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  • Writer's pictureGeoffrey Dean

Tale of Two Cellists: Alwin Schroeder and Julius Klengel

Klengel dedicated his Op. 2 cello pieces to Schroeder. Listen to the opening Berceuse.

During the 1880s, two outstanding cellists represented Leipzig on the European music scene: Leipzig native Julius Klengel and his Gewandhaus Orchestra and Leipzig Conservatory colleague, Alwin Schroeder. As this timeline shows, their early careers developed along similar, sometimes intertwining lines.


On June 15 Alwin Schroeder is born in Neuhaldensleben. His father is a local music

director, and his three older brothers, younger sister, and younger brother all pursue music professionally.


On Sept. 24 Julius Klengel, the son of an amateur musician, is born in Leipzig. Julius’s grandfather Moritz Klengel had been Gewandhaus Orchestra concertmaster, and his aunt married a later Gewandhaus concertmaster, Engelbert Rontgen. Julius’s older brother Paul, also a musician, is five years older (born in 1854).


Alwin, age 7, begins violin and piano studies in Neuhaldensleben with his father and eldest brother Hermann.


Julius, age 10, begins studies with his only cello teacher, Gewandhaus Orchestra first cellist Emil Hegar. Meanwhile his older brother Paul is majoring in both piano and violin at the Leipzig Conservatory. It seems that Julius himself is never enrolled in the conservatory. At this time, 14-year-old Alwin is in Ballenstedt as the violist of the Schroeder Brothers Quartet.


Julius, age 15, completes his cello studies and becomes a member of the Gewandhaus cello section. Meanwhile, at the age of 19, Alwin begins his self-study of the cello in Berlin.


Julius composes his first cello works. Completed in March 1875, his Opus 2 (Drei Stucke for cello and piano) is published in 1881 with a dedication to Alwin. From the fall Alwin is first cellist of the Liebig (Berlin Symphony) Orchestra, and in December makes his solo debut in the E-minor cello concerto by Lindler.


On October 29 Julius makes his “technically stunning” Gewandhaus solo debut in Davidoff’s B-minor concerto (No. 1, Op. 5).


On March 13 Alwin, still resident in Berlin, gives what may have been his first Leipzig performance, playing his older brother Carl’s first cello concerto with the composer at the piano. Carl had been called to Leipzig in 1874 to succeed Julius's teacher Hegar as Gewandhaus first cellist. Unlike both Julius and Carl, Alwin is not a composer.


Julius tours Germany playing repertoire including his Capriccio in D minor, Op. 3, a virtuoso piece that Alwin would perform regularly from 1882 on. Alwin is in Hamburg at this point, playing in the Fliege orchestra.


As of April 1, Alwin is a member of the Gewandhaus orchestra of Leipzig. He plays first cello in place of his brother Carl during the 1880-1881 season. On November 25 Alwin makes his solo debut with the Gewandhaus orchestra in Davidoff’s new E-minor concerto (No. 4, Op. 31). He is “deservedly received very positively”— he is found to have “a beautiful though not significant tone and great technical skill,” and his concerto performance is “musically insightful, sensitive, and tasteful.” (E. Bernsdorf in SMW 1880, pp. 1020-1)

Just a few weeks later, Julius makes his first solo appearance with the Gewandhaus orchestra since 1876, premiering his own A-minor cello concerto (No. 1, Op. 4). “We are happy that [Julius Klengel’s] development as a cellist has been so incredibly positive. Since we last heard him, the young man has made enormous progress, becoming a player with considerable skill and dexterity, impeccable purity of intonation, pleasant tone, and sophisticated performance. His skill as a composer, too, has grown… The young artist was applauded so enthusiastically that we almost feel we should warn him not to let this turn his head and not to accept the applause as recognition of a mastery that has already reached the highest level.”(E. Berndorf in SMW 1880, p. 70)


On January 27, it is announced that Carl Schroeder is leaving his positions in the Gewandhaus Orchestra and on the Leipzig Conservatory faculty to become music director at Sondershausen, and that Julius Klengel is to replace him. (LMW, Jan. 27, 1881, p. 60)

On February 19 Julius and Alwin have separate meetings with the Conservatory director, who appoints them on equal financial terms. (Leipzig Hochschule fur Musik archive) Another published announcement (LMW, March 3, 1881, p. 125) makes clear that Julius is the main conservatory cello teacher and is Gewandhaus solo cellist, and that Alwin “also” appointed, as cello and piano teacher; Alwin's Gewandhaus role not mentioned. From October 1, Julius and Alwin share the position of first cellist in the Gewandhaus concerts. (LMW 1883, pp. 488-9) However, Julius plays only in the concert orchestra, while Alwin also plays in the opera orchestra (per 1881Gewandhaus Orchestra History, etc.). Julius and Alwin alternate in the Gewandhaus chamber concerts, Julius playing in the quartet led by his uncle-in-law Engelbert Rontgen and Alwin in the quartet led by Henry Schradieck.


On January 26 Alwin plays Gewandhaus Kapellmeister Carl Reinecke’s cello concerto with the orchestra. Bernsdorf finds his performance “most praiseworthy and received with justified acclaim. He has again proven himself to be a multitalented performer on his instrument.”

In February Julius is described as the Paganini of his instrument. Earlier applied in Leipzig to Carl Schroeder, the “Paganini of the cello” epithet sticks with Klengel, placing this cellist’s astonishing facility above the technical abilities of other cellists. The playing of Alwin, whose technical mastery is never questioned, is more often praised in terms of tone, cantilena, and musicality, and later in the decade he is referred to as “our Violoncello Singer.” (See LMW 1882, p. 164)

On March 16 Julius appears as soloist in the Volkmann cello concerto, giving the work's first Gewandhaus performance since David Popper played it there in 1864. Bernsdorf: “The hero of the first part of the concert was Mr. Julius Klengel. His eminent skill and crystal pure intonation, and his utterly musical and tasteful performance were rewarded by stormy applause and multiple call-backs, and naturally the usual requests for encores. The variations of his own composition… include just about every effect possible on the cello but probably often goes beyond the limits of what is proper and natural.”

In October Alwin makes one of several 1882 solo appearances with his brother’s orchestra in Sondershausen. An enthusiastic report on this performance says Alwin’s “virtuosity has reached the limits of possibility,” referring specifically to his interpretation of Julius’s Capriccio, Op. 3. (NZM 1882, p. 475) In early 1883 Alwin is awarded the royal Kammervirtuos title by the prince of Schwarzenburg-Sondershausen.


On January 25 Julius introduces his Cello Concerto in D minor (No. 2, Op. 20) on a Gewandhaus orchestra subscription concert. From this point Julius’s annual appearance as concerto soloist with the orchestra, with one exception, is always in January, while Alwin’s is nearly always in the fall months. During their 11 seasons together in Leipzig (1880-1 through 1890-1), each cellist makes a total of ten Gewandhaus concerto appearances, with never more than one in a single concert season. Alwin appears as soloist in every season except 1883-4, and Julius appears every season except 1889-90. (LGO Concert Archive)

In March Alwin performs with Clara Schumann in the Schumann piano quintet, as a member of the Gewandhaus quartet led by Schradieck’s successor Henri Petri (also referred to as the Petri Quartet).

In September a biographical profile of Julius appears, with this likeness of the 24-year-old musician (LMW, Sept. 27, 1883, pp. 488-9):

In November Alwin is announced as the cellist of newly-founded Brodsky Quartet (LMW, Nov. 29, 1883, p. 616), but is forced by a hand injury to bow out before the first concert (on Feb. 6, 1884), and Leopold Grutzmacher of Weimar becomes the quartet’s cellist. Julius does not join the ensemble until the 1885-6 season. In 1890-1, Alwin subs for Julius in the quartet while Julius tours England as a soloist, and in 1907-8, Julius returns the favor, subbing for Alwin in the Frankfurt Museum Quartet.


In the spring, Julius and Alwin collaborate in the Schubert String Quintet in C Major, the former as a guest with the Petri Quartet. In the fall, E. Rontgen and Julius resign from Gewandhaus quartet activity. The Brodsky Quartet (with Leopold Grutzmacher continuing as cellist) takes place of the ensemble led by Rontgen on the Gewandhaus chamber concerts, alternating with the Petri Quartet. Alwin performs as guest with Brodsky Quartet in the Brahms G Major Sextet, apparently playing the first cello part, judging by the order the performers' names are listed.

On October 23 Alwin makes his first Gewandhaus concerto appearance since recovering from his hand injury. He plays the same work that Julius had played in 1882, holding “his ground with well-known mastery” in Volkmann's “groundbreaking concerto… worthy of taking first place in the repertoire of every talented cellist.” (LMW 1884, p. 549) This last clause might be intended as a justification for Julius and Alwin having played the work in close succession on the Gewandhaus concerts. Apart from the Volkmann, there is no overlap in their Gewandhaus concerto repertoire. Of the cello concertos in the modern repertoire, only Alwin plays Saint-Saens No. 1, Op. 33 (1885, 1890) and Lalo (1890) and only Klengel plays Schumann (1884, 1888) and Haydn D Major (1887). Even later, Julius never plays the Saint-Saens or Lalo concertos (at least in Leipzig); Alwin never plays the Haydn, and only in 1910 does he perform the Schumann concerto.


In the spring, both Alwin and Julius play Popper’s new Spinnlied (Spinning Song), a virtuoso piece dedicated to Julius. “[On April 26] Mr. Schröder played quite wonderfully. The gracefulness and delicacy of his solo pieces (Romance by Hans Sitt, Moment Musicale by Schubert-Schröder, and Spinning Song by Popper) made them true showpieces of cello playing. …[On May 3rd] Mr. Julius Klengel displayed his eminent artistry… We did think it was odd that as an encore Mr. Klengel performed the same Popper Spinning Song that Mr. Schröder had played as part of his program a week earlier.” (M. Krause in LMW 1885, p. 257)

In October Julius takes over from L. Grutzmacher as cellist of the Brodsky Quartet. The Brodsky and Petri Quartets share the Gewandhaus chamber series opening concert of the 1885-6 season. That month Alwin and Julius again collaborate in the Schubert Quintet, the former as guest with the Brodsky Quartet. “[The Schubert quintet] has never before been played with such perfection and dedication in Leipzig, which is why it affected everyone as though it was a completely new piece. With truly sacred enthusiasm, the artists assiduously revealed the countless beauties of the work, and the enraptured audience listened in hushed silence to the music streaming from a union of superb instruments.” (LMW 1885, p. 601)

On October 25, Alwin participates (with Siloti and Halir) in the German premiere of Tchaikovsky’s piano trio, Op. 50. The composer, present at a later Leipzig performance of the work with Alwin, praises Schroeder specifically in the journal he keeps about the trip.

In November a biographical profile of 30-year-old Alwin appears, illustrated with this likeness (LMW, Nov. 19, 1885, pp. 582-3):


Julius and Alwin are lauded for their successful solo performances on tour: “Leipzig has never been as rich in excellent instrumental soloists as now. …the great cellists Klengel and Schröder have repeatedly brought honor to the name of our city abroad. … just now Messrs. Klengel and Schröder are also returning to Leipzig crowned with glory, the former from Munich, and Mr. Schröder from Liège.” (LMW 1886, p. 182) In April, the published roster of Leipzig concert manager Julius Merckel includes both Julius, described as “Violoncellvirtuos,” and Alwin, whose “Kammervirtuos” description is apparently derived from his royal title. (LMW 1886, p. 377) In September, Julius receives a negative reply to his inquiry about performing for the Russian Music Society in Moscow because the music director there has already engaged Alwin. (Letter from Max Erdmannsdorfer to Julius Klengel. Nurnberg, Sept. 4, 1886)


On February 13, Julius, Alwin, and new Gewandhaus cellist Leo Schulz (later of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic) join Carl Davidoff (the celebrated St. Petersburg cellist-composer and former Gewandhaus first cellist, visiting Leipzig for the first time in two decades) in a performance of Klengel’s new variations for cello quartet. Monthly Musical Record (April 1 1887, p 82) called this “a union of truly first-rate players seldom to be found together.” Davidoff also plays his own E minor concerto, the one that Alwin had introduced at the Gewandhaus in 1880.

On March 5, the Gewandhaus audience's enthusiasm over Alwin's “glorious playing” of the Molique concerto reaches “a seldom-observed height and intensity.” He “sang delightfully on his Amati cello, with such tenderness, integrity, and purity of intonation that his performance was an ideal transfiguration of everything he played.” (LMW 1887, p. 137)

This year Alwin participates in the first Leipzig performances of several chamber works by Johannes Brahms, including the C-minor piano trio, Op. 101 (with Willy Rehberg and Petri) and the F-Major cello sonata, Op. 99 (with Rehberg). Publisher Simrock agrees to delay the publication of both these works and the Op. 100 violin sonata until Rehberg, Petri, and Schroeder complete their all-Brahms tour with Madame Joachim. (Clive, Brahms and His World, pp. 243-4) Later Brahms himself plays the trio in Leipzig with Brodsky and Julius.


In the spring, Alwin and Julius collaborate in a Gewandhaus performance of the Mendelssohn octet led by Petri. Julius appears to have played second cello.

On the October 25 Gewandhaus concert, Alwin gives the probable German premiere of the cello concerto by Willem Kes, founding conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam.

Late in the year and into 1889, Alwin tours as a soloist to cities throughout Germany, as well as Prague, Warsaw, Moscow, and St. Petersburg, and is “showered with artistic honors everywhere.” (LMW 1888, p. 621) In Russia he creates “a sensation with his excellent handling of his instrument. He ranks here in Germany among the first masters of the violoncello, and is especially lauded for his poetic tone.” (LMW 1889, pp. 158-9)


In the summer and fall, Alwin is acclaimed for his performances of the Lalo concerto, including the work's first performance at the Gewandhaus, where it isn't heard again until Jean Gerardy plays it there in 1909. For Alwin's concerto performances on tour during his last several years in Germany, he most frequently plays the Saint-Saens and Volkmann concertos.


Early in the year, Julius and Alwin are again acknowledged together in the press as equally successful touring soloists: “Mr. Julius Klengel, the famous Leipzig cello virtuoso, has lately been giving concerts in various large Swiss cities, always achieving amazing success with his unsurpassable playing. – His Leipzig colleague Mr. Alwin Schröder was no less successful this season, playing in various German cities (Mannheim, Frankfurt a.M. and Frankfurt a.O., Hamburg, etc.) as well as recently in Antwerp, where he has been a visiting soloist on a regular basis. His limpid technique, his warm tone and his loveable cantilena perfectly explain these successes.” (LMW 1890, p. 140)

In March, Alwin performs the Richard Strauss cello sonata with the composer. In May, the cellists performing at the Beethoven festival in Bonn are Hausmann, Piatti, and Schroeder.

The Wolff concert management of Berlin has seven cellists on its 1890 roster, including Julius and Alwin. In late 1890, Alwin subs for Julius in the Brodsky Quartet while Julius tours England as soloist. Also in 1890, fellow Brodsky Quartet member Hans Sitt dedicates his Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor to Julius. Sitt's Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor, published the following year, carries a similar dedication to Alwin, perfectly encapsulating the shared status of the two leading cellists of 1880s Leipzig.

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