Update on Louis Spohr’s ubiquity

Researching Joachim’s concerts at the Leipzig Gewandhaus led me to the astonishing profusion of works by Louis Spohr on the concerts throughout the nineteenth century. A review from Hanslick on the occasion of a Joachim visit to Vienna in 1875 included an appreciation of the composer’s music. Hanslick had a nostalgic view of Spohr’s music that was important to him as a youth. He described his popularity as almost a fad that had just as quickly subsided. While I was going through some music journals from 1877, however, I could not help noticing Spohr’s name on concert programs, again and again.

The list of 40 performances of Spohr’s works in 1877 below should be sufficient to indicate that Spohr was being played more than even Hanslick suspected in 1875. Most of these took place in northern Germany. Works for violin and orchestra prevail on this list, with Joachim and his former students providing most of the performances. Joachim performed the Ninth Violin Concerto on a Crystal Palace concert in London in February. His student Henri Petri played the Eighth Violin Concerto there a week later. Petri then settled that summer into his first position as concert master in the town of Sondershausen.

Short Excursion to Sondershausen

Sondershausen By HieRo GlyPhe – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Sondershausen, a town in Thuringia with the population of 6,000 in 1877, appears five times on my list. (Meiningen, a more famous little town in Thuringia, had a population of 9,000 at that time.) That year the Monthly Musical Record published a feature on this town. The author, “Peregrinus,” marveled that such a small place could have a summer music festival with so many excellent concerts. He explained that the town’s music, including the court orchestra (of 54 members) was partly funded by the Prince of the principality. The outdoor concert venue was a place in the woods known as the “Loh,” “a large oblong square which was originally the shooting place for the Court.” The weekly Sunday concert was at 3:30, with an additional 8 pm popular concert, “which attracts a still larger audience, filling the whole of the large illuminated square; some of them sitting on the benches in front of the orchestra, others walking about and conversing. In the wings of the structure where the orchestra plays, there are refreshment rooms, where wine, beer, coffee, chocolate, cake etc. can be had.”1F.M.N. Peregrinus, Monthly Musical Record (October 1877): 157. The article also related that the concerts were the result of 3-4 hour rehearsals, 4 or 5 times a week. They were conducted by Max Erdmannsdörfer, a pianist and conductor associated with the New German School. Erdmannsdörfer’s wife, Pauline Fichtner-Erdmannsdörfer, had studied with Liszt. The previous conductor had been Max Bruch. Besides Petri, Joachim’s student Heinrich Schuster was in the orchestra. The cellist Hans Wihan (1855-1920), who later founded the Bohemian Quartet and was the dedicatee of the Dvorák Cello Concerto, was also an orchestra member and one of the main soloists for the concerts in 1877.

The Loh concert programs for that summer were ambitious. They usually included a soloist, but besides the usual piano and violin concertos there were also concertos for flute, clarinet, cello, and even double bass. The concerts ended with a symphony, among which were Raff’s Symphonies No. 5 and No. 7, Rubinstein’s “Ocean” Symphony, and Goldmark’s “Ländliche Hochzeit.” The program of 19 August for the 13th Loh concert was strictly neudeutsche Schule:

  • Berlioz, Overture to King Lear
  • Wagner, Siegfried’s Funeral march from Götterdämmerung
  • Liszt, 2 episodes from Lenau’s Faust
  • Wagner, Prelude to Tristan und Isolde
  • Berlioz, Sinfonie Fantastique

How Spohr fits into this is hard to say. Erdmannsdörfer did get his training at the Leipzig Conservatory, and his programming also included more conservative composers such as Hiller, Schumann, Volkmann. Erdmannsdörfer went on to bigger things in 1882 when he became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory, conducted the concerts of the Russian Musical Society, and premiered several orchestral works by Tchaikovsky.2See the page on Erdmannsdörfer at the Tchaikovsky Research website. https://en.tchaikovsky-research.net/pages/Max_Erdmannsd%C3%B6rfer

Back to Spohr. A festival in Cassel in June 1877 accounts for some of the performances on my list. Spohr had been the general music director in Cassel in the 1830s and ’40s. The impetus was to raise funds for a statue for Spohr in front of the Cassel Opera in time for his centenary (1884). This fund raiser lasted three days, with the major work being the oratorio Die Letzten Dinge. Joachim had been scheduled to perform, but canceled on account of Amalie Joachim’s serious illness after the birth of their fifth child in May. Brahms’s Triumphlied was one of the non-Spohr works performed, and lieder by Brahms were included on the programs of the singers Louise Dustmann, Auguste Hohenschild, and Dr. Franz Krückl.

The 1883 Spohr Denkmal in Kassel in 2012

As for the other pieces by Spohr that were performed in 1877, some are from the category of miscellaneous chamber music, where Spohr’s output was prolific and varied. These include the “double quartet,” the lieder for soprano, clarinet and piano, and the Elegy for harp and cello. However, a symphony, opera and concert overtures, three different string quartets, and a piano trio were also performed. Furthermore, his opera Jessonda was part of the 1876-77 seasons in Berlin and Hamburg.

1/2/ 1877BreslauAria from FaustLilli Lehmann
1/9/ 1877FrankfurtAriaLilli Lehmann
1/9/ 1877ErfurtLieder: Die Rose, Romanze
1/12/1877OldenburgViolin Concerto No. 8Felix Meyer
1/1/ 1877DresdenViolin Concerto No. 8Conservatory
1/12/ 1877HalleAria from Jessonda
1/15/ 1877StrassburgAndante in E for ViolinJoachim
1/17/ 1877TorgauAdagio for BassoonPiano acc.
1/21/ 1877CasselOratorio Die Letzten DingeExcerpt
1/22/ 1877CopenhagenAdagio for ViolinFritz Struss
1/25/ 1877LeipzigViolin Concerto No. 8Heinrich de Ahna
2/20/ 1877MunichViolin Concerto No. 2, first mvt.School
2/22/ 1877LeipzigBaracoleEmile Sauret
2/24/ 1877LondonViolin Concerto No. 9Joachim
3/1/ 1877LondonViolin Concerto No. 8Henri Petri
2/19/1877LondonOverture to the AlchemistPhilharmonic Society
3/9/ 1877HirschbergElegie for harp and Cello
3/27/ 1877BremenQuartet Op. 82
3/27/ 1877EisenachPiano Trio in e minor op. 119Kömpel
4/12/1877MemelAdagio for ViolinHeinrich de Ahna
4/26/ 1877BerlinViolin Concerto No. 6Waldemar Meyer
4/28/ 1877CasselQuartet in G Op. 81
5/18/ 1877CasselRec. & Aria from FaustSoltans
5/22/ 1877CölnAria from FaustLilli Lehmann
5/27/ 1877SondershausenOverture to Faust
6/3/ 1877SondershausenViolin Concerto No. 8Henri Petri
6/22/ 1877CasselOratorio Die Letzten DingeDenkmal fundraiser
6/23/ 1877CasselSymphony No. 3 in C minorDenkmal fundraiser
6/23/ 1877CasselConcertante for 2 violins in b minor op. 88Denkmal fundraiser
6/24/ 1877CasselDoppel-Quartett Op. 87Denkmal fundraiser
6/28/ 1877SondershausenViolin Concerto No. 9, AdagioHenri Petri
7/1/ 1877SondershausenSymphony No. 3Erdmannsdörfer
9/2/ 1877SondershausenViolin Concerto for 2 Violins in b minor op. 88Petri and Schuster
9/9/ 1877CasselLieder for Soprano, clarinet, piano
9/29/ 1877GothaBaracole & ScherzoJoachim
10/1/ 1877BerlinViolin Concerto No. 11, 2nd and 3rd mvts.Gustav Holländer
11/18/ 1877LeipzigViolin Concerto No. 8Bertha Haft
11/29/ 1877LeipzigBaracole & ScherzoJoachim
12/14/ 1877CasselQuartet in E-flat, op. 58
12/17/ 1877FrankfurtDoppel-Quartett Op. 87Museumsgesellschaft

Conclusion: the 1870s in music were a transitional time in which composers from earlier in the century lingered on concert programs. While none of Spohr’s works became famous enough to survive into the twentieth century, his large output of pieces in almost every genre was drawn upon by performers for longer than is credited.

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  1. Dear Sanna,
    I just saw this now — don’t know how I missed it when it was posted — I’m a fan of the music of Louis Spohr, and am glad to read your latest. I have all his symphonies, which I wish would appear occasionally on public programs. One piece of his has certainly survived into the 20th, and even the 21st Century, and that is the Nonet, which I first encountered in college. At that time the cello part was terrifying, but has since become simply fun. It is a favorite of summer programs of chamber music, for obvious reasons.
    I enjoy your postings very much, and look forward to more.
    Best regards, Styra

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