A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Romberg

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ROMBERG. One of those musical families of whom, from the Bachs downwards, so many are encountered in Germany. The founders were Anton and Heinrich, a pair of inseparable brothers, who dressed alike, and lived together in Bonn. They were still alive in 1792. Another Anton, a bassoon-player, born in Westphalia in 1745, lived at Dinklage (Duchy of Oldenburg), gave concerts at Hamburg, and died in 1812, living long enough to play a concerto for two bassoons with his youngest son Anton, born 1777. His eldest son, Bernhard, born Nov. 11, 1767, at Dinklage, is justly regarded as head of the school of German violoncellists. When only fourteen he attracted considerable attention in Paris during a visit there with his father; from 1790 to 1793 he was in the band of the Elector of Cologne at Bonn, at the same time with Ferdinand Ries, Reicha and the two Beethovens. During the French invasion he occupied himself in a professional tour in Italy, Spain, and Portugal, and was well received, especially in Madrid, where Ferdinand VII. accompanied him on the violin. His cousin Andreas went with him, and on their return through Vienna late in 1796, they gave a concert at which Beethoven played (Thayer, ii. 16). After his return Bernhard married Catherine Ramcke at Hamburg. From 1801 to 1803 he was a professor in the Paris Conservatoire, and we next find him in the King's band at Berlin. Spohr (Autob. i. 78) met him there at the end of 1 804, and played quartets with him. Perhaps the most remarkable fact he mentions is that after one of Beethoven's early quartets (op. 18) Romberg asked how Spohr could play 'such absurd stuff' (barockes Zeug). It is of a piece with the well-known anecdote of his tearing the copy of the first Rasoumowsky quartet from the stand and trampling on it.

The approach of the French forces in 1806 again drove Romberg on the world, and in 1807 he was travelling in South Russia, but returned to Berlin, and was Court-Capellmeister till 1817, when he retired into private life at Hamburg. In 1822 he went to Vienna, in 1825 to St. Petersburg and Moscow, and in 1839 to [1]London, and Paris, where his Method for the cello (Berlin, Trautwein, 1840) was adopted by the Conservatoire. He died at Hamburg, August 13, 1841.

The great importance of B. Romberg both as composer and executant arises from the fact that he materially extended the capabilities of the violoncello. His celebrated concertos may be said to contain implicitly a complete theory of cello playing, and there are few passages known to modern players the type of which may not be found there. Probably no better knowledge of the fingerboard could be gained than by studying these concertos. Although they are now seldom played in public, being somewhat too old-fashioned to hit the taste of modern artists and audiences, they are yet of considerable merit as compositions, and contain passages of distinct grace and charm. There is probably no means now of learning at first hand what Romberg's own playing was like. But it may be gathered from the character of his compositions, that his tone was not so full and powerful as that of artists who confined themselves more to the lower register of the instrument, and to passages of less complication. As an indication that this view agrees with that which prevailed during his lifetime, we find him for instance spoken of as follows by a correspondent of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung for 1817, who had heard him play at Amsterdam:—'The visit of B. Romberg had long been eagerly looked for. The immense reputation which preceded him, caused his first concert to be crowded to excess. He played a concerto (die Reise auf den Bernhardsberg) and a capriccio on Swedish national airs. In regard to the perfection and taste of his performance, to the complete ease and lightness of his playing, our great expectations were far exceeded but not so in respect of tone this, especially in difficult passages, we found much weaker than the powerful tone of our own Rauppe, and indeed scarcely to compare with it.' At a second concert Romberg played his well-known Military Concerto, and the same view was reiterated.

Bernhard Romberg composed cello solos of various kinds; string quartets; PF. quartets; a funeral symphony for Queen Louise of Prussia; a concerto for 2 cellos (Breitkopf & Härtel), his last work; and operas—'Die wiedergefundene Statue,' words by Gozzi von Schwick (1790), and 'Der Schiffbruch' (1791, Bonn), 'Don Mendoce,' with his cousin Andreas (Paris), 'Alma,' 'Ulysses und Circe' (July 27, 1807), and 'Rittertreue,' 3 acts (Jan. 31, 1817, Berlin). His son Karl, also a cellist, born at St. Petersburg Jan. 17, 1811, played in the court-band there from 1832 to 1842, and afterwards lived at Vienna.

Anton Romberg the younger had a brother Gerhard Heinrich, born 1748, a clarinet-player, and Musikdirector at Miinster, who lived with him for some time at Bonn, and had several children, of whom the most celebrated was Andreas, a violinist, born April 27, 1767, at Vechte, near Minister. When only seven he played in public with his cousin Bernhard, with whom he remained throughout life on terms of the closest friendship. At seventeen he excited great enthusiasm in Paris, and was engaged for the Concerts Spirituels (1784). In 1790 he joined his cousin at Bonn, played the violin in the Elector's band, and accompanied him to Italy in 1793. In Rome they gave a concert at the Capitol (Feb. 17, 1796) under the patronage of Cardinal Rezzonico. Andreas then made some stay in Vienna, where Haydn showed great interest in his first quartet. In 1797 he went to Hamburg, and in 1798 made a tour alone. In 1800 he followed Bernhard to Paris, and composed with him 'Don Mendoce, ou le Tuteur portugais.' The opera failed, and the success of their concerts was but partial, so Andreas left for Hamburg, where he married, and remained for fifteen years. He next became Court-Capellmeister at Gotha, where he died, in very greal destitution, Nov. 10, 1821. Concerts were given in various towns for the benefit of his widow and children. The university of Kiel gave him degree of Doctor of Music. He composed six symphonies, quartets, quintets, church music; a Te Deum, Psalms, a Dixit, Magnificat, and Hallelujah, in 4, 5, 8 and 16 parts; several operas—'Das graue Ungeheuer' (1790, Bonn), 'Die Macht der Musik' (1791), 'Der Rabe,' operetta (1792), 'Die Grossmuth des Scipio,' and 'Die Ruinen zu Paluzzi,'—the two last not performed. His best-known work is the music for Schiller's 'Song of the Bell,' which still keeps its place in concert programmes. His music is solid, but not original, being too closely modelled on Mozart. His larger works are well-known in England. The Lay of the Bell was, in the early days of the Choral Harmonists' Society, to be often found in its programmes, and is still occasionally heard. That, with 'The Transient and the Eternal,' 'The Harmony of the Spheres,' 'The Power of Song,' and a Te Deum (in D), are all published with English words by Novellos. His Toy-symphony is now and then played as an alternative to Haydn's, and was chosen for performance by an extraordinary company, embracing most of the great artists of London, May 14, 1880. Two sons, Cipriano and Heinrich are mentioned in the Allg. musikalische Zeitung. Andreas's brother Balthasar, born 1775, and educated for a cellist, died aged seventeen. His sister Therese, born 1781, had a considerable reputation as a pianist.

[ F. G. ]

  1. He does not seem to have played in London; but a slight trace of his presence is perhaps discoverable In an overture of his nephew's, which closes the Philharmonic programme of June 17, 1839.