Spohr, Louis (actually, Ludewig)

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Spohr, Louis (actually, Ludewig)

Spohr, Louis (actually, Ludewig), celebrated German violinist, composer, and conductor; b. Braunschweig, April 5, 1784; d. Kassel, Oct. 22, 1859. His name is entered in the church registry as Ludewig, but he used the French equivalent, Louis. The family moved to Seesen in 1786; his father, a physician, played the flute, and his mother was an amateur singer and pianist. Spohr began violin lessons at the age of 5 with J.A. Riemenschneider and Dufour, a French émigré. In 1791 he returned to Braunschweig, where he studied with the organist Carl August Hartung and the violinist Charles Louis Maucourt; also composed several violin pieces. Duke Carl Wilhelm Ferdinand admitted him to the ducal orch. and arranged for his further study with the violinist Franz Eck. In 1802 Eck took him on a tour to Russia, where he met Clementi and Field; returned to Braunschweig in 1803 and resumed his post in the ducal orch. The violin technique and compositional traits of Pierre Rode, whom Spohr met on his return, were major influences on both his compositions and his violin technique. In 1804 Spohr made his first official tour as a violinist to Hamburg (his first actual tour to Hamburg in 1799 proved a failure, and a second, early in 1804, was aborted when his Guarnerius violin was stolen); gave concerts in Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden. In 1805 he became concertmaster in the ducal orch. at Gotha. On Feb. 2, 1806, he married the harpist Dorette (Dorothea) Scheidler (1787–1834); wrote many works for violin and harp for them to perform together, and also toured with her in Germany (1807). His reputation as a virtuoso established, he began writing compositions in every genre, all of which obtained excellent success. In 1812 he gave a series of concerts in Vienna and was acclaimed both as a composer and as a violinist; was concertmaster in the orch. of the Theater an der Wien until 1815. He then made a grand tour of Germany and Italy, where Paganini heard him in Venice. In 1816 Spohr’s opera Faust, skillfully employing many devices that foreshadowed developments in later German operas, was performed by Weber in Prague. After a visit to Holland in 1817, he became Kapellmeister of the Frankfurt am Main Opera, where he produced one of his most popular operas, Zemire und Azov. In 1820 he and his wife visited England and appeared at several concerts of the London Phil. Soc; this was the first of his 6 visits to England, where he acquired an immense reputation as a violinist, composer, and conductor; his works continued to be performed there long after his death. On his return trip to Germany, he presented concerts in Paris; his reception there, however, failed to match his London successes, and he proceeded to Dresden, where Weber recommended him for the Kapellmeistership at the court in Kassel; attracted by the lifetime contract, Spohr accepted the post and settled there in 1822, producing his operatic masterpiece, Jessonda, which remained popular throughout the rest of the 19th century, in 1823. Following this success were performances of his oratorio Die letzten Dinge (1826) and his fourth Sym., Die Weihe der Töne (1832), both of which elicited great praise. The Violinschule, a set of 66 studies covering every aspect of his violin style, was publ. in 1831. Spohr’s wife died on Nov. 20, 1834, and on Jan. 3, 1836, he married the pianist Marianne Pfeiffer, the sister of his friend Carl Pfeiffer, librettist of Der Alchymist. In 1837 Spohr began having difficulties with the Electoral Prince of Kassel, who caused the cancellation of a festival in Kassel and forbade Spohr from making a trip to Prague, which the composer made nevertheless to conduct Der Berggeist; on his return, he visited Mozart’s widow and birthplace in Salzburg. He traveled to England in 1839 for the Norwich Festival, but could not obtain permission from the Prince to return for the performance of his Fall of Babylon in 1842. In 1841, returning from the Lucerne Festival, he received the suggestion from his wife to use 2 orchs. for his 7th Sym. in 3 parts, portraying the mundane and divine elements in life. In 1843, in England, his success was so great that a special concert was given by royal command; it was the first time a reigning English monarch attended a Phil. Concert. In 1844 he received the silver medal from the Société des Concerts in Paris, and a festival honoring him was held in Braunschweig. Spohr never visited the U.S., in spite of the fact that his daughter lived in N.Y. and an invitation to hold a festival in his honor was issued. In 1845 he received a golden wreath from the Berlin Royal Opera. In 1847 he visited England for the third time, then went to Frankfurt am Main for the German National Assembly. Returning to Kassel, he found himself in an increasingly difficult position because of his dissident political views. The Elector of Hesse refused him further leaves of absence, but Spohr ignored the ban, traveling to Switzerland and Italy. In the litigation that followed with the Kassel court, Spohr was ordered to forfeit part of his yearly income. He was retired from Kassel on Nov. 22, 1857, on a pension despite his lifetime contract. In 1853 he appeared at the New Phil. Concerts in London. Although he fractured his left arm in a fall on Dec. 27, 1857, he conducted Jessonda in Prague in July 1858. He conducted his last performance in Meiningen (1859).

Spohr’s compositional style was characteristic of the transition period between Classicism and Romanticism. He was technically a master; while some of his works demonstrate a spirit of bold experimentation. In his aesthetics he was an intransigent conservative. He admired Beethoven’s early works but confessed total inability to understand those of his last period; he also failed to appreciate Weber. It is remarkable, therefore, that he was an early champion of Wagner; in Kassel he produced Der fliegende Holländer (1843) and Tannhäuser (1853), despite strenuous opposition from the court. He was a highly esteemed teacher, numbering among his students Ferdinand David and Moritz Hauptmann. His memoirs were publ. posthumously as Louis Spohrs Selbstbiographie (2 vols., Kassel, 1860–61; abr. version in Eng., London, 1865, 1878, and 1969; different tr. by H. Pleasants as The Musical Journeys of Louis Spohr, Norman, Okla., 1961). A new ed., edited by F. Göthel using the autograph, was publ. as Lebenserinnerungen (Tutzing, 1968). The Spohr Soc. was founded in Kassel in 1908, disbanded in 1934, and revived in 1952. A new ed. of his works, Neue Auswahl der Werke, edited by F. Göthel, was begun in 1963 (Kassel, Verlag der Spohr-Gesellschaft). A Thematisch-bibliographisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Louis Spohr, compiled by F. Göthel, was publ. in Tutzing in 1981.


DRAMATIC (all first perf. in Kassel unless otherwise given): Opera: Die Prüfung (1806); Alruna, die Eulenkönigin (1808); Der Zweikampf mit der Geliebten (Hamburg, Nov. 15, 1811); Faust (1813; Prague, Sept. 1, 1816; rev. 1852; London, July 15, 1852); Zemire und Azor (Frankfurt am Main, April 4, 1819); Jessonda (July 28, 1823); Der Berggeist (March 24, 1825); Pietro von Abano (Oct. 13, 1827); Der Alchymist (July 28, 1830); Die Kreuzfahrer (Jan. 1, 1845). Oratorios: Das jüngste Gericht (Erfurt, Aug. 15, 1812); Die letzten Dinge (March 25, 1826); Des Heilands letzte Stunden (Easter 1835); Der Fall Babylons (Norwich Festival, Sept. 14, 1842). ORCH.: 10 Syms .: No. 1 (Leipzig, June 11, 1811), No. 2 (London, April 10, 1820), No. 3 (Kassel, April 6, 1828), No. 4, Die Weihe der Töne (London, Feb. 23, 1835), No. 5 (Vienna, March 1, 1838), No. 6, Historische Symphonie (London, April 6, 1840), No. 7, Irdisches und Gottliches im Menschenleben (London, May 30, 1842), No. 8 (Kassel, Dec. 22, 1857), No. 9, Die Jahreszeiten (London, Nov. 25, 1850), and No. 10 (1847). Overtures: C minor (1807); F major (1820); Macbeth (1825); Die Tochter der Lufl, phantasie in the form of an overture (1836); Der Matrose (1838); Concert Overture “imernsten Styl” (1842). Solo Instruments and O r c h .: 18 violin concertos (c. 1799–1844); Concerto for String Quartet (1845); 4 clarinet concertos; 2 Concertantes for 2 Violins; 2 Concertantes for Harp and Violin. CHAMBER : Nonet (1814); Octet (1815); 4 double quartets for Strings; Septet (1854); Sextet (1848); 7 string quintets; Piano Quintet; Quintet for Piano and Winds; 34 string quartets; 5 piano trios; 14 duets for 2 Violins; 3 duets for Piano and Violin; 3 sonatas for Harp and Violin; Piano Sonata; etc. VOCAL: Das befreite Deutschland, dramatic cantata (Frankenhausen, Oct. 1815); Mass for Double 5-part Chorus; 6 Psalms; Requiem (unfinished); hymns; partsongs; 7 duets; 64 songs; An sie am Klavier, sonatina for Voice and Piano (1848).


W. Neumann, L. S .(Kassel, 1854); H. Giehne, Zur Erinnerung an L. S. (Karlsruhe, 1860); A. Malibran, L. S. (Frankfurt am Main, 1860); L. Stierlin, L. S. (2 vols., Zürich, 1862–63); M. Hauptmann, Briefe von M. Hauptmann an L. S. und andere (Leipzig, 1876; Eng. tr., London, 1892); H. Schletterer, L. S. (Leipzig, 1881); L. Nohl, S. (Leipzig, 1882); C. Robert, L. S. (Berlin, 1883); R. Wassermann, L. S. als Opernkomponist (diss., Univ. of Rostock, 1910); H. Glenewinckel, L. S. Kammermusik fiir Streichinstrumente (diss., Univ. of Munich, 1912); F. Göthel, Das Violinspiel L. S.s (diss., Univ. of Berlin, 1934); E. von Salburg, L. S. (Leipzig, 1936); H. Heussner, Die Symphonien L. S.s (diss., Univ. of Marburg, 1956); F. Göthel, L. S.: Briefwechsel mit seiner Frau Dorette (Kassel, 1957); D. Mayer, The Forgotten Master: The Life and Times ofL. S. (London, 1959); D. Greiner, I. S. Beitrage zur deutschen romantischen Oper (diss., Univ. of Kiel, 1960); H. Homburg, L. S.: Bilder und Dokumente seiner Zeit (Kassel, 1968); S. Johnston, The Clarinet Concertos of L. S. (diss., Univ. of Md., 1972); C. Brown, The Popularity and Influence of S. in England (diss., Oxford Univ., 1980); P. Katow, L. S.: Persönlichkeit und Werk (Luxembourg, 1983); C. Brown, L. S.: A Critical Biography (Cambridge, 1984); H. Peters, Der Komponist, Geiger, Dirigent und Pädagoge L. S. (1784–1859) mit einer Auswahlbibliographie zu Leben und Schaffen (Braunschweig, 1987); P. Autexier, La lyre maconne: Haydn, Mozart, S., Liszt (Paris, 1997).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire