• Geoffrey Dean

19th-century Cellists in the US: Theodore Ahrend

Updated: May 28

Born in Germany in 1829 or 1830, cellist Theodore Ahrend studied in Brussels, where he may have worked with Francois Servais./1/ In 1849 he performed solos at the Berlin Royal Opera and on the Leipzig Euterpe concerts./2/ His first US appearance was in New York on Dec. 27, 1951, on a benefit concert for the American Musical Fund Society: “…Herr Ahrend, upon the Violoncello, was vehemently applauded, notwithstanding his decided inferiority to the lamented Knoop.”/3/ Over the next two years he performed as a soloist with Wood’s Minstrels in New York, on vocalist Caroline Richings’s concerts in Washington, D.C., and with the Concordia Concert Troupe for an extended summer 1853 engagement in Charleston, SC./4/


It was in Charleston that Ahrend debuted as cello soloist with Kunkel’s Nightingale Opera Troupe, on October 24, 1853. Led by the banjo-playing bass George Kunkel and managed by J. T. Ford (at whose Washington D. C. theatre Lincoln was assassinated), the Baltimore-based Kunkel troupe was a minstrel company, touted as “the most versatile corps of Ethiopian Delineators now before the public. …introducing in their entertainments the Songs of the Boudoir and Plantation, embodying many new and pleasing features in their portraitures of Ethiopian life.”/5/ One of the Nightingales’ specialties was a pro-South version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin presenting Harriet Beecher Stowe's title character (portrayed in blackface by Kunkel) as contented with plantation life./6/

Image: Ad in Washington D. C. Union of Sunday, June 4, 1854, p. 3.

Ahrend toured extensively with the Kunkels through at least 1856, and appears to have continued to perform with the troupe through the 1861-2 season, when the Kunkels completed a 200-night run in Baltimore./7/ His solos included various fantasies by Kummer and Servais, as well as cello versions of violin works by Ernst, Paganini, and Prume. From 1855 he is sometimes referred to in the press as “Professor Ahrend;” around this time he was first advertised as the leader of the troupe’s newly-augmented orchestra./8/


In the spring and fall of 1855 Ahrend performed Beethoven and Mendelssohn sonatas and trios on pianist M’lle De Boye’s concerts in Washington, DC./9/ During the 1856-7 season he was a soloist on Thomeuf’s Varieties, at “the prettiest Concert Saloon” in Philadelphia./10/ From late 1857 he was a frequent performer in Baltimore, appearing there as assisting soloist on a William Mason concert and performing three nights a week at Leutbecher’s saloon as leader and soloist of the Baltimore Sextette Club./11/ Leutbecher, who organized a summer concert series for the sextet at his establishment, was also one of the members, the ensemble consisting of violin, flute, piano, melodeon, cello, and doublebass. “The music performed is of the highest order, admirably arranged for the sextette…by Ahrend, and executed with an effect that cannot but rivet the attention of the heterogeneous audience…”/12/ The Baltimore Sextett Club also toured, and was giving concerts at least through the 1858-9 season./13/


In April 1862 Ahrend “created a perfect furore” with his solo numbers on an Academy of Music concert in Philadelphia. “The most prominent feature of the entertainment was the violoncello playing of Mr. Ahrend, whose marvelous execution has, probably, no equal in this country, and none, it is fair to presume, either in England, or upon the Continent.” He is described as being “from Baltimore” and as making his “first appearance on the [Philadelphia?] Concert stage for a number of years.”/14/ During the following three seasons Ahrend continued to concertize in Philadelphia, performing in solos, sonatas, and larger chamber ensemble works of Onslow, Schumann and others on the series of classical

soirees organized by pianist Carl Wolfssohn (in 1864-5 by Wolfssohn and Theodore Thomas) and appearing alongside Louis M. Gottschalk in October 1864./15/


In late February 1865, the Union Army resumed conscription of soldiers, entering 1,880 names into a Philadelphia drawing to to fill a quota of 180 Philadelphia men. Ahrend’s was among the 360 names drawn./16/ It is highly unlikely that he saw active duty. At about this time he stopped performing, and on September 15, 1865 Ahrend died from consumption. At the time of his death he was said to have resided in Philadelphia since coming to the US./17/ Ahrend had lived at No. 1521 Brown street, and was buried at Mount Sinai Cemetery./18/


Posthumously Theodore Ahrend was regarded as “one of the most brilliant and erratic ’celloists who ever lived.”/19/ More than a half-century after his passing, an amateur musician who had heard Ahrend often as a young adult wrote, “I never knew any critic who had heard Ahrend and did not pronounce him the greatest cellist—probably the greatest artist—that he had ever heard. He developed all the merits of the cello farther than any other artist I have known… He was of a passionate temperament that swept his auditors along almost in unconsciousness of the marvelous skill he was using. And all this was done more in the beer saloons of Baltimore than in all the rest of the world. … There can be no mistake about Ahrend’s art: for regarding it I have had too much testimony from older people…”/20/


Notes

1. Daily Journal, Wilmington, NC, June 6, 1853, p. 2, states that he studied with the director of the Brussels Conservatory; Servais scholar Peter Francois has not found any evidence that Ahrend attended the conservatory, but does not rule out the possibility that Ahrend studied privately with Servais (per email of Jan. 12, 2022)

2. Almanach fur Freunde der Schauspielkunst, (Gedruckt bei J. Sittenfeld, 1850) p. 23, p. 38; review signed “B.” in Signale fur die musikalische Welt (Leipzig: B. Senff, 1849), No. 54, pp. 445-6.

3. New York Times, Dec. 30, 1851, p. 2

4. New York Daily Herald, April 5, 1852, p. 4; Daily Union, Washington, D.C., Nov. 24, 1852; Charleston Daily Courier, May 30, 1853, p. 3; similar Daily Courier items through Oct. 25, 1853, p. 2)

5. Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth had himself been a member of the company, also known as the Kunkel Troupe, the Kunkels, Kunkel's Nightingales, and Kunkel's Ethiopian Nightingale Serenaders, the troupe was in existence under Kunkel's leadership from at least as early as 1848, when the first editions of Stephen C. Foster's songs "Away Down South" and "Uncle Ned" were published in the series "Songs of the Sable Harmonists and Kunkel's Nightingales" (Baltimore: W.C. Peters, 1848; per WorldCat). Even earlier (1846) songs were published as collective compositions of the "Nightingale Serenaders," and Kunkel's name mentioned among the members (e.g., "Brack Eyed Susianna" and "De banks ob de Ohio," Philadelphia: A. Fiot, 1846; per WorldCat). In Monarchs of Minstrelry (1911), Edward Le Roi Rice gives 1852 (p. 67) or 1853 (p. 39) as the year that Kunkel founded the Nightingales (Rice also mentions the 1861 and 1866 reorganizations of the troupe); Rachel Lynn Waddell suggests an earlier date in Southern Minstrel Theater: Kunkel's Nightingale Opera Troupe in Richmond, Virginia, 1849-1855 (Johns Hopkins University, 1994); in 1849 the troupe was known as Kunkel's Ethiopian Nightingale Serenaders, per ads in the Baltimore Sun (April 20, 1849, p. 2 and May 3, 1849, p. 3) reproduced at https://esnpc.blogspot.com/2017/09/; Nashville Union and American Traveler, Dec. 20, 1853, p. 2

6. Mark Parker, “Baltimore and Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Crisis of Identity” in Janus, Feb. 2001 (http://www.janus.umd.edu/Feb2001/index.html). Parker discusses Baltimore’s unique position as the southernmost city on the Northeast theatre circuit, its status as then 3rd-largest US city, with a diverse population and divided views on slavery. Baltimore's leadership was pro-South. Stage productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin were mounted even before the serialized novel had been fully published (the last installment was in April 1852). At one point a production loyal to the original text ran concurrently with a “happy Tom” version at different Baltimore venues. See also Kunkel's own later account of playing Uncle Tom, in the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, May 27, 1883, transcribed at http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/onstage/revus/osar66at.html

7. Daily National Intelligencer, Washington, D.C., March 31, 1862; the 1861-2 Baltimore run of the Kunkel troupe is also mentioned in Hildebrand, Schaaf, Biehl ed. Musical Maryland (John Hopkins University Press, 2017), p. 89

8. Cincinnati Enquirer , Jan. 28, 1855, p. 3; Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 5, 1855, p. 3

9 April through October 1855. Evening Star, Washington, D.C., April 12, 1855, p. 3 and similar items; one of the Beethoven sonatas was a cello version of the "Spring" sonata, Op. 24

10. Philadelphia Public Ledger, Oct. 11, 1856, p. 4

11. Baltimore Sun, Dec. 3, 1857, p. 3, and Dec. 21, 1857

12. “Music in Baltimore,” report date June 23, 1858 in Musical World, Vol. 20, No. 3 (July 17, 1858) p 466

13. Baltimore Daily Exchange, Oct. 11, 1858, pp. 2-3

14. “Our Musical Correspondence" from Philadelphia in New York Weekly Review, Vol. 13, p. 101; from “Musical Correspondence” by Mercutio, in Dwight’s Journal of Music, April 26, 1862, p. 31

15. Musical Correspondence by Jaquino, in Dwight’s Journal of Music, Feb. 21, 1863, p. 376;

Mercutio in DJM, March 4, 1865, p. 406

16. Age, Philadelphia, Feb. 28, 1865, p. 4

17. Philadelphia Press obituary, reprinted in New York Evening Post, September 19, 1865, p. 4

18. Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 16, 1865, p. 4

19. Philadelphia Inquirer, March 10, 1873, p. 3

20. From “Garrulities of an Octogenarian Editor” (signed “The Editor”) in The Unpartizan Review, Vol. 14, No. 27 (July-September, 1920; New York: Henry Holt and Company) pp 109-129

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