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  • Writer's pictureGeoffrey Dean

Boston Symphony First Cellists: New Random Facts

During a recent visit to the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives, I came across documentation of some interesting facts related to the orchestra's principal cellists of yesteryear.

Carl Bayrhoffer, BSO first cellist for the latter part of the orchestra’s inaugural 1881-2 season, wrote to BSO founder Henry Lee Higginson in 1892, hoping to return to the BSO. At about the same time, a Mr. Underwood in Glasgow was asking Higginson about the workings of BSO as Underwood helped start the permanent Glasgow orchestra. Higginson may have suggested that Bayrhoffer contact founding BSO conductor George Henschel, because the following season Bayrhoffer joined the new Glasgow organization under Henschel, renewing the working relationship started a decade earlier in Boston.

Wilhelm Mueller, Boston Symphony first cellist from 1882-1885, was breaching his BSO contract during his final BSO season by playing in New York orchestras. The programs of the New York Philharmonic from the 1884-5 season show Mueller sharing the third cello stand with Adolph Hartdegen (see below). Knowing that Mueller had accepted outside work prohibited by his current BSO contract, BSO manager Charles Ellis sought New York legal help, hoping to make an example of Mueller, because at the time several other BSO players were also in breach of contract. The result seems to have been that Fritz Giese was called in to serve in Mueller's place that season, even as Mueller's contract was still in force.

Fritz Giese cabled Higginson in May 1887 that he was delayed in Grand Rapids MI due to an unsettled case, the nature of which was not discussed. Then in Dec. 1888 Giese cabled Higginson from Philadelphia, asking to be excused from two rehearsals and saying that conductor Gericke had already agreed. Later in his last BSO season, Giese was out for several concerts due to injuries sustained when he fell out of a carriage in New York. At least as concerning at the time was the damage to his Stradivarius cello, for Giese had fallen on top of it.

Anton Hekking, Giese's successor in the BSO (1889-1891) seriously considered returning to the orchestra after Alwin Schroeder's resignation in the spring of 1903, but Higginson didn't want him back. (see below)

The June 1898 resignation of Schroeder's stand partner Leo Schulz came as a surprise to Higginson. The BSO’s second cellist communicated it to Higginson in a hand-written letter, and offered to explain the reasons if asked. Schulz was following Emil Paur, BSO conductor from 1893 to 1898, to the New York Philharmonic, Paur’s new orchestra. That same summer Kneisel reached out to Detroit-based cellist Hermann Heberlein, possibly to take Schulz’s place, but Heberlein replied that he had already signed a contract to play in…the New York Philharmonic. Heberlein joined the BSO soon thereafter, remaining in the cello section until 1909.

In March 1899 Alwin Schroeder, BSO first cellist from 1981 to 1903, began to play movements of Bach cello suites on Kneisel Quartet concerts, often in the form of a four-movement "Sonata." In the late 1870s Adolph Hartdegen, then the cellist of Bernhard Listemann's Boston Philharmonic Club, played two movements of the third suite on one of the Club's concerts at Harvard University's then-new Sanders Theatre, in an intriguing US antecedent to Schroeder's solo Bach performances.

After the Kneisel Quartet members resigned from the BSO in spring 1903, Higginson received, and likely ignored, a recommendation to reach out to American-born cellist and Cincinnati Symphony founding conductor Michael Brand for the first cello post. Instead, and true to past practice, he sent BSO manager Ellis to Europe to find the best new concertmaster and principal cellist available, men who would “outclass” the departing string section leaders. Conductor Gericke’s first cello choice was Jean Gerardy, a leading soloist who had recently appeared with the BSO, and for a week or two that June it was looking possible that the BSO and Gerardy would come to an agreement. When they didn’t, Ellis suggested former (1889-1891) BSO first cellist Anton Hekking, then in Berlin, who seems to have really wanted to return to the BSO job, except that Higginson didn’t want him to have it, and cabled to request that Ellis keep looking. Dresden cellist Georg Wille, who had started out as Alwin Schroeder’s replacement in Leipzig, was rejected as a genius who was impossible to work with. The Danish cellist Hermann Sandby, then in Copenhagen following his first season as Philadelphia Orchestra first cellist, was seriously considered, his youth and good looks entering into the correspondence between Ellis and Higginson. Hugo Becker in Frankfurt, Isaac Mossel in Amsterdam, Schroeder’s old colleague Julius Klengel in Leipzig, and, oddly (because he had died three years earlier) Jules Delsart in Paris were also brought up as candidates or consultants before 24-year-old Rudolph Krasselt, previously Vienna Court Opera first cellist under Gustav Mahler, successfully auditioned for Gericke, who was reportedly pleased with the acquisition and the terms.

Encore: In 1907 the BSO administration reached out to Leo Schulz (see above) about $150 they said he owed from 1890. He did not treat the debt seriously, declining to pay it because he was sure it would have been taken out of his salary soon after it was incurred.

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