Quartet concerts, now and then

Although the quartet concerts in 19th-century Berlin seem very similar to our own today, of course there were differences. Terminology, for instance: today all quartets have a name by which they are known, but back then most quartet groups lacked a name to identify them. In the Berlin papers, many of the local chamber groups were billed by all of their names, not just the first violinist.  Around 1890, when concert agencies started managing their schedules, quartets emerged as named, recognizable entities. Visiting groups, such as the “Böhmen” (the Bohemian Quartet), and others were identified as such in this paper, sometimes also with all their names in smaller print.

For example, take a look at these advertisements from 1889:

Berliner Tageblatt 6 January 1889

The right hand column of the advertisements above contains notices for three chamber music concerts. In the middle column at the bottom, four people are listed (aka the Joachim Quartet) as presenting an all-Beethoven concert of three quartets. This was the way the group was identified in this paper up to its final concert in 1907.

Another list of four people (Hasse, Woltze, Müller, Koch) are listed as performing a new work by the local music critic and composer E. E. Taubert, with lieder between that work and a Mozart quartet.  (One wonders why they scheduled their concert at the same date and time as the Joachim Quartet!)

The ads for the two remaining chamber concerts provide less information. On Tuesday the 15th at the Singakademie, another group of four players was appearing with the pianist Mary Wurm.1Wurm had made history as the first woman to conduct the Philharmonic, on 5 November 1887, while playing her own piano concerto. Also at the Singakademie on the 29th was the second chamber music evening of the pianist Franz Rummel, which lists only an opera singer as soloist.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the term used to refer to the group had not stabilized yet, so there are various references to (in English) the “Quartet organization” “Quartet party” or “Quartet club.” In German, the appellations “Künstlercorporation” (1886) and “Kammermusikvereinigung” (1906), among others, were used. “Members” were usually referred to as “Genossen”—which can be translated as “associate,” “companion,” and “comrade.” The concerts themselves were called “Soireés,” or a “Quartettabend” (quartet evening). All of these terms harkened back to a more informal and social understanding of these concerts.

Besides terminology, there were differences in programming. As indicated in the example from 1889, even a “Quartettabend” had pieces other than quartets on the program. Usually there were other chamber works for different combinations of instruments, such as pieces for strings and piano. It was very common to include a few Lieder as contrast. Joachim was able to keep to his strings-only policy in Berlin, but in London even he had to allow a singer to be included.    

Program for a Saturday Popular Concert in London

Saturday Popular Concerts, March 21, 1898 

Schubert, Quartet in a minor op. 29 (Joachim, Kruse, Wirth, Hausmann)

Song “Pur dicesti” Lotti (Miss Beatrice Spencer)

Beethoven, Quartet in C major Op 59 no. 3

Songs “Who is Sylvia?” Schubert, “Villanelle” Eva Dell’Acqua 

Mendelssohn, Quartet in E-flat, op. 12

Accompanist Mr. Henry Bird

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