Berlin as a leader in chamber music in the 1830s, with the help of Ivan Mahaim

Ivan Mahaim, Beethoven: Naissance et Renaissance des Derniers Quatuors, 2 vols. (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1964).

This illustration is the first section of a giant handmade chart included in the back pocket of Ivan Mahaim’s treasure-trove of a book on Beethoven’s late quartets, Beethoven: Naissance et Renaissance de Derniers Quatuors. The rows are the places of performances and the columns are the dates, starting in 1825. The numbers making up the chart are opus numbers. As the chart indicates, after their premieres, the late quartets were first heard in Paris and Berlin. Mahaim documents only the late quartets, so I have supplemented his information about the Berlin ensembles who were giving concerts at that time:

1. Carl Möser (concerts 1813-1842), with August Zimmermann, Heinrich Lenss, Joh. Friedrich Kelz1Before Zimmermann, the second violinist was Ganz (presumably Leopold; 1828), and before him it was Hubert Ries (1827). Mahaim claims that Zimmermann was Möser’s second violinist from 1828.

Carl Möser’s concerts were truly path-breaking because they were so early. He was crucial for the Beethoven performances in Berlin during the composer’s lifetime. The documentation for that period is thin, however. Möser as a performer also stands out from the rest here as a proto-Liszt: he came from nowhere with little training, hobnobbed with royalty, traveled restlessly, fell in love repeatedly and caused scandals. A musical awakening upon hearing Viotti led him to overhaul his technique. Eventually he returned to Berlin and settled down to lead the musical establishment along the Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven path. He was named Königliche Musik-Director and head of the the training school for the Königliche Kapelle in 1825.2“Beiträge zur Geschichte der Gegenwart,” Berliner Musikalische Zeitung vol 3 no. 24 (1846): 13; Otto Lange, “Biographische Skizzen aus der Gegenwart,” Neue Berliner Musikzeitung (1848): 364-5; and “Möser, Carl,” Berliner Tonkünstler Lexikon (1861): p? ; and Mahaim. His strikingly asymmetrical face and pronounced chin are perhaps clues to his personality.

Carl Möser (1774-1851), from Mahaim, vol. 1, Figure 27.

Möser’s performance of Op. 132 in a minor in April of 1828 was the first outside of Vienna.3According to Mahaim. The AMZ reported that “despite all the individual beauty of the ideas, [it] did not appeal in its overall effect, for which the tiring length of the movements and the rhapsodic nature of the development were most likely to blame. The Scherzo was understood the most and was received favorably.”4“…Als das sehr schwere, neue Quartett von Beethoven in A moll, Op. 132, das, bey allen einzelnen Schönheiten der Gedanken, doch in der Total-Wirkung nicht ansprechen wollte, woran am meisten wohl die ermüdende Länge der Sätze, und das Rhapsodische der Duchführung Schuld war. Am meisten wurde das Scherzo verstanden und beyfällig aufgenommen.” AMZ 30 (1828): 363.

In 1834, Möser’s pupil and second violinist August Zimmermann took over the performances of three of the late quartets; he led the Berlin premieres of Opus 131 and Opus 127. Möser was 60 years old by then and gout in his left arm was hindering him from performing.5“Zu bedauern ist es, dass der Hr. MD. C. Möser durch Gichtschmerz im linken Arm bis jetzt verhindert ist, uns die älteren Mozart’schen und Beethoven’schen Quartette hören zu lassen.” AMZ 36 No. 51 (1834): 846. In 1842 he retired after he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a performer.
His other quartet members were from the opera orchestra. The violist, Heinrich Lenss (1793-1856), actually played horn in the opera orchestra until he lost his front teeth in 1835. The cellist Joh. Friedrich Kelz was born in Berlin in 1786 and had studied with Duport.

2. August Zimmermann (concerts 1834-1860) with W. Ronnebürger, Eduard Richter and Julius Griebel6Wilhelm Lotze replaced Griebel around 1839-40; Leopold Espenhahn replaced Lotze in 1852.

I am amazed that I did not know about August Zimmermann’s longtime quartet series until recently. Sixty years earlier, Mahaim was also amazed and hailed him as an unsung hero. From his perspective, the most important point was that “from 1834 to 1855, the Zimmermann Quartet was absolutely alone in defending Beethoven’s last works.”7“De 1834 à 1855 le Quatuor Zimmermann est absolument seul à défendre les derniers de Beethoven.” Mahaim, Beethoven: Naissance et Renaissance, vol. 1, p. 80. He even goes so far as to declare that “the great prophet of Beethoven’s last quartets is definitely Zimmermann, forty years before Joachim!”8Le grand prophète des derniers quatuors de Beethoven, c’est décidément Zimmermann, 40 ans avant Joachim!” Mahaim, vol. 1, p. 81. Knowing almost nothing about Zimmermann, I am not sure about that, but his quartet’s performances of the late Quartets Op. 131, 127, and 132 in 1834 indisputedly mark the beginning of their reception in Berlin. The Berlin correspondent for the AMZ managed noncomittal reports:

  • “Beethoven’s last Quartet, Op. 131 in C# minor, very exactly and purely executed by four younger players, Messrs. Zimmermann, Ronnebürger, Richter and J. Griebel, [was heard] with particular interest. The latter composition is admittedly very difficult to comprehend and not entirely understandable after a single hearing.”9“Beethoven’s letztes Quartett, Op. 131 in Cis moll, von vier jüngeren Spielern, den Herren Zimmermann, Ronnebürger, Richter und J. Griebel sehr genau und rein ausgeführt, mit besonders Interesse. Die letztere Composition ist freilich sehr schwer aufzufassen und nach einmaligem Hören nicht durchaus verständlich.” AMZ No. 10 (1834): 157.
  • “The great Quartet by Beethoven, Op. 127 was …quite exact in ensemble, but in its details hard to understand.”10“…Möser’schen Versammlungen das grosse Quartett von Beethoven, Op. 127, in Es dur von den Herren Zimmermann, Ronneburger, Richter und J. Griebel recht genau im Ensemble, doch in seinen Einzelheiten schwer verständlich, ausgeführt u.s.w.” AMZ No. 15 (1834): 241.
  • “The great Quartet in A minor was played with great unanimity and expression.”11“…grosses Quartett in A moll (von den Herren Zimmermann, Richter, Ronneburger und J. Griebel sehr übereinstimmend und ausdrucksvoll vorgetragen)” AMZ No. 19 (1834): 314.

3. Hubert Ries (concerts 1833-36) with L.W. Maurer, Carl Böhmer, August Just12The Maurer here may have been L.W.’s son Eduard, although he would have been as young as 14 (AMZ 33 (1831): 280, and 35 (1833): 810). L. Maurer was concertmaster in Hanover. Maybe there was a third Maurer.

Hubert Ries (1802-86) was the younger brother of the composer and Beethoven student Ferdinand Ries, and the father of Louis Ries (the second violinist for the Popular Concerts in London). He studied with Spohr for a year before going to Berlin in 1824, and ended up spending his entire career there. One assessment called him an excellent quartet player whose duties as conductor, concertmaster (1836) and head of a preparatory school for the orchestra crowded out his time for chamber music. He became a member of the Königliche Akademie der Künste in 1839. His group performed Op. 132, referred to as “one of the newest quartets”; it was “quite precise and heard with interest” in 1834.13“…Beethoven (A moll, eines der neuesten Quartette) recht präcis im Ensemble ausgeführt, mit Teilnahme hören lassen.” AMZ 36 No. 10 (1834):157.

4. The Ganz brothers (concerts 1832-33): Adolf Ganz (1796-1870), Moritz Ganz (cello, 1806-68), Leopold Ganz (violin, 1810-69), and a fourth player to be named later

(The performance of Op. 130 by the Ganz brothers does not appear on Mahaim’s chart, but he discusses it in the text.) The famous virtuoso cellist and violinist with their older and less famous brother Adolf had a concert series that made a strong start but ceased soon thereafter; overall the Ganz brothers did not play as prominent a role in Berlin’s chamber concerts. Moritz and Leopold joined the Berlin Hofkapelle in 1827, and in 1836 were named principal violin and cello. They were successful in London, beginning with their first visit in 1837. They performed Op. 130 either in late 1831 or the beginning of January of 1832. The AMZ said it “admittedly did not universally appeal, but nevertheless remains a curious tone poem of abundant imagination full of originality.”14Das Beethoven’sche Quartett in B dur, Op. 130 sprach freilich nicht allgemein an, bleibt aber dennoch eine merkwürdige Tondichtung voll Originalität der überreichen Phantasie.” AMZ 34 (1832): 74. On a concert of 12 March 1832 there were unspecified movements of Op. 131, which were noted in passing as “quite incomprehensible.”15“…(ziemlich unbegreiflich)…” AMZ 34 (1832): 332. Mahaim erroneously attributes this performance to Möser’s ensemble (vol. 2, p. 444). Their 1833 performance of Schubert’s a minor Quartet, parenthetically described as “singular, but not free of bizarrerie” should also be noted.16“…(eigenthümlich, doch nicht Frey von Bizarrerie)…” AMZ 35 no. 16 (1833): 259.

Finally, when Berlioz came to Berlin in 1843 his report about the Königliche Kapelle included the observation: “The strings are nearly all first-rate, but one should particularly single out the brothers Ganz (the admirable first violin and first cello) and the able violinist Ries.”17The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, trans. David Cairns (New York and Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002), 327.

Berlin’s Chamber Concerts in the 1830s

This table incorporates Mahaim’s information on the late Beethoven quartets into my list of the chamber concerts in Berlin from 1830-39. Some preliminary observations:

  • The genre is often referred to such as the “violin quartet” (as opposed to piano quartets, or other instruments with string accompaniment). In 1833 Hubert Ries was praised as an excellent violinist, with the other three players called “capable ripienists and good musicians.”18AMZ 35 (1833): 820-21.
  • Möser favored the three-string-quartet Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven concert format, but the others usually mixed other genres and instruments.
  • There is SO much ONSLOW. His countless quintets and quartets are the most ubiquitous works outside of the Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven core repertoire.
  • Local composers are represented, especially Mendelssohn and Wilhelm Taubert.

Quartet leaderOther infoWorkWorkWorkSourceOther music on concertIn Mahaim
1832Gebrüder GanzJanuaryOp. 130AMZ 34 no. 5 (1832): 74Mahaim
1832Gebrüder GanzMendelssohnTaubert Piano Trio and LiederHenning SextetAMZ 332
1832Gebrüder GanzBeethoven, Scottish LiederBeethoven, Op. 131 (part)Mendelssohn Piano QuartetAMZ 332
1833Gebrüder GanzOnslow, Quintet in DSchubert a minorBeethoven Op. 95AMZ 259
1833Gebrüder Ganz3 SoiréesRode SQBeethoven Piano Trio Op. 1 no. 1Dussek Piano QuartetAMZ 197C. Arnold G minor SQ
1833Gebrüder GanzSpohr E major SQOnslowMendelssohn E-flat SQAMZ 197Schubert lied “Der Wanderer”
1833Gebrüder GanzSchubert a minor QuartetBeethoven Op. 95Onslow D minor QuintetAMZ 259piano work by C. Arnold
1833Hubert RiesEduard Maurer, Carl Böhmer, August JustMozart “no. 6”Spohr a minor SQBeethoven op. 18 no. 1AMZ 820-21
1833Hubert RiesOnslowHaydnFerdinand RiesAMZ 820-21
1833Carl MöserZimmermann, Lenss, KelzHaydn Op. 55 A major SQMozart C major SQBeethoven Pf Trio Op. 97AMZ 867
1834Hubert RiesMozartSpohrOp. 59 no. 3AMZ 381
1834Hubert RiesIn FebruarySpohr a minor SQOnslow C major SQOp. 132AMZ 36 no. 10 (1834): 157Mahaim
1834Hubert RiesFerdinand Ries E major SQMozart B-flat SQBeethoven Op. 74AMZ 157
1834August ZimmermannRonneberger, Richter, GriebelOp. 131AMZ 36 no. 10 (1834): 157Mahaim
1834MöserIn MarchOp. 127AMZ 36 no. 15 (1834): 241MahaimOp. 127 played by Zimmermann….
1834Möser3 SoiréesMozart C major QuintetBeethoven C major QuintetOp. 132AMZ 36 no. 19 (1834): 314MahaimOp. 132 played by Zimmermann, Richter, Ronneburger, Griebel
1835ZimmermannIn DecemberFesca SQ f minorOnslow SQ e minorOp. 131AMZ 38 no. 3 (1836): 43.Haydn Op. 76 no. 3
1835Hubert RiesMendelssohn, Op. 12 SQOnslow C major QuintetSpohr Double QuartetAMZ 844
1836Hubert Ries2 concertsFesca SQ e minorMozart F major SQHaydn SQ B-flat
1836Hubert RiesBeethoven VSMoscheles Septet D majorBeethoven Op. 59 no. 2
1836ZimmermannBeethoven SeptetBeethoven a minor VSHaydnAMZ
1836ZimmermannOp. 127AMZ 38 no. 17 (1836): 279Mahaim
1837Zimmermann3 concertsC. Decker SQOnslow E minor SQBeethoven Op. 59 no. 3AMZ 832-3
1837ZimmermannBeethoven Op. 18 no. 2Haydn Op. 76 no. 2Onslow E-flat major Quintet
1837ZimmermannBeethoven Op. 18 no. 6Mendelssohn f minor Pf QuartetSchubert
1838ZimmermannOnslowHaydnBeethoven Op. 59 no. 1AMZ 1030
1838ZimmermannOnslow Quintet in E majorMendelssohn SQ a minorBeethoven Pf Trio
1838Zimmermann2 concertsCherubini E-flat SQOnslow A major QuintetHaydn D major SQAMZ 132
1838ZimmermannMozart g minor QuintetBeethoven Op. 59 no. 3?AMZ 132
1838Zimmermann2 concertsMozart SQ D majorFesca SQ F majorBeethoven Op. 95AMZ 211
1838Zimmermannin MarchHaydn D major SQOnslow B-flatBeethoven Op. 130AMZ 40 no. 13 (1838): 211.Mahaim
1838ZimmermannHaydn F minor SQOnslow A major SQBeethoven Op. 59 no. 1
1838Möser3 concertsMozart SQ G majorHaydn Op. 76 no. 2Beethoven Op. 59 no. 1
1838MöserMozart SQ A majorHaydn G major no. 55Beethoven Op. 59 no. 2
1838MöserMozart SQ d minorBeethoven Op. 18 no. 6
1838MöserHaydn “no. 56”Mozart A major SQBeethoven Op. 18 no. 6AMZ 1839 p. 68-9
1838MöserHaydn "no. 30”Mozart C major SQBeethoven Op. 18 no. 3
1839MöserMozartBeethoven Op. 59 no. 3
1839MöserHaydnMozart G major SQBeethoven op. 18 no. 1
1839ZimmermannMozart F major Pf QuartetGährlich Pf Quartet c minorBeethoven Op. 59 no. 2AMZ 857
1839ZimmermannStahlknecht SQOnslow QuintetHaydnAMZ 144
1839ZimmermannTaubert Pf TrioOnslow SQ no. 24Beethoven Op. 59 no. 3AMZ 144
1839ZimmermannFesca SQ g minorSpohr d minor double QuartetBeethoven Op. 29AMZ 217
1839ZimmermannMendelssohn e minor SQOnslow C major Quintet no. 19Beethoven Op. 18 no. 5

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