Sibling musicians are a common phenomenon, but they are also a tried-and-true marketing strategy. The first successful traveling string quartet in Germany in the 1830s was made up of the four Müller brothers from Braunschweig, pictured above. This Quartet continued into the next generation with the first violinist’s four sons. (Would a pair of four brothers trump a quintet of sisters? The Fraser Quintet of Violet, Ida, Ethel, Mabel, and Stella Fraser was represented by the British Daniel Mayer Concert agency in 1891.)
The Swiss cellist Elsa Ruegger (b. 1881) was a child prodigy who studied at the Brussels Conservatory. Her sisters also went there, and in 1895 the teenagers toured as a piano trio, with Charlotte on violin and Wally on piano. In Berlin in 1907, the Pasmore sisters (Susanne, Mary, and Dorothy) from San Francisco performed as a piano trio on March 16. They played their program of Brahms and Haydn from memory. Their father, H.B. Pasmore, taught singing at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory and the Stern Conservatory.
The Pasmores and the Rueggers were not the only piano trios made up of sisters; there was a French version comprised of Suzanne, her twin Marguerite, and Thérèse Chaigneau. They made their Paris debut in 1895 and toured Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain regularly until at least 1910. They are pictured here with their father, the painter Ferdinand Chaigneau, and a goat.
The 20-year-old cellist Max Orobio di Castro’s performance of the d’Albert Cello Concerto (December 28) received good reviews; he also performed with his violinist brother Artur, and despite his Spanish name, was said to hail from Duisberg.[note]He became the Berlin Philharmonic’s solo cellist from 1915-1919.[/note]
Carmela and Grazia Carbone gave a concert of vocal duets on March 15, as did Käte and Maria Heumann on October 4. The January 29th concert of the singing Svärdström sisters from Stockholm was a hit.
Sibling performers were often child prodigies as well. The Steinman trio of brothers of Kurt (violin), Helmut (cello) Wolfram (piano), who played on November 11, were 13, 12, and 10 years old, respectively. There was also a concert by the brothers Karl and Max Krämer (March 8), aged 8 and 10, who both played violin and piano; on their program they took turns accompanying each other.
And then there was the Steindel piano quartet. The charming picture of the father and his three sons, pianist Bruno (17), cellist Max (16), and violinist Albin (14), had delighted critics and audiences for several years. Like the Pasmore Trio, they performed by memory. At six years of age Bruno had played several concerts in London, which included a performance at a Proms concert of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. The piano pedals had to be altered so that he could reach them. Amidst all the publicity, a few critics expressed concern about the boy’s age. The Musical News advised:
Now that his gifts, intelligence, and technique have been openly displayed, he ought not to be further exhibited for the benefit of his relations, or exploited for the profit of speculative agents. The boy should go to school for some years to come, where he would receive a proper general education, and enjoy the advantage of a systematic training in music from the best masters.Musical News, 1897
The ugly truth behind the amazing performances was exposed when the father, Albin Steindel, was put on trial in the summer of 1907 for child abuse. Excerpts from the trial were published in national newspapers, which described in graphic detail how the father punished his sons for failing to practice enough by beating them with a heavy walking stick, a metal ruler, and a broom. He tormented the youngest, also named Albin, with needles, piano wire, and the surface of a red-hot stove. He justified his means by the ends of wanting to earn good money from their performances. The father, who had also been a child prodigy, accused the children of laziness, and Bruno testified that he and his brothers deserved their punishment. Albin senior was found guilty and sentenced to seven months in prison. The case was featured the following year in the Zeitschrift für Kinderforschung as part of an article on “Art as cruelty in the lives of children.” [note]J. Trüper, “Die Kunst als Grausamkeit im Leben der Kinder,” Zeitschrift für Kinderforschung 13 (1908): 42-51.[/note]
Another scandal in 1907 involving child prodigies took place in London, where the father and the agent of the violinist Vivien Chartres were prosecuted for a performance at Queen’s Hall under Section 2 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act of 1904. A writer for The Strad was outraged, but not because a child was exploited. On the contrary:
As my readers know, I heard little Miss Chartres play at her concert and wrote in terms of warm praise for her performance while I–the father of a family–have never seen a happier look on a child’s face than on hers when she was playing…. To talk of cruelty in such a case is, as I know, quite absurd; and as someone has pointed out it is far greater cruelty to a budding genius to attempt to suppress that genius than to encourage it by letting it have at least limited sway.The Strad XVI no. 189 (June 12, 1907 ): 68.