Chamber music concerts before the Joachim Quartet: the case of Georg Hausmann

The life of Robert Hausmann’s great-uncle (actually, son of great-uncle) Georg Hausmann can give us an idea of what chamber music concerts were like in the first half of the nineteenth century. Georg, who was known as George in Britain after he moved there in 1837, was active for over twenty years in both Britain and Germany. He played in quartets and other kinds of chamber music, but also played solos on concerts made up of vocal and instrumental numbers, and he also played in a few orchestras at festivals.

Looking at the reviews and advertisements for the musical events he was part of can give us an idea of how much the concert changed in the second half of the century. The early concerts were much more casually and spontaneously put together, and the public/private distinction could be unclear. There are many reports in the 1830s and 1840s of no-shows, programs that are out of order, and other signs of poor planning. In an 1839 report on “Mrs. Baxter’s concert” at the Hanover Square Rooms, George Hausmann was mentioned as playing on the first half, but leaving before his solo in the second half. This was perhaps understandable, given that “Mrs. Baxter herself unable to attend from illness,” and “Herr Kroff, who had been made a star in the programme, did not come.”

Private concerts were sometimes reported on, in Britain and on the Continent. One report from Hausmann’s visit to Vienna 1858 commented: “Hausmann in fact bears out his name, for every good musical house seeks the man with his incomparable tenor violin, even though he himself doesn’t give concerts. He is sought after and found, and that is the main thing.”1Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (1858) 114-115. 

The claim that he didn’t give concerts is puzzling. Another review of his Vienna performances reported that he was going to play a public concert after being heard “in several aristocratic circles,” and that “Vienna’s fine society is also interested in him.”2“Aus Wien,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (1858): 56.

Eduard Hanslick wrote favorably about Hausmann’s Vienna visit, which apparently occurred shortly after the Italian cellist Alfredo Piatti had been in town.

Let us turn to the most recent concerts, most notably the cellist Herr Hausmann, a well trained musician, for years resident in London, helping to keep German music healthy there. The success of his concert was all the more to his credit, since any cellist directly after Piatti has a difficult situation. Compared to the latter, Hausmann has a stronger bow; his playing is more vigorous and excellent especially in quartet playing. Nature seems to have refused to form two finished, perfect virtuosos out of them, otherwise it would have given Piatti Hausmann’s energy, who would have received the elegance and tenderness of his Italian colleague. Unfortunately Herr Hausmann’s playing is impaired by a continuous restlessness that appears to stem from an exuberance of feeling, which is also communicated by his outer bearing.3Eduard Hanslick, Sämtliche Schriften, Band I, 4 (Böhlau, 2002), 244.

Hausmann played on many concerts where a musician hired professionals to participate in a modest venue. He and others played, for instance, on “Miss Bulling’s Concert” (1839), as well as the concerts of Miss Roeckel (1840), Miss Johnson (1841), the Misses Pyne (1841), Miss Neate (1841), Miss Lightfoot (1842), Miss Lucombe (1843), Miss Bincke (1843) and other ladies, who were almost all singers. Some of these concert givers can be identified and had long careers, while others vanish after one concert.

If the lady was foreign, it was more likely that she was an instrumentalist. For instance, Hausmann collaborated frequently with the pianist “Madame Duncken.” Louise Dulcken (1811-1850) was the sister of the violinist Ferdinand David, and had been playing concerts since she was a child prodigy. In 1848 they and the “comic singer” John Parry went on an exhaustive tour of the provinces, giving concerts in Cheltenham, Leamington, Derby, Lindon, Harrogate, Scarborough, York, Richmond, Darlington, Durham, Gloucester, Birmingham, Worcester, Clifton, Bath, Lynn, Norwich, Bury St. Edmunds, and Ipswich.

Hausmann also played on novelty pieces, such as a Romance for four cellos, an arrangement for three cellos of the famous Trio from William Tell, and a Serenade for Five Cellos, Double Bass, and Drums by Schwenke.

When Georg played solos on concerts, he used a bravura style with special effects, such as imitating a bagpipe. This was met with mixed reviews—some referred to him as the Paganini of the cello, while others found it in bad taste and not even qualifying as music. A particularly negative review from Dresden in 1846 exclaimed: “How often virtuosos mistake the character of their instrument!  Nothing other than artificiality, penny whistle sounds and other kinds of piping here in the depths and there in the heights; there was no question of a tune.”4“Daß doch Virtuosen so häufig den Charakter ihres Instrumentes verkennen! Nichts wie Künstlereien, Flageolettöne und sonstige Schnurrpfeifereien bald in der Tiefe bald in der Höhe, von einem Gesange war gar keine Rede.” “Aus Dresden,” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (1847) 114-115. 

On the other hand, his performance in Aberdeen in 1851 got a sensational review: “The effect of the solos of Herr Hausmann on the violoncello can only be adequately described by saying that they electrified the audience. His power over that most wonderful of instruments we have never seen equalled. He brings out a series of sounds of immense compass, and in passages requiring either great power or exquisite tenderness, he is equally successful.”5The Aberdeen Journal, March 19, 1851; Issue 5384.

These kinds of events became less frequent as the years went by, and the most respectable kind of “classical chamber concerts” gradually evolved.

In the 1830s Hausmann played on concerts where chamber works by Mayseder, Hummel, and Mendelssohn were frequent choices. Beethoven was always a possibility; his Quintet in C major, op. 29, was much more popular than compared to today.

Cities where George played concerts

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