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  • Writer's pictureGeoffrey Dean

Boston Symphony Cellist-Composers: Ernst Jonas

Updated: May 28, 2022

Ernst [Ernest] Jonas (ca. 1845-1889)/1/ was a member of the BSO cello section from 1882 to 1886./2/ He is said to have been a “favorite student” of A. F. Servais, living at his celebrated teacher's house at the end of his studies in Brussels. In the spring of 1864 Jonas and Servais toured France together, and Servais's Souvenir de Czernowitz, Op. 21, is dedicated to Jonas./3/ He received commendations from the King of Sweden and Emperor of Russia. During the 1870s he played in the Bilse Orchestra in Berlin/4/ before coming to New York City with his wife, a contralto, around 1880./5/ He may have been associated with fellow Berlin cellist Wilhelm Mueller, who arrived in New York at about the same time and also joined the BSO in 1882. Before moving to Boston, Jonas was on the faculty at the New York College of Music/6/ and performed chamber music with violinist Sam Franko at Steinway Hall./7/ During his Boston years, Jonas subbed for Mueller as cellist of the Campanari Quartet,/8/ performed as a virtuoso in the Rubinstein Concert Company,/9/ and gave the first performance of a cello work by Calixa Lavallee on a concert series that also included his own compositions./10/ In 1886 he seems to have returned to Berlin, where he died on June 27, 1889./11/

Jonas was declared to be “gifted as a composer as well as an instrumentalist.”/12/ His creative output comprises at least 72 numbered opuses, and are primarily works for cello and piano, piano pieces, and songs. Of these, at least 38 Jonas works published in the US and Germany between 1880 and 1885, including the cello pieces that are also on IMSLP, are digitized on the Library of Congress music division site./13/ The earliest Jonas work on WorldCat is a song published around 1874,/14/ and the latest a song from 1889./15/ A Jonas piano piece, the Liebeslied, Op. 58 (published 1885), seems to have achieved some popularity in Boston, and the Campanari Quartet played it in a version for strings./16/ An earlier Jonas cello work is his Suite for cello and piano, Op. 20, advertised in 1878. Each of its four movements--Prelude (Ave Maria), Intermezzo, Nocturne, and Gavotte--was sold separately./17/

Jonas's Nocturno, Op. 53, No. 1 was brought out by a Boston publisher in 1885./18/ Jonas dedicated this piece (and possibly the Humoresque, Op. 53, No. 2 that he paired it with) to his BSO section leader, Fritz Giese, who at that time had a national reputation as the best cellist in the US. (More on Giese in a later post.) It is charmingly melodic, lies exceedingly well on the cello, and ends with a beguilingly simple-sounding passage in natural harmonics. I hope to record other Jonas cello pieces to share with you in the near future!


1. His death certificate gives Jonas’s age as 44. Seen at on May 15, 2021

2. M. A. DeWolfe Howe, The Boston Symphony Orchestra: An Historical Sketch (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1914), p. 246

3. Obituary for Jonas in the Musical Courier, July 3, 1889, p. 15; Servais scholar Peter Francois informed me that Jonas came to Belguim in late 1864 and was officially accepted into the Brussels Conservatory, but did not participate in the school's annual Concours in 1865, and does not appear on the list of conservatory cello students made just before the 1865 Concours (per email from Peter Francois, Jan. 14, 2022)

4. Music and Drama, Sept. 2, 1882, p. 6.

5. New York Tribune, Nov. 24, 1880

6. New York Herald, Sunday, Sept. 11,1881, p. 20

7. On December 7, 1881. Jonas played in Rubinstein's Piano Trio, Op. 52 with Franko and pianist Rietzel. New York Herald, Thursday, Dec. 8, 1881, p. 10

8. Boston Herald, Thursday, Dec. 13, 1883, p. 4

9. Per ads in Musical Record and Review, 1883

10. Jonas and the composer gave the earliest known performance of Lavallee’s 4-movement Suite for cello and piano, Op. 40 on March 1, 1885, in one of Lavallee's “American concerts” at Union Hall. Lavallee played it later with Wulf Fries and with Charles Heydler. Canadian-born Lavallee is the composer of the national anthem "O Canada." Brian Christopher Thompson, Anthems and Minstrels: The Life and Times of Calixa Lavallee, 1842-1891 (Montreal: McGill Univ. Press, 2015) Cleveland cellist Heydler (1861-?) studied with Jonas, per Who’s Who in America (1911), p. 899

11. See note 3

12. See note 3

14. "Die Thrane" (song) (Berlin: H. Weinholz, ca. 1874)

15. “Ich hare dein!” (song) (Berlin: Ruhle & Hunger, 1889)

16. G. H. Wilson, The Boston Musical Year-Book, vol. 2 (Boston: Geo. H. Ellis, 1885), p. 23. A manuscript of a string orchestra version of the Liebeslied is catalogued in WorldCat

17. Allgemeine Deutsche Musik-Zeitung, vol. 5, no. 42, (Berlin, Oct. 18, 1878), p. 355

18. Ernest Jonas, Nocturno, Op. 53, for violin or cello and piano (Boston: Louis H. Ross & Co., 1885). See the sheet music on ISMLP

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1 Comment

Jun 19, 2021

Nice, the links to the footnotes! However, “/1/” has no link.

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