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  • Writer's pictureGeoffrey Dean

Boston Symphony Cellist-Composers: Herrman Heberlein

Updated: May 28, 2022

A member of the Boston Symphony cello section from the fall of 1898 until 1909,/1/ Hermann Heberlein (March 29, 1859-1913) was born in the German town of Markneukirchen, into the famous Heberlein family of string-instrument makers./2/ He studied with Leipzig Gewandhaus first cellists Emil Hegar and Carl Schroeder at the Leipzig Conservatory (1873-77),/3/ performing Carl Schroeder’s then-new cello concerto as his graduation piece./4/ He later studied with Bernhard Cossmann. Heberlein toured south Germany as a soloist before his appointment as Konigsberg (Prussia) Municipal Theatre solo cellist in late 1877. In 1883 he joined the faculty of the Konigsberg Conservatory,/5/ and the next year he married pianist Clara Kohler [Koehler], daughter of the Konigsberg composer and music critic Louis Koehler./6/ During his Konigsberg years, Heberlein performed chamber music with Anton Rubinstein and the Brahms Double Concerto under Hans von Bulow, who wrote that “…he executed his difficult part with such perfect technique, intelligent comprehension, and masterful expression that, in my opinion, he is fully justified in occupying the highest position as a celloist.”/7/

Heberlein was brought to the US for Dr. Robert Goldberg’s second European Musical Course in St. Louis, where he made his US debut as both cellist and composer in the spring of 1893./8/ He was found to be “a gifted ’cellist of many fine qualities. His tones are soft,

singularly mellow and very sweet.”/9/ Heberlein “played with much expression and feeling, and brought out a clear resonance of tone from his excellent instrument,” and his solos were often encored. /10/ But it was his physical appearance rather than his playing that prompted comparisons with one of the most popular pianists of the day: “Mr. Heberlein looks much like Ignace Jan Paderewski, owing largely no doubt to a parasol of hair which spreads out even farther than the Polish pianist’s renowned locks.” Heberlein must have let his hair grow out after the drawing above was published in November 1893. At right is an 1896 drawing of Paderewski from the same newspaper./11/

In November 1894 Heberlein settled in Detroit, his wife and three children joining him there from Europe./12/ Over the next five seasons, Heberlein was an important figure in the regional music scene, appearing regularly in Detroit and as far afield as Ohio, Pennsylvania and upstate New York with his Heberlein Concert Company. /13/ Heberlein seems to have been uninterested in further enhancing his artistic reputation through performances in the larger Eastern US cities./14/ He took over as cellist of the Detroit Philharmonic Club (a string quartet originally named for its first violinist, William Yunck) and taught cello, chamber music, composition, and music theory at the Detroit Institute of Music./15/ He also performed with his wife, Mrs. Kohler-Heberlein, who was coming into her own as both pianist and lecturer on musical subjects. Mrs. Heberlein was a prominent personality in the Detroit music scene for nearly forty years./16/

Heberlein left Detroit for Boston after the 1897-8 season (his family stayed in Detroit), and remained in the BSO until 1909./17/ Making his first New York appearance as a chamber partner to the Kneisel Quartet, Heberlein was praised as “a violoncello player of rare taste and excellence."/18/ As second cellist in the Schubert C-Major quintet, “Mr. Heberlein gave a good account of himself…, and in the Scherzo played what was set before him, and played it right. He, like [pianist Moritz] Rosenthal, could not take the stage to himself alone, but if a player can keep company with the Kneisels and not call attention to himself by doing things he ought not to, he is doing very well indeed.”/19/

In later Boston seasons, his annual “Heberlein” concerts showcased his compositions as much as his playing. A 1902 Boston review describes his music as “pleasant, modest, well wrought out… [W]hen its themes had been definitely shown and reasonably emphasized, they were dismissed without protracted expatiation on unnecessary attempt at elaboration and display. There was comparatively little professedly scientific development of them, and polyphony seemed to be less desired than an easy and clear statement, resting on plain and smoothly moving harmonies and illustrative figures. …Melody seems to come naturally to Mr. Heberlein, and therefore his shorter pieces were particularly interesting.”/20/

Heberlein’s music includes his stage work Robinson Crusoe, songs, a string quartet, and cello methods, etudes, solos, and ensemble pieces, with at least 32 numbered opuses./21/ One of the first pieces he performed in the US was his Cavatine in B flat Major, Op. 26. The composer's rendition of the Cavatine on his Detroit debut recital demonstrated that “he is a composer of merit.”/22/ My copy of the published music was originally purchased in Detroit, perhaps from stock provided by Heberlein himself; I purchased it on eBay a few years ago.


1. Various newspaper items show that 1898-9 (not 1899-1900, as listed in Howe’s BSO history) was Heberlein’s first season in the BSO. See Boston Globe, March 1, 1899, p. 6, on a concert at Tufts College with “musicians from Boston” including two members of the symphony orchestra, Mr Daniel Kuntz, violinist, and Mr H. Heberlein, cellist.” The drawing of Heberlein is from Detroit Free Press, Nov. 12, 1893, p. 19

2. Wasilewski, Straeten, Detroit Free Press, 1896

3. Wasilewksi, Straeten

4. Detroit Free Press, Nov. 12, 1893, p. 19

5. see note 3 Wasilewski, Straeten

6. Marriage certificate on Heberlein married Clara Sabine Koehner in Konigsberg, Prussia, on April 18, 1884. They had three children: Victor Johannes, born 1885, daughter Else Louise, born 1886, and son Ernest Felix, born 1891.

7. Rubinstein info from Heberlein’s account in Chicago Tribune, Dec. 2, 1894, p. 37 (they played Rubinstein's C minor Piano Trio). von Bulow quoted in Detroit Free Press, Nov. 19, 1893, p. 8

8. St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Jan. 15,1893, p. 30, also The Etude, Vol. XI, No. 2, Philadelphia, PA, February 1893, p 46. In April 1893 Heberlein and Goldbeck performed a Mendelssohn sonata, Mozart Larghetto, Davidoff An der Quelle, and Servais Sehnsuchtswalzer, per Westliche Post (St. Louis, MO) April 28, 1893, p. 2

9. Buffalo Express, quoted in Detroit Free Press, March 18, 1894, p. 10

10. Buffalo Enquirer, quoted in Detroit Free Press, March 18, 1894, p. 10

11. See note 9. Paderewski drawing is from Detroit Free Press, April 5, 1896, p. 10

12. Ship records on Heberlein was in St. Louis through early November 1893, performing there as late as Nov. 4, per Westliche Post (St. Louis, MO), Nov. 5, 1893, p. 2. His Detroit debut recital, on the Arion Artists' series, was on Thursday, Nov. 16, 1893: “The artist won his audience... his work far excelling even that promised in elaborate encominoms with which his coming was heralded. Herr Heberlein is a young man and a modest artist. He has excellent technique and is a fine natural musician. His tone is broad, his style is good and ...he is a composer of merit... All of his numbers were extremely pleasing and all met with encores.” (From “A Fine Performance” in Detroit Free Press, Nov. 17,1893, p. 5). The announcement that he would remain in Detroit appeared in the Detroit Free Press of Nov. 19, 1893, p. 8

13. See items on Heberlein Concert Company concerts in Le Roy, NY (Buffalo Evening News Nov. 14, 1895, p. 30), Xenia, OH (Xenia Daily Gazette, Oct. 23, 1896, p. 7, 1896), and Dayton, OH (Dayton Herald, Oct. 26, 1896, p. 3). In Oct. 1896, the company members were Heberlein Grand Concert Company concert, YMCA course. Xenia Daily Gazette W 9 30 Herr Herman Heberlein, Violin [sic] Virtuoso; Miss Anna Louisis Gillies, soprano; Miss Katherine Ruth Heyman, piano; Miss Vora Burpee, reader (Dayton Herald, Oct. 26, 1896, p. 8) “…a large audience is expected to hear Herr Herman Heberlein, who is acknowledged by all to be one of the greatest ’cellists in America, a musician by nature as well as by careful training.” (Dayton Herald, Oct. 27, 1896, p. 4) Concert ad is from Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), Nov. 8, 1895, p. 8

14. “Concerning The ’Cello” in Detroit Free Press, March 29, 1896, p. 15

15. Detroit Free Press, Dec. 1, 1895, p. 14. “In the category of artist performances I put the playing of the Detroit Philharmonic Club, consisting of Mr. William Yunck, first violin; Mr. Hermann Brueckner, second violin; Mr. Frank Resche, viola, and Mr. Hermann Heberlein, ’cello. Mr. Yunck and Mr. Heberlein are very good players indeed, and the quartette as a whole goes admirably.” (Music, vol. 12, 1897, p 485) Heberlein was on the Detroit Institute of Music faculty from its inception in 1894, teaching cello, harmony, composition, counterpoint, and ensemble classes (Detroit Free Press, Aug. 19, 1894, p. 8)

16. One of their earliest joint performances in the US was June 15, 1894. Among the works they performed together was Mendelssohn's Op. 17. Detroit Free Press, June 10, 1894, p. 18) Mrs. Kohler Heberlein later founded the Beethoven Trio and the Detroit Chamber Music Society, and served as the accompanist to many resident and visiting musicians. From about 1897 her insightful and eloquent lecturer on musical topics introduced repertoire to be performed on upcoming orchestral and chamber music concerts. Her contributions to music in Detroit deserve a separate, detailed study. See Detroit Free Press, May 11, 1932, p. 7, and various items on her activities, in the same paper, 1897-1925.

17. Howe, BSO archive

18. New York Daily Tribune, April 5, 1899, p. 12

19. Boston Daily Advertiser, April 11, 1899, p. 8. The following (1889-1900) season, Heberlein played 2nd cello on Kneisel Quartet performances of the Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence in Boston, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, and Princeton, per local reviews.

20. “Mr. Heberlein As A Composer” in Boston Herald, April 22, 1902, p. 11. The drawing of Heberlein is from the same source

21. Heberlein played his Hexen-Tanz (Witches’ Dance), Op. 32, as early as 1897, so it seems likely that there are more than 32 numbered Heberlein works.

22.Heberlein Cavatine for cello and piano (Andre, 1893); “A Fine Performance” in Detroit Free Press, Nov. 17, 1893, p. 5

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