If, in what follows, we describe in detail a musician for whom Leipzig is not only his native town but also the place where he developed as an artist, we have no reason to fear that we are guilty of unjustified local patriotism: The fame of our artist as one of the foremost in his profession has long since spread beyond the narrow walls of our city and made a name for him.
Julius Klengel was born on 24 September 1859. A master of the cello, he comes from a family whose names first became well known in the musical world through our artist’s great-uncle, the organist and famous counterpoint composer August Alexander Klengel, who died in the early 1850s in Dresden; the family attained fame especially in Leipzig thanks to Julius’ grandfather, the concert master and conservatory teacher Moritz Klengel. Like Julius Klengel’s grandfather, his father was highly gifted musically, except that he did not choose art as his actual profession, but pursued it beside his scholarly studies, more for relaxation. No wonder that in such a musical atmosphere the boy’s artistic talent emerged earlier than it might have done in a different environment. Having a model of productive musical activity near him in his older brother Paul, now the conductor of the Leipzig “Euterpe” concerts, Julius felt compelled early in life to devote himself seriously to his favorite art, and his choice fell on the cello, whose study he began when he was 10 with Emil Hegar, the former first cellist of the Gewandhaus ensemble. It is solely to this excellent teacher, who soon recognized the phenomenal talent of his young student and knew how to nurture it, that Julius Klengel owes the solid foundation of his present amazing virtuosity; the natural, unadorned performance style of the teacher has also been passed on to the student. Besides his cello studies our artist also diligently and successfully practiced theory and composition (under Jadassohn), so that his musical education was not one-sided as is often the case with virtuoso performers. Having a proficiency that was already unusual, Klengel took on his first position when he was 15 as a member of the Gewandhaus orchestra. His debut as a soloist was in the following winter: In Frankfurt an der Oder, the 16-year-old received his first laurels as a virtuoso. In 1876 and 1877 he went on concert tours with Julius Hofmann, the present theater director in Cologne, and attracted the attention of additional audiences. The fall of 1876 marked his first appearance at a Gewandhaus concert, and we still remember the high point of his resounding success, when the youthful musician gave a technically stunning performance of Davidov’s B Minor Concerto, which quickly paved his way to the most renowned concert halls abroad. Wherever he played – in Germany, Holland, Switzerland or Russia – he has been praised as an extraordinary artistic phenomenon, and his mastery of the cello is described as one that cannot be technically surpassed. And in reality his mastery of such a difficult instrument is virtually eminent; one could call him the Paganini of the cello. He manages to do the incredible, and easily and effortlessly plays even the most difficult things. In order to judge his technique, one has to have heard him play certain touchstones of violin virtuosos, e.g., Ernst’s “Othello” fantasia or Paganini’s D Major Concerto; his own striking compositions, played by the composer, give one a good idea of his exorbitant skill. Luckily Julius Klengel is too fine an artist to waste his great talent solely on such tour de force pieces and on experiments originating in his youthful and ingenious artistic high spirits. He stands his ground in his rendition of serious, substantial music, for which he is given rich opportunity due to his versatility as a soloist (his repertoire last winter, for instance, included no less than 10 different concertos) and to the fact that he played in the chamber ensembles at the Leipzig Gewandhaus and other places. He also occupied the position of first cellist in the Gewandhaus concert, one he has shared with Alwin Schröder ever since the latter’s brother Carl Schröder left for Sondershausen (Michaelmas 1881). Despite his youth he has quickly learned how to gain the necessary authority for this position. As a successor of Carl Schröder, we also find him among the teaching staff of the Leipzig Conservatory of Music, and though he is the youngest staff member there, he is, as far as the enthusiastic devotion of his students is concerned, on a par with every one of his colleagues. Besides his ingenious teaching ability, he also has a talent for composition, which up till now he has used to compose for the cello. Even though these compositions (a few concertos, plus shorter solo pieces) are not particularly striking, they should, as discerning cellists assure us, be of real importance for the further development of the technique of this instrument.
Julius Klengel did not come of age until this week, and yet we can assume that though he is already of high standing as an artist, he will attain even higher levels – hardly as far as pure technique is concerned, but his tone will become fuller, his performance warmer and more expressive, and his talent for composition will manifest itself more independently, for to stand still is to regress, especially in an artist who, like Julius Klengel, was born with such great ability.
from Musikalishes Wochenblatt, vol. XIV (Leipzig, Sept. 27, 1883)
Translation from German: Dr. Ilze Mueller