A New Biographical Sketch
by Geoffrey Dean
Part 1. Nordhausen and Neuhaldensleben
Part 2. Ballenstedt and Berlin
Part 3. Leipzig (coming soon)
Part 4. Boston (coming soon)
Part 2. Ballenstedt and Berlin
From about 1863, Franz’s 11th year, a Schroeder family quartet existed, with Hermann playing first violin, Franz second, Carl II cello, and their father Carl I viola. In 1866 11-year-old Alwin began to play the viola parts in place of his father, who may have taken over the cello part temporarily in Carl II’s absence. For the timing of Alwin’s entry into the quartet seems to have coincided with Carl II’s departure for St. Petersburg, where he gave well-received solo performances and was befriended by pianist-composer Anton Rubinstein, who also served as Carl’s accompanist. Carl also performed in Warsaw and Paris before he, Hermann, Franz, and Alwin were engaged in 1868 by the widowed Duchess Friederike of Anhalt-Bernburg in Ballenstedt, as the “Schroeder Brothers, Ducal Chamber Quartet.”
The Duchess of Anhalt-Bernburg in 1862
Situated on the southeastern slope of the Harz mountains, Ballenstedt overlooks an expansive plain to the south and east, while forested foothills to the west rise toward Brocken, the mountain peak immortalized in German folklore. A idyllic tree-lined allee leads up to Ballenstedt Castle, the focal point of the town, with its 10th-century tower and large surrounding park. As one commentator put it, “The spirit of the mountains in this region is intimate and romantic, rather than rugged and abrupt, … The blue haze and delicate mist which often hang over the hills, even in fair weather, add to the romantic charm of the country, and on such days of color and mystery it is easy to fall under the spell of legend and superstition with which the region is invested.”
After the death in 1863 of Duke Alexander Carl, who had no heir, Ballenstedt was no longer the seat of its own duchy. Previously the court had supported both a theatre and an orchestra, and music had always been important in court life, with visits from artists such as Lortzing and Liszt. Liszt led an 1852 performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at the Ballenstedt Music Festival, a notable event illustrating the large scale of the musical performances of the town’s recent past. Upon the dissolution of the duchy, artists from the Ballenstedt musical organizations were transferred to Dessau. From this time music at the Ballenstedt palace continued on a more modest scale, in the form of piano and chamber music performances. Regular concerts were given by Ballenstedt court pianist J. B. Andre, of the famous Andre music-publishing family, with whom Alwin continued his studies of piano and music theory.
Chamber music was presented privately at the palace and in series of “Quartet soirees” under the direction of retired local Kapellmeister Viktor Klaus (Victor Klauss, 1805-[after?] 1889). In the ducal service from 1837, Klaus was an organist noted for his playing of Bach fugues and a composer of published vocal and instrumental works. The soirees were apparently public performances, and they continued until 1881. The Schroeder Brothers were in residence at Ballenstedt from 1868 through 1871 and would have participated in these performances. Along with the engagement of the Schroeders, another sign of the success and potential viability of the quartet evenings is the fact that during the same period, Klaus’s son-in-law William Hurlitz, a cellist who had studied with Grutzmacher, was promoted to Konzertmeister at Ballenstedt.
It seems probable that the entire Schroeder family lived in Ballenstedt during these years. The town was just 15 km southeast from Quedlinburg along the eastern edge of the Harz mountains, and so within easy reach of maternal relations and old artistic connections, including current Quedlinburg music director Albert Schroeder, who may have also been a relative. In addition to the quartet concerts, the four brothers collaborated to establish and teach at their Music Institut in Ballenstedt. Perhaps in conjunction with their father, now in his fifties, the brothers offered instruction in string instruments, piano, and music theory at an annual rate of sixty thalers. While it existed only in 1870 and 1871, this institute was a likely prototype for the more permanent music school that Hermann founded in Berlin soon thereafter.
Advertisement for the Schroeder Brothers' Ballenstedt Music Institut
A string quartet consisting of four brothers had notable precedents in Germany, including the Morault Brothers of Munich, who had specialized in Haydn’s quartets, and the older Mueller brothers of Brunswick, who gained renown through their interpretations of Beethoven’s late quartets. The younger Mueller Brothers quartet had been active until recently, with cellist Wilhelm Mueller becoming an active figure in the ever-expanding Berlin quartet scene of the early 1870s. The Schroeder Brothers likely saw themselves as modest participants in the progress of quartet-playing, having the special privilege of being from the same family, with similar musical training and values. At the same time they would have taken very seriously their collective responsibility in upholding these traditions through the careful study and interpretation of the quartets of the “classics” Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. As siblings they were in a unique position to embody Goethe’s oft-quoted description of a string quartet as a “conversation among equals.”
The elder Mueller Brothers quartet in 1832 (portrait by Moser)
The younger Muellers, ca. 1870 (photograph by Dorbritz, Cologne)
The leading string quartets of the 1860s were the younger Muellers and the Florentine Quartet (led by cellist Hugo Becker's father Jean Becker), and the Schroeder Brothers no doubt emulated the distinguishing qualities of each of these ensembles, in as far as these qualities were known to them, directly or indirectly. As the most well-travelled member of the quartet, Carl II would likely have been the conduit of information from the wider world of chamber music playing. And what the brothers might have initially lacked in direct exposure to the performances of the Muellers or the Florentiners, they would have made up for through their own process of unraveling the inner workings of the quartets they learned together.
The Florentine Quartet, ca. 1870
The Schroeder brothers likely resembled the Mueller brothers in terms of their seriousness of purpose and their unimpeachable work ethic. The smoother, more suave approach the Florentine quartet, contrasting with the rougher, more aggressive sound of the Muellers, would also have had an impact on the Schroeder Brothers’ approach to sound. On the question of the degree to which individual voices should be sacrificed for the sake of unity, the Schroeder brothers probably erred on the side of excessive homogeneity. While first violinist Hermann may have studied at some point with Joseph Joachim, who founded his own quartet at about the same time that he opened the Berlin Hochschule fur Musik in 1869, Hermann lacked Joachim’s dominating soloistic sound and doesn’t seem to have aspired to a career in solo playing.
During their years in Ballenstedt, the Schroeder Brothers also toured to other parts of Germany, giving concerts to favorable reviews in Quedlinburg, Magdeburg, Hamburg and other cities. Reviews from their 1869-70 Quedlinburg series of chamber music soirees praise the “conscientious endeavors” of the “hard-working and unpretentious artist foursome,” and note their success in garnering thoroughly-deserved audience recognition. The quartet's performances embraced repertoire ranging from Haydn and Mozart works in the genre to the more recent chamber music of composers such as Mendelssohn and Schumann. The newest work they performed was by Hermann, who garnered special praise for his “freshness of invention and sterling work” as a composer when the brothers introduced his string quartet. (H-h. Musikalisches Wochenblatt 1871, p. 782)
Among the guest artists on Schroeder Brothers concerts was pianist J. B. Andre, who joined them in performances of the Schumann piano quintet. Hermann and Carl also appeared as soloists on the quartet's concerts: on one occasion Hermann gave an impressively brilliant rendition of a virtuoso sonata by Rust, and on other Carl gave the popular Reisenbilder suite by his Berlin composition teacher, Friedrich Kiel. Their programs also showcased the brothers’ instrumental versatility, in works such as a Maurer concerto for four violins and Beethoven and Schubert piano trios with Alwin at the keyboard.
By early 1872 the Schroeders had left Ballenstedt, and were now resident in Berlin, where their mother’s brother was already living. The established quartets in Berlin included the Berliner Quartett led by Heinrich de Ahna and the Joachim Quartet, both recently-formed ensembles that for a time shared the former cellist of the younger Mueller quartet, Wilhelm Mueller, who in his later years was one of Alwin's predecessors as Boston Symphony first cellist. When they performed at the Hotel de Rome on February 14, the Schroeder Brothers became one of at least five quartets to make their Berlin debut during the 1871-72 season. Of this concert, the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung (NBM) wrote:
… this new foursome, the Schröder Brothers…are not only the youngest such quartet as far as their public appearance is concerned, but their youthful looks sufficiently justify their quartet being called the youngest. Nonetheless we have observed that the performance of these gentlemen shows remarkable maturity. We regard their ensemble playing as impeccable, since both their rhythmical and dynamic precision leaves as little to be desired as the way the individual players step back in favor of the greater whole. Nowhere does one of the four players dominate at the expense of the other three; on the other hand, none of them exaggerates discretion to the extent of having his voice vanish vis-à-vis those of his companions. We confess that this type of self-confidence, where every one of the four gentlemen represented his voice as being on an equal footing with those of the others, felt completely wholesome to us without even a trace of awkwardness.
The highlight of their Berlin debut concert was Beethoven’s Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, a work that was heard in Berlin performances by three different ensembles—Florentine, Schroeder Brothers, and Shriever—in the space of just a few weeks. The NBM review quoted above describes this work as “the surest touchstone for the skill of the quartet ensemble… we have nothing but praise for the performance both as regards technical rendition and spiritual vitality. … The audience… enthusiastically applauded each movement…” Another reviewer commented that the proliferation of performances of Beethoven’s Op. 131 would have been considered revolutionary just a few years earlier, but the programming and competent rendering of these once bewildering compositions was by 1872 a standard feature of chamber music concerts. First performed publicly by the elder Mueller Brothers quartet, the performance tradition for this work was now entering it fifth decade, and it must have amused Alwin how scornfully this and other late Beethoven quartets were often received in the United States a generation later, when Alwin performed them as cellist of the Kneisel Quartet in the 1890s.
The Schroeder Brothers swan song as a quartet appears to have been their fall 1872 series of popular concerts with pianist Otto Schmidt at Sommer’s Salon in Berlin. Carl II had taken a conducting post at the Kroll Opera before appointments as first cellist in Brunswick (1873-4) and Leipzig (1874-1880) and was gaining notoriety as the composer of the popular Polka, Op. 33. Hermann founded his music school in Berlin, where Alwin and his younger siblings Charlotte and Walther also taught. During this period Alwin enrolled briefly at the Berlin Hochschule, studying violin with Heinrich de Ahna and theory with Wilhelm Tappert. His studies seem to have been curtailed by burgeoning teaching and performing engagements as a violinist and violist. As a violinist in the Fliege orchestra, Alwin toured to Russia. His brother Franz, who is said to have remained in St. Petersburg as a conductor, may have also performed in this ensemble.
It was in 1874 that Alwin first turned his attention to the cello. (More on this in Part 3.)
Notes for Part 2
"The spirit of the mountains..." quotation is from Florence Leonard, “How Breithaupt Teaches: II” in The Musician, Vol XX, Number 5, May, 1915 (Boston: Oliver Ditson Co.), p. 307
On Liszt in Ballenstedt: Dwight's Journal of Music, Aug 14, 1852, p. 147
For information on the musical conditions at Ballenstedt during the Schroeder Brothers' years there, I am indebted to Prof. Petya Dollinger, author of Frauen am Ballenstedter Hof (Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 1999), who generously shared her research and insights on the topic in response to my query
On Viktor Klaus: Biographical entry based on Fetis in ed Champlin and Apthorp, Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians: Easter-Mystères (1888), p. 372
Image of elder Mueller quartet by Julius Moser (born ca. 1808) - This image is part of the Portrait Collection Friedrich Nicolas Manskopf at the library of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main. Müller Brothers
Image of younger Mueller quartet by Hantwich, Berlin, after a photograph by A. Dorbritz, Cöln - Lithographie, CC BY-SA 3.0,
1869-70 Quedlinburg review excerpt are from Neue Berliner Musikzeitung (NBM 1869, Vol. 23, p. 442; 1870 NBM, Vol. 24, p. 119 English translation of the above by Ilze Mueller, 7 2019)
The longer quoted 1872 Berlin review excerpt is from Neue Berliner Musikzeitung, pp. 59-60 English translation of above by Ilze Mueller 7 2019
Der Gebruder Schroeder images, including the only photo of Franz that I have ever come across, are from Herr Kohler in Sondershausen, August 2019. Based on originals presumably in the Sondershausen Municipal Archives