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Schroeder Premieres

Johann Sebastian Bach    

Suite No. 3 in C Major

Alwin Schroeder performed movements of solo Bach occasionally during his Leipzig years, and with notable regularity between 1899 and 1912. His edition of the six cello suites was published by Kistner in 1888. The C Major suite appears to be the only one Schroeder performed in its entirety. Most often he played three or four movements of the first, third, or fifth suite; these groupings were referred to in program listings as a "sonata." On other occasions he would play a composite "sonata" of movements taken variously from these same three suites. Cellists from Piatti to Casals also applied these performance practices (the abridged suite "sonata" and the composite suite). Piatti and others, including Schroeder's cellist brother Carl, had also composed piano accompaniments to the suites, but Alwin Schroeder does not seem to have resorted to performing solo Bach with piano. The fact that piano was not required for its performance may have been an additional reason for the frequency with which Schroeder played solo Bach when appearing as soloist on Kneisel Quartet concerts throughout the US. 

          Schroeder's March 1899 Boston performance of the C Major suite on a Boston Kneisel Quartet concert drew much attention, prompting Philip Hale and other local music critics to discuss the suites at length in their reviews. The suite appears to have been performed in its entirety on this ocassion, and was treated as a novelty, at least in the context of the annual Kneisel chamber music series. Schroeder "displayed in full the purity of tone, the rare musical intelligence, in a word the consummate artistry which distinguishes this master of chamber music." (Philip Hale in Boston Journal, March 14, 1899, p. 5) The cellist was greeted by "a perfect ovation" and "was recalled by the audience again and again" at the finish. He also played the entire C Major suite in several cities during the 1900-01 season. As part of the Kneisels' concert repertoire, the cello suite joined solo Bach violin works such as the D minor Chaconne that Kneisel had performed on the quartet's programs as early as 1888. Some of Pablo Casals's earliest US performances of an entire Bach suite (also the third) occurred in March 1904, but it wasn't until 1915 that Casals's interpretations of entire Bach suites became a regular feature of his recitals in this country. 


           Of Schroeder's interpretations of the third suite, his 1903 New York performance was characterized as "the work of a master in style, and a notable realization of what the playing of Bach should be.” (New York Times) When he played it soon after in Boston, it was written that "If Mr. Schroeder played it in New York as he did here last night, it is no wonder that the house rose at him as the papers said it did.” (Boston Herald) Chicago, 1906: “Mr. Schroeder... contributed... the Bach Sonata in C major for ’cello alone. Finer, lovelier ’cello playing has not been heard here, and we have heard much that was of the highest quality. Tone, musicianship, taste, intelligence, feeling—all were present in wished for measure and so blended that an ideal performance resulted. The audience was genuinely enthusiastic, and with good reason.” (Chicago Tribune) New York, 1907: “There was something indescribably touching in his interpretation of this singular intimate music of old Bach... In the quiet, retired and unseeking art of Bach there is an element peculiarly congenial to the simple and unaffected nobility and artistic humanity of Mr Schroeder’s playing, which is without display but alive with all that goes to make solo performances worthy of profound respect." (New York Sun) Boston, 1912: "Mr. Schroeder’s Bach was, of course, the great affair of the evening…” (Boston Evening Transcript) 

        Schroeder never performed the fourth suite, and played only single movements from the second and sixth suites. An October 1903 announcement of Kneisel Quartet "novelties" for the 1903-4 season indicates that he had planned to give the Boston premiere of the D Major suite (no. 6), but the work was never actually programmed and Schroeder played the Beethoven A Major sonata with pianist Harold Bauer instead (as evidenced by reviews of the Kneisel concerts and the end-of-season summaries) (Boston Globe, Oct. 18, 1903, p. 33). As it stands, the earliest performers 

of the sixth suite in the US seem to have been Mirko Belinski (Boston, Nov. 30, 1909) and Schroeder's successor in the Kniesel Quartet, Willem Willeke (New York, Feb. 7, 1911).  Schroeder's later approach to programming solo Bach seems to have reverted back to earlier practices: on his 50th anniversary recital (Jordan Hall, Boston, 1925) he performed "a suite by Bach, made up by Mr Schroeder from three of Bach’s suites. It included the Prelude and Allemande from the suite in G major, the Sarabande and Bourree from the one in C major and a Gigue in D major. Seldom has music for cello alone sounded more convincing.” (Boston Globe, Dec. 11, 1925, p. 18; other reviews confirm that Schroeder either did not play a courante, or it was left out of the written program)

        See my annotated list of US Bach Cello Suite Performances, 1899-1925, here.

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