most gifted of all our dramatic composers of the present time." This
opinion of Spohr's is creditable to his judgment as a musician and his
generosity as a man. He worked hard and gave a performance which pleased
the public. He wrote to Wagner of the success of his work and received
from the young composer one of his characteristic letters of gratitude.

The Elector of Hesse-Cassel, unmoved even by a monster petition headed
with the name of Lord Aberdeen, declined to permit Spohr to go to England,
and conduct the "Fall of Babylon" at the Norwich Festival. The oratorio
was produced without his assistance and was highly successful. He went
to England, however, at the beginning of his summer vacation and gave
some profitable concerts. In 1844 he brought forward his last opera, "Die
Kreuzfahrer" ("The Crusaders"). For this he had arranged his own libretto
from a play by Kotzebue. The success of the opera, performed at Cassel
and Berlin, was brief. He made a trip to Paris, where the Conservatoire
orchestra honored him with a special performance of his "Consecration of
Tones." He conducted the "Missa Solemnis" and the Ninth Symphony at the
Beethoven Festival at Bonn, in the same year. In 1847 he again visited
London, when his "Fall of Babylon," "Last Judgment," "Lord's Prayer,"
and Milton's eighty-fourth psalm were presented in three concerts by the
Sacred Harmonic Society. In the same year the twenty-fifth anniversary
of his assumption of the directorship at Cassel was celebrated by a
performance of excerpts from his operas.

The revolutionary events of 1848 interrupted Spohr's flow of compositions.
He felt, as he wrote to his friend Hauptmann, that "the excitement of
politics and the constant reading of newspapers incapacitated him from
giving his attention to any serious and quiet study." In 1849, while
recovering from an illness caused by a fall on the ice, he planned his
ninth symphony, "The Seasons," which he wrote shortly after his recovery.
He went to Breslau in the hope of hearing Schumann's "Genoveva," but
owing to delays heard only some rehearsals. During his two weeks' stay in
Breslau, honors were heaped upon him. Banquets were given, concerts of his
music were arranged, and his opera "Zemire und Azor" was performed at the
theatre. In 1850 he was made to suffer from court malice. The Elector,
probably to chastise him for his radical political ideas, refused him
permission to take a summer vacation. He went away without leave, and the
result was a lawsuit with the managers of the theatre, which after four
years he lost by a technicality.

In 1852, at the invitation of the Covent Garden management, he again
visited England to produce his "Faust," which was successfully given on
July 15 with Castellan, Ronconi, Formes and Tamberlik in the principal
parts. In 1853 Spohr showed once more his respect and consideration
for the rising genius of Wagner by devoting his energies to a careful
production of "Tannhäuser." The letters of Spohr show that while he
heartily sympathized with Wagner's irresistible sincerity of purpose
and the honesty of his dramatic art, he, like many others, found the
new master's manner of writing hard to comprehend. He exclaims in one
letter to Hauptmann: "What faces would Haydn and Mozart make, were they
obliged to hear the stunning noise that is now given to us for music."
Nevertheless Spohr saw the germs of a noble dramatic style in these works
of Wagner, and after his successful and artistically admirable production
of "Tannhäuser," he turned his attention to "Lohengrin." Owing, however,
to the opposition of the Elector and the court, the work was not produced,
and, indeed, Spohr never heard it. In the same year (1853) he made his
sixth visit to London, conducting three concerts of the New Philharmonic
Society, at which, among other things, his own double symphony and
Beethoven's ninth were performed. His opera "Jessonda" was put in
rehearsal at Covent Garden by Mr. Gye, but Spohr had to return to Cassel
before it was produced.

On his return journey he planned his septet for piano, two stringed and
four wind instruments, one of his most admired chamber compositions. In
1854 he passed his summer vacation in Switzerland and visited Munich.
In 1855 he visited Hanover, where he heard his seventh violin concerto
played, as he writes, "in a very masterly manner, by Joachim." On his
departure from Hanover the Royal Hanoverian Chapel presented him with
a very handsome conductor's baton. In 1856 Spohr became conscious
that his productive powers were failing. He wrote two quartets and a
symphony, all three of which he condemned, after repeated alterations,
to remain in manuscript and silence. In 1857 he made a trip through
Holland and returned to Cassel much refreshed. On Nov. 14, much against
his inclination, the elector retired him from active duty on a pension
of fifteen hundred thalers per annum. He soon became reconciled to his
retirement, but two days after Christmas he met with a more serious
misfortune in a fall which broke his left arm and rendered him incapable
of further violin playing. This was a source of deep grief to him and
no doubt prepared his spirit for the final resignation of all earthly
joys. How he clung to his artistic endeavors may be seen in a letter to
Hauptmann (April 6, 1858) in which he says: "I am now perfectly convinced
that I cannot accomplish any great work more. I regret to say that my
last attempt of the kind failed, and my requiem remains a fragment;
nevertheless, as the subject, as far as the _Lachrimosa dies illa_, at
which I stuck fast, pleases me well, and seems to have much that is new
and ingenious in it, I shall not destroy it, as I should like to take
it up again, and shall make another attempt to complete it." He devoted
half a day to this attempt, but the effort only brought him to a final
determination to abandon composition for good and all.

In the beginning of July he went to Prague, when the 50th anniversary of
the Conservatory was celebrated by three musical performances, one being
of "Jessonda." On the way home he visited Alexandersbad, returning much
refreshed. Yet thenceforward his spirits declined; he complained to his
wife that he was weary of life because he could no longer do anything. In
September, however, he summoned enough interest to go to the Middle-Rhine
Festival at Wiesbaden and in October to Leipsic. In December, 1858, he
occupied himself once more as a teacher, giving lessons gratis to a poor
girl who wished to become a teacher. On April 12, 1859, he made his last
appearance as a conductor, directing his own "Consecration of Tones"
symphony at a charitable concert by the Meiningen court orchestra. In the
course of the summer he made a few short journeys, but could not conceal
from himself their evil effects. On Sunday, Oct. 16, a change in his
condition became manifest. On retiring that night he expressed to his

Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 18 of 32)