Sunday, February 26, 2012

Theodore Spiering

Theodore Spiering (Theodore Bernays Spiering) was an American violinist, teacher, composer, and conductor, born (in St Louis, Missouri) on September 5, 1871.  He is remembered for a number of accomplishments which today are largely forgotten, though he was a pioneer of musical life in America (on both coasts) in the early part of the Twentieth Century.  His first lessons, at age 5, were with his father (Ernst Spiering), concertmaster of the St Louis Symphony.  He first played in public at age 7.  His later studies from age 15 (1886 to 1888) were with Henry Schradieck, violin professor at the Cincinnati College of Music.  When he arrived, Simon Jacobsohn was also probably still teaching there.  He then went to Europe in 1888 where he studied with Joseph Joachim in Berlin from 1888 to 1892.  He returned to the U.S. in 1892 and soon joined the violin section of the Chicago Symphony which had been formed a year earlier (1891.)  He was 21 years old.  One source states that he made many solo appearances with the orchestra under Theodore Thomas.  Regrettably, the source is incorrect.  Spiering only played once as soloist under Thomas  - that was on February 17, 1893.  The work he played was Schumann’s Fantasy for violin, opus 131.  (Since Max Bendix was concertmaster until 1896, that can only mean that Spiering was one of the other top violinists in the orchestra.  Theodore Thomas was known for selflessly promoting new music and new artists.  He presented no fewer than 112 U.S. premieres as conductor of the Chicago Symphony, a record which I predict will never be matched by anyone.)  Spiering also immediately began his teaching career there and eventually became Director at the Chicago Musical College (1902 to 1905.)  He also soon organized the Spiering String Quartet which was very successful and remained active between 1893 and 1905.  He left the Chicago Symphony in 1896.  After 1905, Spiering took to concertizing in Europe for four years.  When he again returned to the U.S. - four years later – he became concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic (1909-1911) at Gustav Mahler’s invitation, the salary offered being $5,000 (equivalent to about $130,000 in today’s dollars.)  In fact, when Mahler returned to Europe due to serious illness (from which he died), Spiering conducted the last 17 concerts of the orchestra’s season.  He was 40 years old.  Spiering debuted with the Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall on November 10, 1909 with the Bach E Major concerto.  Mahler requested this work himself.  On February 25 and again on March 27, 1910, Spiering played the Vieuxtemps violin concerto number 5 with the Philharmonic.  For each solo appearance, Spiering received an additional $200.  It was expected that Spiering would be offered the conducting job after Mahler’s death but he was passed over in favor of a European conductor – Josef Stransky.  Spiering subsequently returned to Europe to guest conduct the Bluthner Orchestra of Berlin and (possibly) the Berlin Philharmonic, among other orchestras.  He was highly regarded in Germany and England – a review of a concert given in Berlin by the Bluthner Orchestra in late December of 1912 is a testament to that fact.  When war broke out in Europe in 1914, Spiering once more returned to the U.S.  He was 43 years old.  He guest conducted the New York Philharmonic, concertized, and did a lot of teaching.  Reviewing a recital he presented at Aeolian Hall in New York on November 3, 1916, the music critic of the New York Times perceptively noted that Spiering’s virtuosity as a violinist was somewhat diluted (“especially as it referred to his bowing”) by his varied interests in music – conducting, teaching, and composing.  On December 8 of the same year, he played the Bruch concerto in g minor with the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock.  In 1921, he expected the conducting job at the St Louis Symphony to be offered to him - St Louis was his hometown, after all - but that, too, went to someone else – Rudolf Ganz.  In September of 1923, he again relocated to Europe, resided in Berlin and Vienna, wrote music, and guest conducted various orchestras.  On March 18, 1925, having once more made the trip back to the U.S., Spiering guest conducted the Portland (Oregon) Symphony and was almost immediately offered the post of Music Director.  He accepted and then traveled to Europe once again to rest and select new scores for the upcoming season of his orchestra.  Spiering died suddenly (in Munich) on August 11, 1925, at age 53, having never gotten any of the conducting jobs he really wanted.  He played a Guarnerius Del Gesu from 1729.  

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