Performing all the Beethoven Quartets

One of the Joachim Quartet’s most significant achievements was their performances of the complete Beethoven quartets as a five-day cycle. The first time was in May of 1903 at the Bonn Beethoven Haus Festival, and it took place despite strong objections by the organizers.1They relented after Joachim threatened to resign from his office as honorary president. The quartet performed the cycle five more times in subsequent years in Brussels, Paris, Rome, London, and Vienna.
They were not the first to give the complete Beethoven quartets, however. The Beethoven Quartet Society gave concerts of all the quartets in London in 1845.2The Society repeated the series in 1846 and 1847. See Ivan Mahaim, and Evi Levin, “The First Complete Beethoven Quartet Cycles, 1845-1851: Historical Notes on the London Quartett Society,” The Musical Quarterly 80, no. 3 (1996): 500–524.

Forty years later, a second group put on a complete Beethoven cycle in Dresden as their 1888-89 season, led by the former second violinist from Joachim’s Quartet, Eduard Rappoldi. They did the cycle at least once more in the 1890s.

I recently came across a report that the Petri Quartet also performed all the Beethoven Quartets during the 1901-02 season in Dresden.3Presumably Rappoldi gave them the idea and/or assistance. For the Beethoven concerts, the quartet members were Theodore Bauer, Alfred Spitzner, and Georg Wille. After 1907 the members were Erdmann Werwas (great name), Spitzner, and Wille. They gave six concerts, which included the Große Fuge (which was never played by the Joachim Quartet).

On the occasion of a concert they gave in Berlin in 1908, Wilhelm Altmann described the group in Die Musik as “excellent musicians and ensemble players who do not flirt with seeking out subtleties, but, often foregoing beauty of tone, want first and foremost to make everything clear to the listener.”4“…sind ausgezeichnete Musiker und Ensemblespieler, die nicht gesuchten Feinheiten kokettieren, sondern, oft unter Verzicht auf Tonschönheit, in erster Linie den Zuhörern alles klar und deutlich machen wollen.” Wilhelm Altmann, Die Musik VII.14 (1908): 118.

I had to dig for information on Petri. There is no Grove Music Online entry, and the English Wikipedia article is sketchy, even in the Dutch and German versions. I did find a relatively detailed obituary (see below).

Petri facts

Henri Petri (1856-1914) was born in Holland, but lived and worked in Germany after arriving at the Hochschule when he was fifteen. He was an exemplary student of Joachim, and singled out as one of his very favorites.

He played some concerts in London in 1877 and was well received as Joachim’s promising pupil.5Musical World, March 24, 1877, p. 217. See also the obituary below. At Crystal Palace his performance of Spohr’s “Dramatic Concerto” was reviewed as too much in Joachim’s “unemotional style.”

This very young violinist – if we may judge by his appearance – is a favourite pupil of Dr. Joachim; and he has caught so entirely his master’s easy and unemotional style, that he bids fair to follow – at a respectful distance – in his master’s footsteps. His total, and apparently studied, absence of emotion, struck us as a defect in the performance of a work which before us which before all things demands the passionate warmth of a southern climate; in the romance (from Herr Joachim’s concerto in Hungarian style), which demands nothing of the kind, his playing was all that could be wished.6“Crystal Palace Concerts,” Musical Standard 12 (March 17, 1877): 162.

Petri quickly worked his way up from posts as concertmaster at Sonderhausen and Hanover to the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. The picture of the Petri Quartet below is from his Leipzig years (1882-1889). He then moved on to Dresden to be concertmaster of the Dresden Hofkapelle, where he remained for the rest of his career.7He was part of the Leipzig premiere of Brahms’s Piano Trio in C minor, with Willy Rehberg and Alwin Schroeder in 1887. He was a professor at the Dresden Conservatory from 1903-12. Besides his quartet, from 1890-98 he also had a chamber music series in Dresden with Margarethe Stern (1855-1899), a pianist who had studied with both Liszt and Clara Schumann.

Petri published an edition of Mozart’s “Sixth” Violin Concerto and was one of the first to perform Mozart’s “Seventh” Violin Concerto in 1907.8On 4 November in Dresden at the Mozart Verein. Zeitschrift der Internationale Musik-Gesellschaft (1907): 135.

He died in Dresden at age 58. The Signale für die musikalische Welt reported: “The news of the death of Henri Petri, the highly esteemed Dresden concertmaster, has caused sincere sadness everywhere; it came as a complete surprise, for it took only a short week for the treacherous pneumonia to snatch the strong, vibrant man from his art-filled existence. Within a short time Petri would have celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary as concertmaster of the Dresden Royal Orchestra! But not only as concertmaster, but also as soloist and excellent chamber music player Petri had made a name for himself that reached far beyond the Saxon lands.”9“Die Nachricht vom Tode Henri Petri’s, des hochverdienten Dresdener Konzertmeisters, hat überall aufrichtige Trauer hervorgerufen; sie kam völlig überraschend, denn nur eine kurze Woche hat die tückische Lungenentzündung gebraucht, um den kräftigen, lebensprühenden Mann aus seinem kunstfrohen Wirken herauszureissen. Binnen kurzem hätte Petri sein fünfundzwanzigjähriges Jubiläum als Konzertmeister der Dresdener Königlichen Kapelle feiern können! Aber nicht bloss als Konzertmeister, sonder auch als Solist und vorzüglicher Kammermusikspieler hatte sich Petri einen Namen gemacht, der weit über die sächsischen Landen hinausging.” Signale für die musikalische Welt (1914) Heft 15, p. 18.

CleanShot 2020-06-04 at 17.05.09@2x
The Petri Quartet in Leipzig (1880s)

There were many reasons why Joachim had strong associations with Leipzig, but this was not the case with Dresden. Nevertheless, there were five students besides Petri who made their living in the Dresden Königliche Kapelle and Conservatory. This probably had to do with Eduard Rappoldi, who had taught at Berlin and played in the Joachim Quartet from 1872-77. He was almost certainly involved in recruiting these young violinists:

Ernst Coith (2.6.1851-31.1.1937)

  • Dresden Hofkapelle 1881-1919 (viola); Dresden Cons. 1889- 1906

Adolf Elsmann (29.12.1851-30.3.1929)

  • Dresden Hofkapelle 1878-1914, taught at Dresden Cons 1885-1902

Hermann Jäger (9.6.1849-15.7.1899)

Emil König (28.7.1864-22.2.1939), orchestra member from 1884 to 1930

Richard Rokohl

  • Viola in Dresden Hofkapelle 1897-1933; Lewinger Quartet, Bärtich Quartet


Ortrun Landmann, Kapelle Historisch. Namenverzeichnisse zur Geschichte der Sächsischen Staatskapelle Dresden seit 1548, begleitet von drei historischen Abrissen sowie 76 kommentierten Bilddokumenten (Dresden, 2019)

Henri Petri's relationships

Henri Petri was the father of the pianist Egon Petri (1881-1962), who taught at the Royal College of Music in Manchester and the Berlin Hochschule. Egon actually started out as a violinist, and played second violin in his father’s quartet before going to Berlin to study piano with Ferruccio Busoni. Both father and son were advocates of Busoni’s music, with Henri premiering his Violin Concerto, which was dedicated to him, in 1897.10Concert with the Berlin Philharmonic, 8.10.1897. Busoni’s 2nd String Quartet, op. 26, was also dedicated to Henri Petri. Busoni had become close friends with the Petri family in Leipzig during a time in the 1880s when he was a young adult at a loose end. It was Henri’s wife Katharina Petri who helpfully suggested that Busoni transcribe Bach’s organ music for the piano.11Grigory Kogan, Busoni as Pianist, translated and annotated by Svetlana Belsky (Rochester, NY : University of Rochester Press, 2010).

Joachim's favorite student?

Henri Petri had impressive credentials as a virtuoso: he was one of the few violinists whose repertoire included all three of Joachim’s major works for violin and orchestra. At the 1889 celebration of Joachim’s 50th anniversary as a performer, three former students played the three movements of his Hungarian Concerto. The nineteen-year-old Hugo Olk took on the huge first movement, Johann Kruse played the slow movement, and Petri played the finale. At the 60th jubilee, the 1899 celebration which gathered together Joachim’s former students, Carl Halir was scheduled to perform Joachim’s Variations in E minor. Halir was arguably the most successful of all of Joachim’s students as a soloist. On the day of the concert, however, he was indisposed, and Petri stepped in to play the work instead.12Andreas Moser, Joseph Joachim, Ein Lebensbild vol. 2, p. 272. Joachim thanked “the valiant Petri” with a toast at the banquet afterwards, saying that he “would know in any case that he had always been one of his dearest children.”13“auf den tapfern Petri, der ohnehin wüßte, daß er stets eines seiner liebsten Kinder gewesen.” Moser, Ein Lebensbild, vol. 2, p. 279.
At a memorial concert in Dresden after Joachim’s death, Petri played the G major Violin Concerto. Andreas Moser related that on that occasion, Petri showed him manuscripts of two of Joachim’s early compositions for violin and orchestra, a Fantasy on Hungarian Themes and another on Irish Folksongs, and, “in his unselfish way, Petri has placed the manuscripts, which were given to him by Joachim during his time as a student in Berlin, at the disposal of Joachim’s heirs, who may wish to see to their publication.”14“In seiner uneigennützigen Art hat Petri die Manuskripte, die ihm während seiner Berliner Studienzeit von Joachim geschenkt worden waren, dessen Erben zur Verfügung gestellt, die eventuell für deren Drucklegung Sorge tragen wollen.” Moser, Ein Lebensbild, vol. 2, p. 90.

Obituary from the Neues Wiener Journal (unsigned)

The violinist Henri Petri, who died recently in Dresden of pneumonia, was a favorite pupil of Joachim, and as Petri always spoke of his master with high veneration, so Joachim always had the greatest appreciation for him, who as a fifteen-year-old boy had come to Berlin on a scholarship from his king – Petri was Dutch – to be taught by the “king of violinists” Joachim at the then newly founded Hochschule für Musik. Suddenly, however, the King of the Netherlands wanted his favorite to continue his studies in Brussels. It was with a heavy heart that Petri took leave of Joachim, after he had, as he recounted, made all sorts of plans with Joachim as to how he could remain in Berlin contrary to the wishes of his monarch. He wanted to make his own way by giving lessons, but Joachim in the end advised him to acquiesce. So he went to Brussels, where Henri Vieuxtemps had fallen ill and had to travel to Algiers, and Wieniawsky, who was to replace him, had not yet arrived. Petri thus languished in Brussels; he became anxious about his future, and he besieged the king to allow him to return to Berlin. Since Joachim, too, at his urging, pleaded for his pupil, the King at last consented, and so one day Joachim received a telegram: “I am returning, Henri the Fortunate.” When Joachim awaited him at the train station in Berlin, the spirited youth fell so impetuously into his arms that the extraordinary train station scene caused a general sensation. When the four-year royal scholarship came to an end, art-loving friends at home made it possible for Petri to stay longer in Berlin to continue studying with Joachim, who then took him to London, where he played Spohr’s Duets and Bach’s Double Concerto with his master before Queen Victoria and filled in for the master as conductor of the orchestra when Joachim himself was playing as a soloist. Joachim also introduced Petri to the aristocracy in England and provided him with opportunities to be heard in concerts at St. James Hall and the Crystal Palace, and he certainly wanted to get him a position in England. But he did not like English musical life and was drawn back to Germany, and so Petri became concertmaster successively in Sonderhausen, Hanover, in the Gewandhauskapelle, and in 1889 in Dresden. He remained on friendly terms with Joachim, and the “violin king” was his friendly mentor several times during decisive turns in his career.15Der dieser Tage in Dresden an einer Lungenentzündung gestorbene Geiger Henri Petri war ein Lieblings-Schüler Joachims, und wie Petri stets von seinem Meister mit hoher Verehrung sprach, so hatte auch Joachim stets die größte Anerkennung für jenen, der als fünfzehnjähriger Knabe auf ein Stipendium seines Königs – Petri war Holländer – nach Berlin gekommen war, um an der damals neugegründeten Hochschule für Musik beim “König der Geiger” Joachim Unterricht zu genießen. Plötzlich aber wünschte es der König der Niederlande, daß sein Günstling seine Studien in Brüssel fortsetzte. Schweren Herzens nahm Petri von Joachim Abschied, nachdem er, wie er erzählte, mit Joachim gemeinsam allerei Pläne geschmiedet, wie er dem Wunsche seines Monarchen zuwider in Berlin bleiben könne. Er wollte sich durch Unterrichtsgeben allein fortbringen, aber Joachim riet ihm schließlich, sich zu fügen. So ging er denn nach Brüssel, wo aber Henri Vieuxtemps inzwischen erkrankt war und nach Algier hatte reisen müssen, Wieniawsky aber, der ihn ersetzen sollte, noch nicht eingetroffen war. Tatenlos saß Petri so in Brüssel fest; ihm wurde bange um seine Zukunft, (p 12) und er bestürmte den König, daß er ihm die Rückkehr nach Berlin gestatte. Da auch auf sein Treiben Joachim sich für seinen Schüler verwandte, willigte der König endlich ein, und so erhielt Joachim eines Tages ein Telegramm: “Ich kehre zurück, Henri der Glückliche.” Als Joachim ihn in Berlin auf dem Bahnhof erwartete, fiel ihm der temperamentvolle Jüngling so stürmisch um den Hals, daß die seltsame Bahnhofsszene allgemeines Aufsehen erregte. Als dann das vierjährige königliche Stipendium zu Ende ging, ermöglichten es kunstliebende Freunde in der Heimat, daß Petri noch länger in Berlin bleiben durfte, um weiter bei Joachim zu studieren, der ihn dann auch mit nach London nahm, wo er mit seinem Meister gemeinsam vor der Königen Victoria Spohrs Duette und Bachs Doppelkonzert spielte und den Meister in der Leitung des Orchesters vertrat, wenn Joachim selbst solistisch tätig war. Joachim führte Petri auch in England bei der Aristokratie ein und verschaffte ihm Gelegenheit, sich in Konzerten in St . James Hall und im Kristallpalast hören zu lassen, ja er wollte ihm durchaus in England eine Stellung verschaffen. Doch gefiel ihm das englische Musikleben nicht, es zog ihn nach Deutschland zurück, und so wurde Petri nacheinander Konzertmeister in Sonderhausen, Hannover, in der Gewandhauskapelle und 1889 in Dresden. Mit Joachim aber blieb er dauernd freundschaftlichen verbunden, und der “Geigerkönig” war noch mehrmals bei entscheidenen Wendungen seiner Laufbahn sein freundlicher Berater.”
Neues Wiener Journal, 19. April 1914, pp. 11-12.

Henri Petri, 1910

MUSIC IN BERLIN, 1870-1910 (October 6, 2022) Profiles of Joachim’s Students: Henri Petri. Retrieved from
Profiles of Joachim’s Students: Henri Petri.” MUSIC IN BERLIN, 1870-1910 – October 6, 2022,
MUSIC IN BERLIN, 1870-1910 April 11, 2021 Profiles of Joachim’s Students: Henri Petri., viewed October 6, 2022,<>
MUSIC IN BERLIN, 1870-1910 – Profiles of Joachim’s Students: Henri Petri. [Internet]. [Accessed October 6, 2022]. Available from:
Profiles of Joachim’s Students: Henri Petri.” MUSIC IN BERLIN, 1870-1910 – Accessed October 6, 2022.
Profiles of Joachim’s Students: Henri Petri.” MUSIC IN BERLIN, 1870-1910 [Online]. Available: [Accessed: October 6, 2022]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email