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  • Writer's pictureGeoffrey Dean

Schroeder Student Spotlight: Ernest Lachmund (1865-1954)

Among the Oscar Cobb opera houses highlighted in my previous post was one that existed briefly in Duluth, Minnesota. In a surprise Schroeder connection, one of the musicians who made his studio in the Temple Opera Building before it succumbed to fire in 1895 was Ernest Lachmund, a cellist, pianist, and composer who counted Alwin Schroeder among his teachers. I recently had the pleasure of collaborating with the Duluth concert organization Matinee Musicale (founded in 1900) in unearthing a cello piece by Lachmund that hadn’t been heard in a hundred years. Cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing’s subsequent performance of Lachmund’s rediscovered Waltz-Serenade for Matinee Musicale can be heard here.

Ernest Lachmund’s father Gustav Otto Lachmund had fled Germany following the failed 1848 revolution, going first to Missouri, where Ernest’s older brother Carl was born in 1853, then to Clinton, Iowa, where Ernest was born in 1865. Carl and Ernest both studied music in Germany. Carl attended the Cologne conservatory as a piano and violin student from 1867 to 1871, and Ernest followed in his footsteps, arriving in Cologne as a 13-year-old in 1878. Two years later Ernest was at the Royal Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin, studying chamber music with Joachim Quartet members Joseph Joachim, Emanuel Wirth, and Robert Hausmann, and cello with Anton Hekking. In Berlin Ernest attended the first local performance of Wagner’s complete Ring cycle and heard Brahms as a pianist. Meanwhile Carl had become an ardent follower and piano student of Franz Liszt in Weimar, and Ernest himself observed Liszt’s classes during the summer of 1884.

The brothers returned to the US in the fall of that year, joining their pianist sister Emma in Minneapolis and concertizing together as far afield as Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit. Ernest’s solo cello performances in this sibling formation were singled out as “exquisitely delicate and graceful.” (Minneapolis Tribune) In December 1884, Ernest joined the Clara Louis Kellogg Concert company as cello soloist. A Chicago paper described his playing as “one of the chief attractions of the [Kellogg] programs… remarkable control of his instrument for one so young… while lacking in breadth, his playing has still many artistic qualities; sympathetic touch being the most prominent.”

Ernest set out for Germany once more in the fall of 1887, following an “Ernest Lachmund farewell concert” at Minneapolis’s Harmonia Hall led by Carl, whose famous Juvenile String Orchestra consisting of musicians aged 6 to 14 played in its “usual brilliant style,” and Ernest himself was “rapturously applauded.” (St. Paul Globe, 10/19/1887, p. 3). He enrolled at the Leipzig Conservatory for a two-year course, studying composition with Jadassohn and cello with Schroeder. A Duluth paper later shared this Schroeder-related anecdote about Ernest Lachmund’s time in Leipzig:

“It was in Leipzig that, according to his own confession, young Lachmund ruined the career of a

new concerto that the composer, Svendsen, had written, and which Alwin Schroeder, the cellist who

played with the Kneisel quartet, considered for his Gewandhaus program. If an audience of critics

agreed that it was meritorious, then Schroeder was to accept the work; otherwise, not.

“The concerto wasn’t spectacular but it had many beautiful passages,” Lachmund recalls.

“But I was so nervous and so frightened, and played so poorly Schroeder would have nothing of it.

But can you blame me? In the room were the watchful eyes and ears of Dr. Jadassohn, Carl Reinecke…,

Dr. Fritch [editor of the famous music journal founded by Schumann], …and other celebrities.”

Upon his return from Leipzig in the summer of 1889, Ernest married Mabel A. Gray in Minneapolis. The short-lived Lachmund String Quartet, intended as the resident ensemble of the newly-formed Chamber Concert Club organized by a Miss Dennis, made its debut at Dyer’s Music Hall on January 6, 1890. The ensemble’s second concert was the occasion of Ernest’s first solo reappearance in Minneapolis; on a program flanked by Beethoven’s Op. 18, No. 1 and Jadassohn’s Op. 70 quartet, he performed the Lindler E-minor cello concerto before “a large and cultivated audience…in perfect style, and was encored.” (St. Paul Globe, 3/2/1890, p. 10) Just a few days after this success, Ernest’s intention to settle in Duluth was publicized. The recently widowed Carl, now remarried, left the Twin Cities the following year to join the faculty of Xaver Schwarenka’s new music conservatory in New York; he would later found his own music school, lead the Women's String Orchestra, and publish his detailed dairies from his studies with Liszt.

In relocating to the Zenith City, Ernest and Mabel were following the example of his sister Emma (Schmied, later Elsmith), whose husband was a local newspaper executive and amateur flutist. Emma also became a leading Duluth music teacher. During these early Duluth years, Mabel gave birth to their two sons, Otto (born 1893) and Harry (born 1895). (Mabel, herself a vocalist and pianist who had studied in Germany and Italy, returned soon thereafter to her native California, raising Otto and Harry as a single mother, joining writers Jack London and George Sterling in the San Francisco bohemian entourage the Crowd, and marrying Stanford University professor Stewart Young. Her cottage at Carmel-By-The-Sea is now a museum.) From the 1890-1 season, Ernest, Emma, and Mabel performed together on a series of local “Lachmund concerts” at the Masonic Temple hall. In 1891-2, Ernest and Emma formed a Chamber Concert Company together with the English violinist Sidney Brown. Ernest also gave lectures “upon the history of music from mythological times down to the present.” (St. Paul Globe, 10/26/1890 p. 18)

In 1895, around the time of the demise of the Temple opera house, Ernest founded the Lachmund Studios of Musical Art, successor to the Duluth School of Piano, also run by Lachmund. His reputation as a performer on both cello and piano was bolstered through chamber music appearances with other Duluth musicians—such as Carl Riedelsberger, Gerard Tonning, Jens Flaaten, and Mrs. Erd—performances that may have helped precipitate the founding of the Matinee Musicale concert series at the turn of the twentieth century. He also brought other music teachers to Duluth and regularly sponsored local concerts by visiting musical luminaries. One of his many students at the Lachmund Studios was Michigan-born Winifred Holmes, who in 1907 became the second Mrs. Ernest Lachmund. She later served as Matinee Musicale president (1920-22), and, following Ernest’s retirement in the 1940s, saw the venerable Lachmund Studios into its second half-century of instruction in several branches of music performance and theory.

Long recognized as “Ernest Lachmund, Duluth Composer,” Ernest wrote his earliest known works when just a teenager. His first orchestral piece was likely the four-movement suite performed around 1880 by the Berlin Concert Orchestra. This may have been the same suite, “highly creditable to its author,” (St. Paul Globe, 3/7/1887, p. 3) that was played by Danz’s orchestra in Minneapolis on March 6, 1887 and again on December 27, 1891. The first Duluth hearing of his music appears to have been on the August 16, 1890, Masonic Temple hall concert of Ernest Lachmund and his students. The second part of the concert was devoted entirely to Lachmund’s compositions, including two songs, four piano pieces, and a cello piece. (St. Paul Sunday Globe, 8/17/1890 p. 11)

At least three of Ernest Lachmund’s orchestral works were performed by the Duluth Symphony orchestra during his lifetime: Scherzo Romantique, Autumn, and The Adventurer. A tone poem composed for the 1932 Duluth Day Dinner, The Adventurer is a musical description of the travels and tribulations of the son of a German family Ernest had known in Berlin, as told to him by the “towering” adventurer himself when he showed up at Lachmund’s studio in about 1928. Lachmund’s compositions also included a string quartet, a piano quintet, songs, and over twenty published piano works. Along with Gustavus Johnson and others, Lachmund numbers among the pioneering composers of what the late University of Minnesota musicologist Robert Laudon called the First School of Minnesota Composition.

Ernest’s first known cello compositions also date from the early 1880s, when he was studying at the Berlin Hochschule. Dedicated to Anton Hekking and later brought out by the Berlin publisher A. Stahl, the Waltz-Serenade for cello is one of these early pieces. As first cellist of the newly-founded Berlin Philharmonic, Hekking performed the serenade with the orchestra. The serenade was later performed by Bruno Steindel and Carlo Fischer, first cellists of the symphony orchestras of Chicago and Minneapolis, respectively. A 1901 review of the Stahl publication describes the serenade as a piece that “shows consideration for the solo instrument, [with] a wealth of melody, and extremely skillful workmanship.” Another of Ernest’s early cello pieces, Evening on the Lake, was later performed by Gladys Magner together with the serenade on a 1917 Matinee Musicale concert on the occasion of Duluth Composers’ Day.

In 1940 the Duluth Music Teachers’ association awarded Ernest the honorary title of “Dean of Duluth’s music teachers.” And though his public cello performances after the turn of the twentieth century were rare, he continued to be considered “the cello artist of Duluth,” as he was called in March 1919 when he performed with Mrs. Lachmund for the Matinee Musicale annual meeting. The musical couple opened with the cello sonata by Grieg, whom Ernest had met in Leipzig over thirty years earlier, and closed with four recent Lachmund pieces: The Adventurer, Dreaming, In Spain, and In a Canoe (scherzo). These brief cello pieces, then “recently written here in Duluth,” were still in manuscript, and may have remained unpublished. As an encore, Ernest added a fifth, a Reverie. Tantalizingly, the whereabouts of these and other Ernest Lachmund manuscripts are currently unknown.


My starting point was a group of newspaper clippings from the biographical file on Ernest Lachmund at the Duluth Public Library, digital copies of which were kindly provided to me in 2018. These include the following: program note for Lachmund’s tone poem The Adventurer, by Nathan Cohen (typed manuscript, 1932); “From Ernest Lachmund’s Notebook,” by Nathan Cohen (N. W. Musical Herald, MY, 1933); “Lachmund Now ‘Dean of Music’" (Duluth Herald, Feb. 7, 1940); “The LACHMUND Story” by Earl Finberg (Duluth News Tribune, March 27, 1949“Death Sounds Final Note For Lachmund” (Duluth Herald, Feb. 11, 1954); “Mrs. Lachmund, Duluth Music Leader, Dies” (Duluth News Tribune, May 17, 1960). Realizing that there were a number of gaps and inconsistencies in the above items, I combed through earlier Minneapolis and Duluth newspapers at the Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub and Library of Congress to fill in missing details and reconstruct a richer, more accurate chronology for the 1880-1920 period.


“Duluth Composer Gives Reminiscences of Liszt” (Duluth News Tribune, Jan. 25, 1914)

“Artists for Open Meeting of the Matinee Musicale” (Duluth Herald, March 22, 1919), with photos of Mr. and Mrs. Lachmund (see above)

Robert Tallant Laudon, “Concerts of Minnesota Composers, 1889-1935, and other related events: A Chronology” (2001; retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy) on concerts of works by Minnesota composers

Robert Tallant Laudon, “Heinrich Hoevel: German Violinist in Minneapolis and Thorson’s Harbor” (2002; Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy), on the Lachmund String Quartet

Geoffrey Dunn, “Deep-Sea Matrimony: George Sterling and “The Abalone Song” in “Noticias del Puerto de Monterrey: Bulletin of the Monterey History and Art Association, Fall/Winter 2008 (Vol. LVII, No. 1), on Mabel Gray [Lachmund] Young

“A City Filled with Music: 100 Years of Duluth’s Matinee Musicale” (2012 ebook), photo of Lachmund with cello from p. 5 (see above)

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