A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Spohr, Louis

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SPOHR, Louis,[1] great violinist and famous composer, was born April 5, 1784, at Brunswick, in the house of his grandfather, a clergyman. Two years after, his father, a young physician, took up his residence at Seesen, and it was there that young Spohr spent his early childhood. Both parents were musical: the father played the flute; the mother was pianist and singer. The boy showed his musical talent very early, and sang duets with his mother when only four years of age. At five he began to play the violin, and when hardly six was able to take the violin-part in Kalkbrenner's trios. His first teachers were Riemenschneider and Dufour. The latter, a French émigré, was so much impressed with his pupil's exceptional talent, that he persuaded the father to send him for further instruction to Brunswick. Along with his first studies on the violin went his earliest attempts at composition, which consisted chiefly of violin duets. The father, a strict, methodical man, invariably insisted on his properly finishing everything he began to write, and would allow neither corrections nor erasures—a wholesome discipline, the advantage of which Spohr throughout his life never ceased to acknowledge.

At Brunswick he attended the grammar-school and continued his musical studies. His teachers were Kunisch, a member of the Duke's band, for the violin, and Hartung, an old organist, for counterpoint. The latter appears to have been a great pedant, and young Spohr did not continue to study under him for very long. Yet this was the only instruction in the theory of music he ever received. According to his own statement it was principally through an eager study of the scores of the great masters, especially Mozart, that he acquired mastery over the technicalities of composition. His first public appearance was at a school-concert, when he played a concerto of his own with so much success that he was asked to repeat it at one of the concerts given by the Duke's band. Kunisch then insisted on his taking lessons from Maucourt, the leader of the band, and the best violinist at Brunswick. Spohr was only fourteen when he undertook his first artistic tour. With a few letters of introduction in his pocket he set out for Hamburg. But there he failed even to get a hearing, and after some weeks had to return to Brunswick on foot, greatly disappointed, his slender means thoroughly exhausted. In his despair he conceived the idea of presenting to the Duke a petition asking for means to continue his studies. The Duke was pleased with the lad's open bearing, heard him, was struck with his talent, at once gave him an appointment in his band, and after a short time expressed his willingness to defray the expenses of his further musical education under one of the great recognised masters of the violin. Viotti and Ferdinand Eck both declined to receive a pupil, but the latter recommended his brother, Franz Eck, who was just then travelling in Germany. He was invited to Brunswick, and as the Duke was greatly pleased with his performances, an agreement was made that young Spohr should accompany him on his journeys and receive his instruction, the Duke paying one half of the travelling expenses and a salary besides. In the spring of 1802 they started, master and pupil, for Russia. They made, however, prolonged stays at Hamburg and Strelitz, and it was on these occasions that Spohr profited most from his master's tuition. Latterly this became very irregular. Spohr however derived much benefit from constantly hearing Eck, who certainly was a very excellent violinist, though but an indifferent musician. At this period Spohr, who had an herculean frame and very strong constitution, often practised for 10 hours a day. At the same time he composed industriously, and among other things wrote the first of his published violin concertos (op. 1) which is entirely in the manner of Rode, and also the violin duets op. 3. In St. Petersburg he met Clementi and Field, of whom he tells some curious traits; and after having passed the winter there without playing in public, returned to Brunswick in the summer of 1803. There he found Rode, and heard him for the first time. The playing of this great master filled him with the deepest admiration, and for some time it was his chief aim to imitate his style and manner as closely as possible. After having given in a public concert highly satisfactory proof of the progress made during his absence, he again entered on his duties in the Duke's band. An intended journey to Paris in 1804 was cruelly cut short by the loss of his precious Guarnerius violin, the present of a Russian enthusiast. Just before entering the gates of Göttingen the portmanteau containing the violin was stolen from the coach, and all endeavours to recover it proved fruitless. He returned to Brunswick, and after having acquired, with the help of his generous patron, the Duke, another, though not equally good violin, he started for a tour to Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, and other German towns. His success was everywhere great, and his reputation spread rapidly. At his Berlin concert he was assisted by Meyerbeer, then only a boy of 13, but already a brilliant pianist.

In 1805 Spohr accepted the post of leader in the band of the Duke of Gotha. It was there he met and married his first wife, Dorette Scheidler, an excellent harp-player, who for many years appeared with him in all his concerts, and for whom he wrote a number of sonatas for violin and harp, as well as some solo-pieces. Having at his disposal a very fair band, Spohr now began to write orchestral works and vocal compositions of larger dimensions. His first opera, 'Die Prüfung,' which belongs to this period, was performed at a concert. In 1807 he made a very successful tour with his wife through Germany, visiting Leipzig, Dresden, Prague, Munich, Stuttgardt (where he met Weber), Heidelberg, and Frankfort. In 1808 he wrote his second opera, 'Alruna,' but this again never reached the stage, although accepted for representation at Weimar and apparently gaining the approval of Goethe, at that time manager of the Weimar theatre, who was present at a trial-rehearsal of the work. In the course of this year Napoleon held the famous congress of princes at Erfurt. Spohr, naturally anxious to see the assembled princes, went to Erfurt, where a French troupe, comprising Talma and Mars, performed every evening to a pit of monarchs. But on arrival he heard to his great disappointment that it was impossible for any but the privileged few to gain admittance to the theatre. In this dilemma he hit on a happy expedient. He persuaded the second horn-player of the band to allow him to take his place, but as he had never before touched a horn, he had to practise for the whole day in order to produce the natural notes of the instrument. When the evening came, though his lips were black and swollen, he was able to get through the very easy overture and entr'actes. Napoleon and his guests occupied the first row of stalls; but the musicians had strict orders to turn their backs to the audience, and not to look round. To evade this fatal regulation Spohr took with him a pocket looking-glass, and by placing it on his desk got a good view of the famous personages assembled.

In 1809 he made another tour through the north of Germany, and at Hamburg received a commission for an opera, 'Der Zweikampf mit der Geliebten'—or 'The Lovers' Duel'—which was produced with great success the year after. At this time he had already written six of his violin-concertos, and as a player had hardly a rival in Germany. The year 1809 is memorable for the first Music Festival in Germany, which was celebrated under Spohr's direction at Frankenhausen, a small town in Thuringia. It was followed by another, in 1811, for which Spohr composed his first symphony, in E♭. In 1812 he wrote his first oratorio, 'Das jüngste Gericht' (not to be confounded with 'Die letzten Dinge,' so well known in England as 'The Last Judgment), on the invitation of the French Governor of Erfurt, for the 'Fête Napoléon' on Aug. 15. He naively relates[2] that in the composition of this work he soon felt his want of practice in counterpoint and fugue-writing; he therefore obtained Marpurg's treatise on the subject, studied it assiduously, wrote half a dozen fugues after the models given therein, and then appears to have been quite satisfied with his proficiency! The oratorio was fairly successful, but after two more performances of it at Vienna in the following year, the composer became dissatisfied, and laid it aside for ever. In autumn 1812 he made his first appearance at Vienna, and achieved as performer a brilliant, as composer an honourable success. The post of leader of the band at the newly established Theatre an-der-Wien being offered to him under brilliant conditions, he gave up his appointment at Gotha and settled at Vienna. During the next summer he composed his opera 'Faust,' one of his best works, and soon afterwards, in celebration of the battle of Leipsic, a great patriotic cantata. But neither of these works was performed until after he had left Vienna. During his stay there Spohr naturally came into contact with Beethoven; but in spite of his admiration for the master's earlier compositions, especially for the quartets, op. 18, which he was one of the first to perform at a time when they were hardly known outside Vienna (indeed he was the very first to play them at Leipsic and Berlin)—yet he was quite unable to understand and appreciate the great composer's character and works, as they appeared even in his second period. His criticism of the C minor and Choral Symphonies has gained for Spohr, as a critic, an unenviable reputation. He disapproves of the first subject of the C minor as unsuited for the opening movement of a symphony; considers the slow movement, granting the beauty of the melody, too much spun out and tedious—and though praising the Scherzo, actually speaks of 'the unmeaning noise of the Finale.' The Choral Symphony fares still worse: he holds the first three movements, though not without flashes of genius, to be inferior to all the movements of the previous eight symphonies, and the Finale he calls 'so monstrous and tasteless, and in its conception of Schiller's Ode so trivial, that he cannot understand how a genius like Beethoven could ever write it down.' After this we cannot wonder that he finishes up by saying: 'Beethoven was wanting in æsthetic culture and sense of beauty.'[3] But perhaps no great artist was ever so utterly wrapped up in himself as Spohr. What he could not measure by the standard of his own peculiar talent, to him was not measurable. Hence his complete absence of critical power, a quality which in many other cases has proved to be by no means inseparable from creative talent.

Although his stay at Vienna was on the whole very successful, and did much to raise his reputation, he left it in 1815, after having quitted his appointment on account of disagreements with the manager of the theatre. He passed the summer at the country seat of Prince Carolath in Bohemia, and then went to conduct another festival at Frankenhausen, where he brought out his Cantata 'Das befreite Deutschland,' after which he set out for a tour through the west and south of Germany, Alsace, Switzerland and Italy. On his road, with the special view of pleasing the Italian public, he wrote the 8th Concerto—the well-known 'Scena Cantante.' He visited all the principal towns of the Peninsula, played the concerto in Rome and Milan, and made acquaintance with Rossini and his music, without, as will be readily believed, approving much of the latter.

Returned to Germany, in 1817 he visited Holland, and then accepted the post of conductor of the opera at Frankfort-on-the-Main. Here, in 1818, his opera 'Faust' was first produced. It was quickly succeeded by 'Zemire and Azor,' which, though hardly equal to 'Faust,' gained at the time even greater popularity. Owing again to differences with the manager he left Frankfort, after a stay of scarcely two years. In 1820 he accepted an invitation from the Philharmonic Society in London, and paid his first visit to England. He appeared at the opening concert of the season (March 6), and played with great success his Concerto No. 8, 'Nello Stilo drammatico.' At the second concert he led his Solo Quartet in E. At the next he would naturally have been at the head of the violins to lead the band, while Ries, according to the then prevailing fashion, presided at the piano. But, after having overcome the opposition of some of the directors, Spohr succeeded in introducing the conductor's stick for the first time into a Philharmonic concert. It was on this occasion that he conducted his MS. Symphony in D minor, a fine work, which he had composed during his stay in London, and which fully deserved the enthusiastic reception it received by the public and the press, though now too seldom heard.[4] At the last concert of the season another Symphony of his was played for the first time in England, as well as his Nonetto for strings and wind (op. 31). Spohr was delighted with the excellent performance of the Philharmonic Orchestra, especially the stringed instruments. He tells us that, finding how good the strings were, he had given them special opportunities for display in the D minor Symphony, and also that he had never since heard the work so splendidly performed.[5] Altogether his sojourn in London was both artistically and financially a great success. At his farewell concert, his wife made her last appearance as a harp-player, and was warmly applauded. Soon after she was obliged, on account of ill-health, to give up the harp. In its place she took up pianoforte-playing, and would occasionally play in concerts with her husband, who wrote a number of pianoforte and violin duets especially for her. She died in 1834.

On his journey home, Spohr visited Paris for the first time. Here he made the personal acquaintance of Kreutzer, Viotti, Habeneck, Cherubini, and other eminent musicians, and was received by them with great cordiality and esteem. His success at a concert which he gave at the Opera was complete, although his quiet, unpretentious style was not and could not be as much to the taste of the French as it was to that of the German and English public. Cherubini appears to have felt a special interest in Spohr's compositions, and the latter takes special pride in relating how the great Italian made him play a quartet of his three times over. Returned to Germany, Spohr settled at Dresden, where Weber was just then engaged in bringing out his 'Freischütz.' This opera had already roused an unprecedented enthusiasm in Berlin and Vienna. But Spohr was no more able to appreciate the genius of Weber, than that of Beethoven. It is an interesting fact, that shortly before this, without knowing of Weber's opera, he had had the intention of setting a libretto founded on the identical story of Freischütz. As soon however as he heard that Weber treated the subject, he gave it up. During Spohr's stay at Dresden, Weber received an offer of the post of Hofkapellmeister to the Elector of Hessen-Cassel; but being unwilling to leave Dresden, he declined, at the same time strongly recommending Spohr, who soon after was offered the appointment for life under the most favourable conditions. On New-year's day, 1822, he entered on his duties at Cassel, where he remained for the rest of his life. He had no difficulty in gaining at once the respect and obedience of band and singers, and soon succeeded in procuring a more than local reputation for their performances. Meanwhile he had finished his 'Jessonda,' which soon made the round of all the opera-houses in Germany, with great and well-deserved success. It must be regarded as the culminating point of Spohr's activity as a composer. At Leipzig and Berlin, where he himself conducted the first performances, it was received with an enthusiasm little inferior to that roused a few years before by the 'Freischütz.' In the winter of 1824 he passed some time in Berlin, and renewed and cemented the friendship with Felix Mendelssohn and the members of his family, which had been begun when they visited him at Cassel in 1822. In 1826 he conducted the Rhenish Festival at Düsseldorf, when his oratorio 'The Last Judgment' (Die letzten Dinge) was performed for the first time. It pleased so much that it was repeated a few days later in aid of the Greek Insurgents. His next great work was the opera 'Pietro von Albano,' which however, like his next operas, 'Der Berggeist' and 'Der Alchymist,' had but a temporary success. In 1831 he finished his great Violin-School, which has ever since its publication maintained the place of a standard work, and which contains, both in text and exercises, a vast amount of extremely interesting and useful material. At the same time, it cannot be denied that it reflects somewhat exclusively Spohr's peculiar style of playing, and is therefore of especial value for the study of his own violin-compositions. It is also true that its elementary part is of less practical value from the fact that the author himself had never taught beginners, and so had no personal experience in that respect.

The political disturbances of 1832 caused a prolonged interruption of the opera-performances at Cassel. Spohr, incensed by the petty despotism of the Elector, proved himself at this time, and still more during the revolutionary period of 1848 and 1849, a strong Radical, incurring thereby his employer's displeasure, and causing him innumerable annoyances. However he made good use of the interruption to his official duties, by writing his great Symphony 'Die Weihe der Töne' (The Consecration of Sound, no. 4, op. 86), which was produced at Cassel in 1832. During the next year, which was saddened by the death of his wife, he composed the oratorio 'Des Holland's letzte Stunden' (Calvary), on a libretto which Rochlitz had offered to Mendelssohn, but which the latter, being then engaged on 'St. Paul,' had declined. Spohr's oratorio was first performed at Cassel on Good Friday, 1835. In 1839 he paid his second visit to England, where meanwhile his music had attained great popularity. He had received an invitation to produce his 'Calvary' at the Norwich Festival, and in spite of the opposition offered to the work by some of the clergy on account of its libretto, his reception appears to have surpassed in enthusiasm anything he had before experienced. It was a real success, and Spohr for the rest of his life refers to it as the greatest of his triumphs. Soon after his return to Cassel he received from Professor Edward Taylor the libretto of another oratorio, 'The Fall of Babylon,' with a request that he would compose it for the Norwich Festival of 1842. In 1840 he conducted the Festival at Aix-la-Chapelle. Two years later he brought out at Cassel Wagner's 'Der Fliegende Hollander.' That Spohr, who in the case of Beethoven and Weber, exhibited such inability to appreciate novelty—and who at bottom was a conservative of conservatives in music—should have been the very first musician of eminence to interest himself in Wagner's talent is a curious fact not easily explained. To some extent his predilection for experiments in music—such as he showed in his 'Weihe der Töne,' his Symphony for two orchestras, the Historic Symphony, the Quartet-Concertante and some other things—may account for it; while his long familiarity with the stage had doubtless sharpened his perception for dramatic effect, and thus enabled him to recognise Wagner's eminently dramatic genius. But there was in Spohr, both as man and as artist, a curious mixture of the ultra-Conservative, nay almost Philistine element, and of the Radical spirit.

To the great disappointment of himself and his English friends, he was unable to conduct the 'Fall of Babylon' at Norwich, since the Elector refused tho necessary leave of absence. Even a monster petition from his English admirers and a special request from Lord Aberdeen, then at the head of the Government, to the Elector, had not the desired result. His Serene Highness at least felt safe from naval reprisals. The oratorio however was performed with the greatest success, and Spohr had to be satisfied with the reports of his triumph, which poured in from many quarters. On the first day of his summer vacation, he started for England, and soon after his arrival in London conducted a performance of the new oratorio at the Hanover Square Rooms. On this and other occasions his reception here was of the most enthusiastic kind. The oratorio was repeated on a large scale by the Sacred Harmonic Society in Exeter Hall. The last Philharmonic Concert of the season (July 3) was almost entirely devoted to Spohr, having in its programme a symphony, an overture, a violin-concerto, and a vocal duet of his. By special request of the Queen and Prince Albert an extra concert with his co-operation was given on July 10, in which also he was well represented. A most enjoyable tour through the South and West of England, and Wales, brought this visit of Spohr's to a happy end.

The year 1844 was marked by the composition of his last opera, 'Die Kreuzfahrer' (The Crusaders), for which he had himself arranged the libretto from a play of Kotzebue. It was performed at Cassel and Berlin, but had no lasting success. During his vacations he made a journey to Paris, and witnessed at the Odéon the 32nd performance of Mendelssohn's 'Antigone.' The members of the Conservatoire orchestra arranged in his honour a special performance of his 'Consecration of Sound.' In the same year he conducted the 'Missa Solemnis,' and the Choral Symphony at the great Beethoven Festival at Bonn. The year 1847 saw him again in London, where the Sacred Harmonic Society announced a series of three concerts for the production of his principal sacred compositions: 'The Fall of Babylon,' 'Calvary,' 'The Last Judgment,' 'The Lord's Prayer,' and Milton's 84th Psalm. However, on grounds similar to those which had roused so much opposition at Norwich, Calvary was omitted from the scheme, and 'The Fall of Babylon' repeated in its place.

On his return to Cassel, Spohr seems to have been quite absorbed by the great political events then going on in Germany. In the summer of 1848 he spent his vacations at Frankfort, where the newly created German Parliament was sitting, and was never tired of listening to the debates of that short-lived political assembly. In 1849 he composed a fresh symphony, 'The Seasons'—his ninth. With 1850 a long chain of annoyances began. When his usual summer vacation time arrived, the Elector, probably intending to show displeasure at his political opinions, refused to sign the leave of absence—a mere formality, as his right to claim the vacation was fixed by contract. After several fruitless attempts to obtain the signature, Spohr, having made all his arrangements for a long journey, left Cassel without leave. This step involved him in a law-suit with the administration of the theatre, which lasted for four years, and which he finally lost on technical grounds.

For the London season of 1852 Spohr had received an invitation from the new Opera at Covent Garden to adapt his 'Faust' to the Italian stage. He accordingly composed recitatives in place of the spoken dialogue, and made some further additions and alterations. It was produced with great success under his own direction on July 15, the principal parts being sustained by Castellan, Ronconi, Formes, and Tamberlik. In 1853, after many fruitless attempts, which were regularly frustrated by the Elector, he at last succeeded in bringing out Wagner's 'Tannhäuser' at Cassel. In reference to it he says in his Autobiography, 'this opera contains a great deal that is new and beautiful, but also some things which are ugly and excruciating to the ear,' and speaking of the 2nd finale he says: 'in this finale now and then a truly frightful music is produced.' That he considered Wagner by far the greatest of all living dramatic composers he declared as soon as he became acquainted with The Flying Dutchman. From Tannhäuser he would have proceeded to Lohengrin, but owing to the usual opposition of the court, all his endeavours to bring it out were frustrated. In the same year he came for the sixth and last time to England, to fulfil an engagement at the New Philharmonic Concerts. At three of these he conducted not only many of his own works—especially the Symphony for two orchestras—but also the Choral Symphony. At the same time Jessonda was in preparation at Covent Garden. But as it could not be produced before the close of his vacation, Spohr was unable to conduct it himself.

From this time his powers began to decline. He still went on composing, but declared himself dissatisfied with the results. In 1857 he was pensioned off, very much against his wish, and in the winter of the same year had the misfortune to break his arm, which compelled him to give up violin-playing. Once more, in 1858, at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Prague Conservatorium, he conducted his Jessonda with wonderful energy. It was his last public appearance. He died quietly on Oct. 22, 1859, at Cassel, and thus closed the long life of a man and an artist who had to the full developed the great talents and powers given to him; who throughout a long career had lived up to the ideal he had conceived in youth; in whom private character and artistic activity corresponded to a rare degree, even in their foibles and deficiencies. That these last were not small cannot be denied. His utter want of critical power, in reference both to himself and to others, is fully exposed in his interesting Autobiography,[6] which however bears the strongest possible testimony to his rare manly straightforwardness and sincerity in word and deed, and to the childlike purity of mind which he preserved from early youth to latest age. Difficult as it is to understand his famous criticisms on Beethoven and his interest for Wagner, their sincerity cannot be doubted for a moment. According to his lights he ever stood up for the dignity of his art, with the same unflinching independence of character with which he claimed, not without personal risk, the rights of a free citizen. He was born with an individuality so peculiar and so strong as to allow hardly any influence to outer elements. It is true that he called himself a disciple of Mozart. But the universality of Mozart's talent was the very reverse of Spohr's exclusive individualism; and except in their great regard for 'form,' and in a certam similarity of melodic structure, the two masters have hardly anything in common. Spohr certainly was a born musician, second only to the very greatest masters in true musical instinct; in power of concentration and of work hardly inferior to any. But the range of his talent was not wide: he never seems to have been able to step out of a given circle of ideas and sentiments, and when he tried to enlarge his sphere, it was only to get hold of the outer shell of things, which he at once proceeded to fill with the old familiar substance. He never left the circle of his individuality, but drew everything within it. At the same time it must be confessed that he left much outside of that circle, and his ignorance of the achievements of others was often astounding. This is illustrated by a well-authenticated story. A pupil of his left him, and went for some time to Leipzig to study the piano and other branches of music. On his return to Cassel he called on Spohr, and was asked to play to him. The pupil played Beethoven's Sonata in E minor op. 90. Spohr was much struck, and when the piece was finished made the singular enquiry, 'Have you composed much more in that style, Herr ——?'

He was fond of experiments in composition—such as new combinations of instruments (to wit the Double Quartets, the Symphony for two orchestras, the Quartet-Concerto, and others), or adoption of programmes ('Consecration of Sound'; Concertino, 'Past and Present,' etc.), and thus showed his eagerness to strike out new paths. But after all, what do we find under these new dresses and fresh-invented titles but the same dear old Spohr, incapable of putting on a really new face, even for a few bars? 'Napoleon,' says Robert [7]Schumann (à propos to Spohr's Historical Symphony), 'once went to a masked ball, but before he had been in the room a few minutes folded his arms in his well-known attitude. "The Emperor! the Emperor!" at once ran through the place. Just so, through the disguises of the Symphony, one kept hearing "Spohr, Spohr" in every corner of the room.' Hence there is considerable sameness—nay, monotony, in his works. Be it oratorio or concerto, opera or string-quartet—he treats them all very much in the same manner, and it is not so much the distinctive styles peculiar to these several forms of music that we find, as Spohr's peculiar individuality impressed upon all of them. He certainly was not devoid of originality—in fact his style and manner are so entirely his own that no composer is perhaps so absolutely unmistakeable as he is. That an originality so strong and so inalienable, unless supported by creative power of the very first order and controlled by self-criticism, would easily lead to mannerism is obvious; and a mannerist he must be called.

Certain melodious phrases and cadences, chromatic progressions and enharmonic modulations, in themselves beautiful enough, and most effective. occur over and over again, until they appear to partake more of the nature of mechanical contrivances than to be the natural emanations of a living musical organism. His powers of invention are by no means weak, and many of his melodies have not only an indescribable charm of sweet and tender melancholy, but are of truly surpassing beauty. Modern critics are in the habit of charging him with a want of force and manliness, but it is difficult to see how such a charge can be maintained in the face of many of his best works, even if it be true in regard to the less important ones. Surely there is no want of manly vigour, or noble pathos, in such pieces as the first Allegro of the 9th Concerto, the Introduction to 'Jessonda,' some of his symphony-movements, and many others that might be named! Such criticism, however frequent now-a-days, is probably only the natural reaction from an unbounded and indiscriminating enthusiasm, which, in England at one time, used to place Spohr on the same level with Handel and Beethoven. These temporary fluctuations will, however, sooner or later subside, and then his true position as a great master, second in rank only to the very giants of art, will be again established.

The technical workmanship in his compositions is admirable, the thematic treatment his strong point; but it would appear that this was the result rather of a happy musical organisation than of deep study. He cannot be reckoned amongst the great masters of counterpoint, and the fugues in his oratorios, though they run smoothly enough and are in a sense effective, can hardly be called highly interesting from a musical point of view.

Symmetry of form is one of the chief characteristics of his works; but this love of symmetry grew eventually into a somewhat pedantic formalism. A cadence without its preceding 'passage and shake' he is reported to have held in abhorrence. His instrumentation shows the master hand throughout, although his predilection for extreme keys presents much difficulty to the wind-instruments, and sometimes, especially in his operas, the orchestra is wanting in perspicuity, and not free from monotony.

To his violin-concertos—and among them especially to the 7th, 8th, and 9th—must be assigned the first place among his works. They are only surpassed by those of Beethoven and Mendelssohn, and are probably destined to live longer than any other of his works. They are distinguished as much by noble and elevated ideas as by masterly thematic treatment; while the supreme fitness of every note in the solo-part to the nature of the violin, need hardly be mentioned. They are not likely to disappear soon from the repertoires of the best violinists.

His duets and concertantes for two violins, and for violin and viola, are of their kind unsurpassed. By the frequent employment of double stops great sonority is produced, and, if well played, the effect is charming.

The mass of his chamber-music, a great number of quartets, quintets, double quartets, trios, etc., is now-a-days but rarely heard in public. Though still favourites with amateurs of the older generation, they are, with few exceptions, all but unknown to the musicians of the present day. The reason for this must be found in the fact that a severer standard of criticism is applied to chamber-music in general, and especially to the stringed quartet, than to any other form of musical composition, not even excepting the symphony. In orchestral music effects of sound and tone-colouring—distinct from pure musical ideas—play an undeniable and important part; but in the stringed quartet, the means of representation are so limited, and the perspicuity is such, that anything not absolutely essential to the musical thought—anything in the way of mere effect or 'padding'—cannot be introduced without at once betraying superfluity and weakness of construction. The stringed quartet may well be compared to an outline-drawing in which every line must tell, and in which no colouring or effects of light and shade can atone for weakness of design or execution. Hence none but the very greatest masters have succeeded in producing lasting works of this class. Spohr as a composer of quartets was rarely able to shake off the great violin-virtuoso. Some of the quartets—the so-called Quatuors brillants or Solo Quartets—are avowedly violin-concertos accompanied by violin, viola and violoncello, and appear to have been written to supply a momentary want. And even those which claim to be quartets in the proper sense of the term, almost invariably give to the first violin an undue prominence, incompatible with the true quartet-style. The quick movements especially are full of showy and florid passages for the leading instrument; and the finales are not unfrequently written in a somewhat antiquated rondo-style (à la Polacca). On the other hand, many of the slow movements are of great beauty; and altogether, in spite of undeniable drawbacks, his quartets contain so much fine and noble music as certainly not to deserve the utter neglect they have fallen into.

Among them, that in G minor (op. 27), dedicated to Count Rasoumoffsky; the three quartets in E♭, C, and F (op. 29), dedicated to Andreas Romberg, and the earlier double quartets, are perhaps the finest. They belong to a period when Spohr's powers as a composer were fully developed, and the mannerism of his later years not yet so conspicuous.

Of his symphonies, the 2nd, in D minor, the 3rd, in C minor (with the famous unison passage in the slow movement), and especially the 4th, 'The Consecration of Sound' are still occasionally heard at concerts. They are truly original and beautiful works, and too well known to require further comment.

His operas and oratorios have already been discussed under those headings in this Dictionary. They rank high among Spohr's compositions: in some parts showing true greatness of conception, breadth of sentiment, and even remarkable power of characterisation. We will only mention the grand Introduction to 'Jessonda' and the Witches scene in Faust. Some of the airs and duets in these and others of his operas are perfect gems of melody and gracefulness. His oratorios, still enjoying a certain popularity in England, are but rarely heard in other countries. They contain no doubt much beautiful music, and occasionally rise even to grandeur and sublimity. Yet one cannot help feeling a certain incongruity between the character of the words and their musical treatment—between the stern solemnity of such subjects as 'Calvary' or 'the Last Judgment' and the quiet charm and sweetness of Spohr's music, which even in its most powerful and passionate moments lacks the all-conquering force here demanded.

Of his many songs a few only have attained great popularity, such as 'The Maiden and the Bird,' and some more.—A characteristic specimen of his peculiar way of writing for pianoforte, and at the same time of his extreme mannerism, is given in the PF. solo sonata, op. 125, dedicated to Mendelssohn.

As an executant Spohr counts amongst the greatest of all times. Through Franz Eck he received the solid principles of the Mannheim School, and Rode's example appears afterwards to have had some influence on his style. He was however too original to remain fettered by any school, still less under the influence of a definite model. He very soon formed a style of his own, which again—like his style as a composer—was a complete reflex of his peculiar individuality. It has often been remarked that he treated the violin pre-eminently as a singing instrument, and we can readily believe that the composer of the Scena Cantante and of the slow movements in the 9th and other Concertos, played with a breadth and beauty of tone and a delicacy and refinement of expression almost unequalled. A hand of exceptional size and strength enabled him to execute with great facility the most difficult double-stops and stretches. His manner of bowing did not materially differ from that of the old French School (Viotti, Rode). Even in quick passages he preserved a broad full tone. His staccato was most brilliant and effective, moderately quick, every note firmly marked by a movement of the wrist.[8] The lighter and freer style of bowing, that came in with Paganini, and has been adopted more or less by all modern players, was not to his taste. He appears to have had a special dislike to the use of the 'springing bow,' and it is a characteristic fact that, when he first brought out Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream Overture at Cassel, he insisted on the violins playing the quick passage at the opening with firm strokes.

If Spohr's compositions for the violin do not present abnormal difficulties to the virtuoso of the present day—such was not the case at the time when they were written. They were then considered the ne plus ultra of difficulty. We must also remember that he was too great an artist and musician to care for display of executive skill for its own sake, and that in consequence the difficulties contained in his works do not by any means represent the limit of his powers as an executant. He had a large number of pupils, the best known of whom are St. Lubin, Pott, Ferd. David, Kompel, Blagrove, Bott, Bargheer. Henry Holmes belongs to his school, but was never his pupil. Spohr was considered one of the best conductors of his time. An unerring ear, imperturbable rhythmical feeling, energy and fire, were combined with an imposing personal appearance and great dignity of bearing.

As a man he was universally respected, although, owing to a certain reserve in his character and a decided aversion to talking, he has not rarely been reproached with coldness and brusqueness of manner. At the same time he gained and kept through a long life certain intimate friendships—with Hauptmann[9] and others—and in many instances showed great kindness, and extended not a little courtesy, to brother artists. That this was not incompatible with an extraordinary sense of his own value and importance is evident in every page of his Autobiography, a most amusing work, deserving a better translation than it has yet found.[10]

His works, of which a catalogue is given below, comprise 9 great Symphonies; a large number of Overtures; 17 Violin-Concertos and Concertinos; many other Concert pieces (Potpourris, Variations, etc.) for the violin, for violin and harp; 15 Violin-Duets; Duets for violin and PF.; 4 Concertos and other pieces for clarinet; 33 String Quartets; 8 Quintets; 4 Double Quartets; 5 PF. Trios; 2 Sextets; an Octet; and a Nonet; 4 great Oratorios; a Mass; several Psalms and Cantatas; 10 Operas; a great many Songs, Part-Songs and other vocal pieces—over 200 works in all.

Catalogue of Spohr's printed Works.

Founded on the Catalogue edited by H. M. Schletterer (B. & H., 1881).[11]

Op. 1. Concerto for Violin (no. 1, A min.). B. & H.
 2. Concerto for V. (no. 2. D min.). Peters.
 3. 3 Duos Concertants for 2 V. Peters.
 4. 2 String Quartets (C, G). Peters.
 5. First Potpourri on Air of Dalayrac for V. with acc. of 2nd V., Viola, and Bass. Peters.
 6. Variations (no. 1. D) for V. solo. 2nd V., Viola, and Bass. Peters.
 7. Concerto for V. (no. 3, C min.). Peters.
 8. Variations (no. 2, A min.) for V. solo, 2nd V., Viola, and Bass. Peters.
 9. 2 Duos Concertants for 2 V. (nos. 4, 5). Peters.
10. Concerto for V. (no. 4, B min.). Simrock.
11. Quatuor Brillant for 2 V., Viola, and Cello (no. 3, D min.). Simrock.
12. Overture (no. 1, C min.). Simrock.
13. Grand Duo for V. and Viola (no. 6). Peters.
14. [12]
15. 3 String Quartets (nos. 4, 5; C, A). Peters.
15a. Overture (no. 2, D), 'Die Prüfung.' Simrock.
16. Grande Sonate for PF. (or Harp) and V. (B). Simrock.
17. Concerto for V. (no. 5. E♭). Nägeli.
18. [12]
19. [12]
20. First Symphony (B♭). Peters.
21. Overture (no. 3, E♭), 'Alruna.' Hofmeister.
22. Potpourri on themes of Mozart (no. 2, B♭) for V. with ace. of 2nd V., Viola, and Bass. André.
Op. 23. Potpourri on themes of Mozart (no. 3, G) for V. with acc. of Quartet, Flute, Oboe Clarinet, 2 Bassoons, and 2 Horns. André.
24. Potpourri on Themes of Mozart (no. 4, B) for V. with acc. of 2nd V., Viola, and Bass. André.
25. 6 German Songs. Mecchetti.
26. Concerto for Clarinet (no. 1 C min.). Peters.
27. Quartet for 2 V., Viola, and Violone. (no. 6, G min.) Mecchetti.
28. Concerto for V.(no. 6, G min.) Haslinger.
29. 3 String Quartets (nos. 7, 8, 9 E♭, C min., F min.). Haslinger. 30. String Quartet (no. 10, A). Haslinger.
31. Grand Nonetto (F maj.) for V., Viola, Cello, Bass, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Horn. Haslinger.
32. Octet (E maj.) for V., 2 Violas, Cello, Clarinet, 2 Horns, and Bass. Haslinger.
33. 2 Quintets for 2 V., 2 Violas and Cello (no. 1, E♭; no. 2, G). Haslinger.
34. Notturno (in C) for wind instruments and Turkish band. Peters.
35. Fantasia for Harp (A♭). Simrock.
36. Variations for Harp (F). Simrock.
37. 6 German Songs (2nd book of Songs). Peters.
38. Concerto for V. (no. 7, E min.). Peters.
39. 8 Duets for V. (nos. 7, 8. 9; Dmin., E♭, E). Peters.
40. Grande Polonaise (A min.) for V. with Orch. Peters.
41. 6 German Songs (3rd book of Songs). Peters.
42. Potpourri. Arrangement for V. and PF. of op. 24. Peters.
43. Quatuor Brillant for stringed instr. (no. 11, E). Peters.
44. 6 4-part Songs for male voices. Peters.
45. 3 String Quartets (nos. 12, 13, 14; C., E m., F. m.). Peters.
46. Introduction and Rondo (E) for PF. and V. Mecchetti.
47. Concerto for V. no. 8, A min. 'In modo d'una Scena cantante.'
48. First Concertante for 2 V. and Orch. (A min.). Peters.
49. Second Symphony (D min.) Ded. to Philarmonic Society. Peters.
50. Potpourri (F♯ min.) for V. and PF. on Airs from 'Die Zauberflöte.' Peters.
51. Grand Rondo for V. and PF. concertants. Peters.
52. Quintet for PF., Flute, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon (C min.). Peters.
53. Arrangement of op. 52 for PF. and stringed instr. Peters.
54. Mass for 5 Solo Voices and 2 5-part Choirs. Peters.
55. Concerto for V. (no. 9, D min.). André. 56. Potpourri for V. and PF. on Airs from 'The Interrupted Sacrifice.' Peters.
57. Concerto for Clarinet (no. 2, E♭). Peters.
58. 3 String Quartets (nos. 16, 17 18; E♭, A min., G). Peters.
59. Potpourri (A min.) on Irish Airs for V. and Orch. London.
60. Faust, Opera. Peters.
61. Quatuor Brillant for stringed instr. (no. 15, B min.). Peters.
62. Concerto for V.(no. 10, A min.). Peters.
63. 'Jessonda,' Opera. Peters.
64. Potpourri (A♭) on Airs from 'Jessonda,' for V. and Cello with Orch. Peters.
66. Double String Quartet (no. 1, D min.). Peters.
66. Potpourri (A min.) on Airs from 'Jessonda,' for V. and Orch. Peters.
67. 3 Duos Concertants for 2 V (nos. 10, 11, 12; A min., D, G min.). Peters.
68. Quatuor Brillant (no. 19, A). Peters.
69. Quintet for stringed instr, (no. 3, B min.). Peters.
70. Concerto for V. (no. 11, G). Peters.
71. Scena and Aria for Soprano. Peters.
72. 6 German Songs (Book 4 of Songs). Peters.
73. 'Der Berggeist.' Opera. Peters.
74. 3 String Quartets (nos. 20, 21, 22; A min., B♭, D min.). Peters.
75. Overture, 'Macbeth' (B min.). Peters.
76. 'Pietro von Albano,' Opera. Schlesinger.
77. Double Quartet for stringed instr. (no. 2, E♭). Schlesinger.
78. Third Symphony (C min.). Schlesinger.
79. Concertino for V. (A min.). Schlesinger.
80. Potpourri for Clarinet (F).
81. Fantasia and Variations for Clarinet (B♭). Schlesinger.
82. 3 String Quartets (nos. 23, 24. 25; E, G, A min.). Schlesinger.
83. Quatuor Brillant for stringed instr. (no. 26, E♭). Schlesinger.
84. 3 String Quartets (nos. 27. 28, 29; D min., A♭, B min.). André.
85. 3 Psalms for Double Choir and Solo Voices. Simrock.
86. Fourth Symphony, 'The Consecration of Sound.' Haslinger.
87. Double Quartet for stringed instr. (no. 3, E min.). Simrock.
88. Second Concertante for 2 V. with Orch. Simrock.
89. 'Erinnerung an Marienbad,' Valses for Orch. (A min.). Haslinger.
90. 6 4-part Songs for Male Voices. Hamburg, Niemeyer.
91. Quintet for stringed instr. (no. 4, G min.). Simrock.
92. Concertino for V. (no. 2, E maj.). B. & H.
93. Quatuor Brillant for stringed instr. (no. 30, A min.). Haslinger.
94. 6 Songs for Contralto or Baryton (Book 5 of Songs). Simrock.
95. Duo Concertant for PF. and V. (G min.). B. & H.
96. Duo Concertant for PF. and V. (F). Simrock.
97. Hymn, 'St. Caecilia.' Chorus, Soprano Solo. Luckhardt.
97a. Psalm 24, for Chorus, Solo Voices, and PF. Unpublished. [App. p.796 "add that op. 97a, 'Psalm 24,' has been published by Messrs. Novello & Co., in 'The Bach Choir Magazine.'"]
98. Hymne. 'Gott du bist gross' (God, thou art great), for Chorus. Solo Voices, and Orch. Simrock.
99. Fantasia on Ranpach's 'Die Tochter der Luff in form of a Concert-Overture for Orch. (see op. 102).
100. [12]
101. 6 German Songs (Book 6 of Songs). B. & H.
102. Fifth Symphony (C min.). Fantasia op. 99 used as first movement. Haslinger.
103. 6 German Songs with acct. of PF. and Clarinet (Book 7 of Songs). B. & H.
104. 'Vater unser' (words by Klopstock). B. & H.
105. 6 Songs (Book 8 of Songs). Berlin, Gallier.
106. Quintet for stringed instr. (no. 5, G min.). Leipzig, Heinze.
107. 3 Duets for Soprano and Tenor with PF. Simrock.
108. 3 Duets for 2 Sopranos. Simrock.
109. [12]
110. Concertino for V., 'Sonst and Jetzt' (no. 3, A min.). Mecchetti.
111. Rondo alla Spagnuola (C) for PF. and V. Mecchetti.
112. Duo Concertant for PF. and V. (no. 3, E). Dresden, Paul.
113. Sonate Concertante for Harp and V. (E♭). Schuberth.
114. Do. (E♭). Schuberth.
115. Do. (A♭). Schuberth.
116. Historical Symphony (no. 6, G). Dedicated to the Philharmonic Soc., London. Mecchetti.
117. Fantasia for PF. and V. on Airs from 'Der Alchymist.' Mecchetti.
118. Fantasia for PF. (or Harp) and V. on Airs of Handel and Abt Vogler. Schuberth.
119. Trio Concertant (E min.) for PF., V., and Cello. Schuberth.
120. 6 4-part Songs for mixed Voices. Cassel, Appel.
121. Double Symphony, 'Irdisches und Göttliches im Menschenleben,' for Double Orch. Schuberth.
122. Psalm 128. Chorus and Solo Voices with Organ or PF. Simrock.
123. Trio Concertant for PF., V., and Cello (no. 2, F maj.). Schuberth.
124. Trio Concertant for PF., V., and Cello (no. 3, A min.). Schuberth.
125. Sonata (A♭) for PF. Dedicated to Mendelssohn. Mecchetti.
126. Concert-Overture, 'Im ernsten Styl' (D). Leipzig, Siegel.
127. 'Elegisch u. humoristisch,' 6 Duettinos for PF. and V. Schuberth.
128. Concerto for V. (no. 15, E min.). Schuberth.
129. Quintet for stringed instr. (no 5, E min.). B. & H.
130. Quintet for PF., 2 V., Viola, and Cello. Schuberth.
131. Quartet Concert for 2 V., Viola, and Cello, with Orch. B. & H. 132. String Quartet (no. 31, A). B. & H.
133. Trio for PP., V., and Cello (no. 4, Bb). Schuberth.
134. Psalm 84 (Milton). Chorus and Solo Voices with Orch.
135. Sechs Salonstücke for V. and PF. Schuberth.
136. Double Quartet (no 4, B♭). Luckhardt.
137. Symphony (no. 8. G min.). Dedicated to the Philharmonic Soc. of Lond. Peters.
138. Sonatina for PF. and Voice. 'An Sie am Clavier.' Luckhardt.
139. 5 Songs (Book 9). Luckhardt.
140. Sextet for 2 V., 2 Violas, and 2 Celli (C maj.). Luckhardt.
141. Quartet (no. 32, C). Luckhardt.
142. Trio for PF., V., and Cello (no. 5, G min.). Schuberth.
143. Symphony 'The Seasons.' (no. 9). Schuberth.
144. Quintet for stringed instr. (no. 7, G min.). Peters.
145. Sechs Salonstücke for V. and PF. Peters.
146. String Quartet (no. 33, G), Peters.
147. Septet for PP., Flute, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon, V., and Cello. Peters.
148. 3 Duets for 2 V. (no. 1, F) dedicated to the brothers Holmes. (See ops. 150, 153.) Peters.
149. Rondoletto for PF.(G). Peters.
150. 3 Duets for 2 V. (no. 2, D). (See ops. 148, 153.) Peters.
151. 6 4-part Songs for mixed Voices. H. Pohle.
152. String Quartet (no. 34, E♭). Siegel.
153. 3 Duets for 2 V. (no. 3, C). Peters.
154. 6 Songs for a Baryton voice with acc. of V. and PF. Luckhardt.


Works without Opus-number.

'Der Zweikampf mit der Geliebten.' Opera. Hamburg, Boehme.
Overture and Bass Air from the Cantata, 'Das befreite Deutschland.' Mecchetti.
'Zemire and Azor.' Opera. Hamburg, Cranz.
'Die letzten Dinge'(The Last Judgment). Oratorio. Simrock.
'Vater Unser' (words by Mahlman). Schlesinger.
'Der Alchymist.' Opera. Schlesinger.
Violinschule. Haslinger.
'Des Heilands letzte Stunden' (Calvary). Oratorio. Schuberth.
Overture and Song for the play 'Der Matrose.' Schott.
'Der Fall Babylons.' Oratorio. B. & H.
'Die Kreuzfahrer' (The Crusaders). Opera. Schuberth.
36 Violin Studies by Fiorillo, with a 2nd V. part added, fingered and bowed. Peters.
A number of Songs, written for and published various Albums and Collections.
A considerable number of works have remained in manuscript.


[ P. D. ]


  1. So, and not Ludwig, he calls himself in his Autobiography.
  2. Selbstbiogr. i. 169.
  3. Selbstbiogr. 1. 202, etc.
  4. It was a special favourite with Sterndale Bennett, who was never tired of humming its spirited and melodious subjects.
  5. Selbstbiogr. ii. 89.
  6. 'Louis Spohr's Selbstbiographie; Cassel und Göttingen, G. H. Wigand, 1860.' 2 vols., with portrait and 17 facsimiles.
  7. Gesammelte Schriften. iv. 89
  8. An amusing and characteristic passage in his Autobiography (ii. 203) relates the pleasure with which Mendelssohn drew his sister's attention to this staccato, in the Concertino in E, in 1834.
  9. Hauptmann's letters to Spohr have been published by Schoene and Hiller.
  10. 'Louis Spohr's Autobiography,' Longmans, 1865.
  11. An earlier catalogue, imperfect but very useful in its time, was that of Jantzen—'Verzeichniss,' etc. Cassel, Luckhardt.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Unknown and not to be found in Schletterer's Catalogue. Probably represented by works left in manuscript.