Profiles of Joachim’s Students: 4. Johann Kruse

Johann Kruse (1859-1927) was one of Joachim’s more important students: he taught at the Hochschule and was a member of the Joachim Quartet for five years. My preparation for writing up a short profile has stretched out into months, and this post has grown tentacles that need to be hacked off. These are the role the singer Nellie Melba played in Joachim’s life, and Joachim’s connection to the “Monday and Saturday Popular Concerts” in London. They stem from Kruse because he became a friend of Melba in Australia at the beginning of her career, and later served as intermediary between her and Joachim. As for the London Popular Concerts, Kruse was involved with them as a performer and as an organizer in their final years. Determining basic facts about this mainstay of London concert life has been headache-inducing, and understanding what Kruse actually did has required far more reconstruction of circumstances than I ever anticipated. On the plus side, it led me to George Bernard Shaw’s reviews of music in London from 1890-94. When I looked through these years ago, the names were meaningless, and all I got out of it was Shaw’s enthusiasm for Wagner and disdain for Brahms. Now I’m delighted to read him comparing and contrasting the performances of Joachim, Sarasate, and Ysaÿe. His mentions of other now-familiar violinist, pianists and singers, are also intriguing.

One other aspect of Kruse that has drawn out my investigation is my feeling that I am missing something. The pieces I have of the puzzle do not yet to my satisfaction put together enough of a picture, despite Google yielding up more than I thought possible. It was extraordinary for Kruse to travel all the way from Melbourne to study in Berlin in 1875. This probably accounts for the surprising turns in his career, but I still wonder what he was like and, at times, what in the world was going on with him!

From The Strad, 1899

The first Australian instrumentalist to be successful in Europe, Johann Secundus Kruse was born in Melbourne, Australia.1 After his parents emigrated from Germany, his father worked as an analytical chemist.2I found him mentioned as such in the Proceedings of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria 2 (1857).
According to a pharmaceutical trade paper from 1898, John Kruse manufactured and then sold “Kruse’s fluid magnesia” to another company, but after John Kruse died, his son Felix Kruse returned to marketing fluid magnesia. It was judged to have imitated the existing brand’s label and he was ordered to pay heavy costs.
The child prodigy was playing in the first violins of the local orchestra at age nine. At sixteen, funds were raised so that he could receive proper training in Berlin. He was a student of Joachim for six years, and awarded a Mendelssohn stipendium in 1879 and 1881. When the Philharmonic Orchestra was established in 1882, Kruse joined the first violins and was named a concertmaster the following year. Joachim conducted some of these concerts, and enjoyed Kruse’s spirited support. When asked for a recommendation for a vacant concert master position in 1882, Joachim thought immediately of Kruse: “I don’t know anyone better in the whole world to recommend than this dear boy, also as a person.” But he admitted, “Nothing would be more unwelcome to me when I’m conducting than to miss him at the first stand.”3“Mir kann nichts unwillkommeneres passiren, als ihn an den ersten Pult bei meinen Aufführungen hier missen zu sollen….”…. “Ich wüßte Ihnen in der ganzen Welt keinen bessern, als diesen auch als Mensch lieben Kerl zu empfehlen.” Letter to Hans von Bronsart 21.9.1882, pp. 236-7. Joachim also indicated that Kruse intended ultimately to return to Australia, which he did, but only for half a year.

Australia (1885) and Berlin (1886-91)

While in Australia in 1885, Kruse made a big impression on his countrywoman Nellie Melba. In her early twenties, Melba – then Mrs. Charles Armstrong – was just starting her singing career, and had been engaged for the same series of concerts in Melbourne and Sydney as Kruse. According to Melba’s biographer Ann Blainey, Nellie fell in love with Kruse, although he thought of her only as a friend. Kruse, she writes,

“combined the authority of a performer at one of Europe’s most prestigious musical institutions with the glamour of a native son returning to his home town. In addition, he was a remarkably attractive young man with an ‘open countenance’, a splendid physique and ‘the magnetic eye of a poet’.” During the tour, “Kruse had become her confidant and it seems that she viewed him with mounting affection. …Spending every day with this magnetic young man who shared her passion for music and her dreams of fame, it is unsurprising that she fell in love.4Ann Blainey, I am Melba, (Melbourne: Black, Inc., 2009), p. 39. However, Kruse had to return to Berlin. “The evening before Kruse sailed, he played his violin at the city Lutheran church which he had attended as a boy. Nellie went with him and sang sacred works by Haydn, Gounod and Mendelssohn. On 11 August 1885, Kruse boarded a ship for Europe, and Nellie stood on the pier to wave him goodbye. ‘I miss him dreadfully’, she noted privately ‘more than I thought I could ever miss anyone.’5I am Melba, p. 39.

Once back in Berlin, Kruse’s career prospered. Even though he had only given concerts in Australia and in Berlin, he was one of the solo violinists represented in 1887 by the Hermann Wolff concert agency. He went to London for the first time the following year. Joachim wrote to his sister-in-law Ellen that “he plays very finely: I think he will be liked in London. Of course I shall give him a line for you and Henry.”6See also the followup letters: 9.6.1888: “I am so pleased to think of Kruses success amongst my friends in England; Piatti’s and Strauss help indeed looks like appreciation of his talents. Give them my best love for their kind help to a younger colleague.” 19.6.1888: “Kruse is back and I am very thankful for all kindness you and my friends had for him; I am glad you like him.” Kruse made his first appearance on the Popular Concerts on 9 February 1889, but despite Joachim’s backing, received critical notices. According to the Musical Times, “the impression he made was that he has profited by the teaching he has received. An unfortunate defect, however, is his frequently imperfect intonation. This was noticeable alike in Schubert’s Quartet in D minor and in Spohr’s Scena Cantante, which he chose as his solo.”7“Monday and Saturday Popular Concerts.” The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular 30, no. 553 (1889): 152-53. Accessed December 19, 2020. On his next concert, when he played the Beethoven Violin Concerto, the Musical World found that “he often played painfully out of tune, his execution of difficult passages was sometimes imperfect, and his tone, though full, was not exactly sympathetic.”8Musical World 69, no. 1 (1889): 107. Kruse was not deterred by these reviews. He continued to perform as a soloist and as a chamber musician for the next twenty years, despite the tepid notices.

It was the same story in Berlin. At the beginning of the 1891 concert season, Kruse gave a solo concert with the Philharmonic. His program consisted of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, the first movement from the first Paganini concerto, and the Notturno by Joachim. An unenthusiastic reviewer deemed him “a capable violinist, who, however, has yet to reach the highest heights of his art.” The critic noted the problems with playing in tune and concluded: “he cannot compete with other violinists, at least here with us; his rendition of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto showed many deficiencies, among which too little grandeur of performance and insecurity of intonation were the most prominent.”9 Musikalisches Wochenblatt 22 (1891): 596.

That year Kruse married Luise Florentine Marianne Caroline Gräfin von Unruh, a countess from Berlin with an ancient name. Joachim mentioned in letters that he enjoyed the wedding, where there were “lots of counts and countesses among the musical friends.”10Bei Kruse’s Hochzeit war es sehr lustig, viel Grafen und Gräfinnen zu den musikalischen Freunden, nette Scherze am Polterabend, das junge Paar strahlend. Sie gefällt mirbei näherer Bekanntschaft immer besser, schlicht und klug, und anmuthig ohne hübsch zu sein.” Letter dated 19.7.1891 to Heinrich Joachim.This marriage of a lady of the nobility with a professional musician who was a commoner and a foreigner to boot must have been considered a mésalliance.11Kruse’s wife is mentioned by Joachim in a letter from 1895, but they divorced the following year.

The move to Bremen (1892)

In 1892 Kruse decided to take the position of concertmaster of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Bremen. This move is hard to understand. Musical life in that city was not remotely comparable to Berlin. Furthermore, Kruse had just been promoted to Professor at the Hochschule. Why choose to go back to being a concertmaster, this time for a regional orchestra? In addition, Kruse, who had been leading a successful quartet in Berlin, had reason to believe he would be joining the Joachim Quartet as the second violinist. Heinrich de Ahna suffered from heart disease and even before his death Joachim made it known that he wished Kruse to take his place. So why move away? There must have been special circumstances that explain the decision, but they are not forthcoming.

In any case, Kruse did join the Joachim Quartet and move to Bremen. At first he traveled to Berlin the week before each concert to rehearse, then he quit the Bremen job. The Joachim Quartet was starting to become world famous as they toured further afield and received more publicity. Kruse was part of the quartet when they participated in the 1893 and 1897 Beethoven Haus Bonn chamber music festivals, and when they began visiting Britain every spring in 1897. But then Kruse quit, again!

Joachim, Hausmann, Wirth, Kruse (1892-97)

The move to London (1897)

Perhaps one reason Kruse went to Bremen was because he wanted more independence from Joachim. He might have wished to avoid the fate of Hausmann, Markees, and Moser, who stayed devoted to the master at the Hochschule for their entire careers.12In the summer of 1896 Joachim responded to Richard Barth’s request for recommendations for the concertmaster position in Hamburg, and wrote “Kruse has become too accustomed to his independent position to be a good match for this situation.” If Kruse now yearned to break free from the Joachim Quartet, that didn’t stop him from accepting help from Joachim himself. In 1897 he moved on to London, where Joachim was idolized, perhaps even more than in Berlin.

Kruse’s position was initially described as the new leader of London quartet of the Monday Popular Concerts, a group that Joachim had led in its first year of 1859 and played with for almost forty more years. Its other longtime members were Louis Ries, Ludwig Straus and Alfredo Piatti, and they were sometimes referred to as the “London Joachim Quartet.” They had all retired by 1897, so at first Kruse led younger English players (Alfred Gibson, Haydn Inwards, and Paul Ludwig) who had been taking part in the Popular Concerts for years. The following year a group led by Kruse with different players (Charles Schilsky, Emile Ferrir, and Herbert Walenn) performed on the Popular Concerts. It was called the Kruse Quartet and also had its own concert series that ran through the 1907-08 season.

Promoting Concerts in London (1903-04)

Kruse might have had an additional incentive to leave Germany: while in Bremen he had fallen unhappily in love. Dora Gildemeister (1866-1953) was one of the rich and cultured Gildemeisters, one of the most prominent families in Bremen.13Her uncle was Otto Gildemeister (1823-1902), who was mayor and a member of the Bremen senate, as well as being an essayist and translator. Her father Heinrich (1835-1904) was a businessman. This information comes from Richarda Huch, Du, mein Dämon, meine Schlange-Briefe an Richard Huch, 1887-1897 (ed. Anne Gabrisch, Wallstein, 1998): 511. Dora Gildemeister visited Richarda Huch in 1896 in Zurich to recruit her for a girls’ school she was planning to open in Bremen. The women became friends and Huch did move to Bremen for a short time; she reported on Dora’s relationship troubles in her letters. Their relationship languished during the standoff with the family, who threatened to repudiate Dora if she married Kruse. He divorced his countess in 1897, but that did little to improve his prospects. It was four years before they did eventually marry. Either or both of them had serious money at this point: the newlyweds were “at home” at the preposterously posh address of 31 St James’s Place, in central London.14An 1908 publication listed his address as the equally exclusive 35 Egerton Crescent London S.W.

That money must have come in handy when Kruse took on the role of concert organizer and promoter for some ambitious projects. For one of his festivals in 1904, The Strad noted “the only soloist was Professor Kruse himself, who, as being, it is understood, the payer of the piper, is the rightful person to call the tune.”15The Strad (May 1904): 4-5.
Kruse also took over the management of the Popular Concerts for the 1903-04 season, and brought in performers well known in Berlin but not so much in England (such as composers Georg Schumann, Wilhelm Berger, and Robert Kahn, all three taking the piano part in performances of their works.) He also organized a Beethoven Festival in 1903, for which Felix Weingartner conducted all the Beethoven symphonies. Kruse performed the Violin Concerto and took part on performances of the Triple Concerto, a Violin Sonata, a Piano Trio, a Quartet, the Septet. 16“The Beethoven Festival,” The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular 44, no. 724 (1903): 402. Accessed December 19, 2020. addition, that year he organized a Berlioz Centenary concert with Weingartner. Unfortunately, “rows and rows of empty benches formed a pitiable sight when it is remembered that Weingartner is one of the finest conductors in the world.”17“London Concerts,” The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular 44, no. 730 (1903): 808-10. Accessed December 19, 2020.
Despite the poor turnout, the “Second Kruse Music Festival” took place in April of 1904. The opening concert of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius plus the Beethoven Ninth attracted a full house, but the audience dwindled dramatically for the remaining concerts of the festival. Kruse announced he would continue with a third festival in 1905, but it did not materialize.

More chamber music, then the end in 1908

Kruse gave performances of at least seven chamber music works by Charles Villiers Stanford. In doing so, he was adding to Joachim’s loyal support of conducting and performing Stanford’s music. His Third Quartet in D minor, Op. 64 was dedicated “to my friends the Joachim Quartet,” and they gave the first performance at a Popular Concert on April 2, 1898.18 Jeremy Dibble, CD Recording Booklet, Dante Quartet, Charles Villiers Stanford, String Quartets Nos 3, 4, 7 (Somm Recordings (SOMMCD 0185), 2018)
Kruse had been part of that premiere, and according to Jeremy Dibble, “it led to further performances of new Stanford works such as the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 70 (1898), the String Quintet No. 1 in F major, Op. 85 (1903) and the Serenade in F major, Op. 95 (1905).” In 1906 the Kruse Quartet took part in the first performance of Stanford’s Nonet, and the Serenade was performed a second time later that year.
Stanford dedicated his next Quartet, No. 4 in G minor, Op.99 to Kruse. The Kruse Quartet performed it on 29.10.1907, but it was not published until 2015. After Joachim’s death in August 1907, Stanford wrote as a memorial his Quartet No. 5 in B-flat Op. 104, which was played on the Kruse Quartet’s subscription concert of 8 February 1908.

After the 1907-08 season ended, the Kruse Quartet disbanded. Although he didn’t know it, Kruse’s career was also winding down. At age 49 he ventured to give a solo concert outside of Britain or Germany for the first time (why?). His performance in Brussels of the three main concertos in his repertoire (Beethoven, Bach a minor, and Mendelssohn) received negative notices. After that he seems to have given up public solo appearances.

Kruse left no trace in the musical press for the following thirteen years, until 1921. A new Kruse Quartet was announced, which did not last more than a few concerts. But he tried again with another group in 1926, when he was sixty-seven years old. (Why? What was he thinking??) This group gave a few concerts and assisted on the Brahms g minor Piano Quartet on a concert given on Brahms’s birthday, 7 May 1927, by Fanny Davies, herself a spry 66. Johann Kruse died in London on 14 October of that year.

The next posts will continue to be concerned with Kruse as they lead into discussions of 1) Joachim’s love affair with Nellie Melba, and 2) Joachim and the vagaries of London’s Monday and Saturday Popular Concerts.

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One comment

  1. You are right, there is something missing here. If Kruse had an intonation problem, how could he have been a successful concertmaster, let alone be in the Joachim Quartet? Did he suffer from nerves when performing solo, do you think? I also find it weird that his repertoire was so small and limited. And where did all that money come from?

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