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One of the Last Duos for a Long Time

The MHS Review 238 Vol. 3, No. 4 • April 16, 1979

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David M. Greene


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It can't - have been very many weeks ago that, apropos a work by Kodaly, I wondered aloud if anyone could think of other duos for the combination violin-cello. Now along comes MHS 4016, as if in answer, saying as plain as plain, ''Sure, dummy!'' How all occasions do conspire against me to disclose my ignorance! If only I could have gone to Harvard. Or Yale.

Moreover, even the little I know plays me false. I looked at the name '' Reicha'' on the preview cassette and felt quite cozy. Good old Anton Reicha! Beethoven's buddy. Teacher to Berlioz and Liszt. General reviver of music in France. Author of those remarkable wind quintets that I insist you ought to hear. However, last night, as I was getting my thoughts together--which, con­trary to the opinion of my correspondent in western Pa., I am at some pains to do--1 thought I'd best have a look at the accompanying notes. Surprise! This Reicha is not Anton at all, but his Uncle Joe, who took his orphaned nephew into his home and taught him most of what he knew. According to the notes, written in the English dialect of Paris, this was '' in Wallerstein, in Souabe," where ''Joseph, who was born in 1764, is a famous musician, solo-cello in Oettingen orchestra.'' The household also included Joseph's French aunt, described as ''little blunt housekeeper.'' Later they all packed up and went to Bonn in 1785 to work for the Elector-Archbishop Maximilian of Cologne, said to be '' Joseph II emperor's brother." There Anton was number two flute and Joseph was the conductor. Except that for a long time Joseph thought it silly of Anton to want to compose music, they all lived there happily ever after--or would have, had not Napoleon begun making himself so objec­tionable in those parts in 1794 that everyone cut and ran. Anton headed for Hamburg; the books don't say what became of Uncle Joe, though I am certain that, even lacking his orchestra, he conducted himself well.

Joseph Reicha enters the reference books only as a footnote to his nephew, so I must again depend on the liner notes for information about his musical legacy, which seems to have been pretty puny. It consists, I learn, of a cello concerto, and '' above all, duos for a violin and a cello which are likely to have been written in Bonn.'' What we have here is his 'very classical F major second duo'' which, you'll be delighted to know, '' shows his writer's hand sureness." It's hard to think of anything to add to that, but I did find it (the duo) very pleasant and the slow movement something more than that. It is sad, however, to think that this was one of the last appearances of the duo genre for a long time: "'The XIXth C. forsook the string duo which specially Ravel and Bartok will make live again in the XIX th C." [sic!]

On to the Bohrer Brothers. Again I struck out. The only member of their family I'd ever encountered was Stem Bohrer, who gets my zucchini plants every summer. The two with whom we are concerned here were the second generation of a dynasty. Their father was Kaspar Bohrer who played trumpet and contrabass in the famous Mannheim Orchestra (the first modern symphony orchestra), in which his brother Johann­-Philipp was a string man. Kaspar's elder son, Anton (1783-1852), became a virtuoso violinist. As for his education, ''he begins to learn with his father and ends with Kreutzer in Paris." Max (1785-1867), who ''was his father's pupil either'' became equally proficient on the cello. Both were born in Munich, where the Mannheimers had relocated when their bosses, the Elector Palatine, inherited Bavaria by default. Anton and Max undertook a concert tour of Russia in 1830 and were almost shipped off to Siberia as suspected Bavarian spies. Earlier they had played in the royal orchestra in Berlin, but could not get along with Gasparo Spontini, the conductor. While there, they married two of the sisters of the violinist Ferdinand David. Anton, in the latter 1840' s, ''plays with his pianist daughter Sophie on her concert tours.'' Alas, poor Sophie! She died in 1849, aged 21. Later her father became concertmaster of the Hanover orchestra and her uncle first cellist at Stuttgart.

The Bohrers seem to have done a genuine brother-act as composers, which sort of thing is pretty rare in music. I can think of the Ricci' s, who wrote the opera Crispino e la comare, and the Frenchmen Paul and Lucien Hillemacher (who wrote as ''P.L. Hille­macher' '). Are there others? Anyhow, the Op. 41 duo is a very interesting work--not earth-shattering but interest-holding.

Review of German Classical String Duos pg 59

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