Sunday, March 11, 2012

Karl Halir

Karl Halir (Carl Halir) was a Czech violinist, teacher, and composer born on February 1, 1859.  In his day, he was famous for his interpretation of the Beethoven concerto.  However, he is also remembered for having played the first performance of the revised version – the version now commonly heard today – of the Sibelius concerto.  He was also a very tall man with an imposing presence, as were August Wilhelmj and Erick Friedman (and is Arnold Steinhardt.)  It has been said that in his hands, the violin looked like a toy.  His father was his first violin teacher.  At the Prague Conservatory he studied under Antonin Bennewitz (teacher also of Josef Suk and Otakar Sevcik) and later (from age 15) with Joseph Joachim in Berlin, at the Advanced School for Music.  Upon graduation, Halir joined Benjamin Bilse’s Band in Berlin, the precursor of the Berlin Philharmonic.  He was either the concertmaster of this band or played among the first violins.  I do not know for sure.  He was concertmaster also of the orchestra at Konigsberg in 1879.  He was 20 years old.  Two years later, he became concertmaster in Mannheim and remained for 3 years.  One source states that after Konigsberg, he spent two seasons in Italy as part of the private orchestra of a Russian nobleman.  In 1884, he was appointed concertmaster of the orchestra in Weimar (Grand Ducal Court Orchestra) and was there for 10 years (1884-1894.)  That same year, as part of the Bach Festival, he and Joachim played the Bach concerto for two violins in Eisenach to great acclaim.  He was 25 years old.  Joachim was more than twice his age.  Halir much later (in 1897) joined Joachim’s string quartet as second violinist – the quartet had originally been formed in 1869.  After Joachim’s death, Halir formed his own quartet.  After leaving the Weimar orchestra in 1894, he became concertmaster of the Berlin Court Opera orchestra and teacher at the school from which he had graduated (the Hochschule fur Musik) – he taught there until the day he died.  In Berlin, he also formed a piano trio which included pianist George Schumann and cellist Hugo Dechert.  All the while, he continued his solo concerts and recitals.  In 1888, Halir played the Tchaikovsky concerto in Leipzig.  Tchaikovsky was at the performance and was so impressed with the concert he later described it as a memorable day.  In 1896, Halir toured the U.S.  He arrived on November 4, 1896, for a 25-concert tour.  For the tour, Joachim lent Halir his Red Stradivarius of 1715 (now called the Joachim Strad – not to be confused with the Red Mendelssohn), said to be worth $12,000 at the time.  That violin was a gift to Joachim from the City of London in 1889.  It went to Joachim’s nephew, Harold Joachim, upon Joseph Joachim’s death.  Today, it is in Cremona, Italy and is worth more than $12,000.  Joachim’s generosity was a further sign of the affection and respect he had for Halir.  Halir’s itinerary included the cities of Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Cambridge, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, among other places.  On November 13, 1896, in New York, he made his U.S. debut with the Beethoven concerto.  On December 4, he gave the U.S. premiere of Spohr’s eighth concerto.  On October 19, 1905, in Berlin, with Richard Strauss conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, Halir gave the famous performance of the final version of the Sibelius concerto.  He also played one of Charles Loeffler's violin works at that same concert.  In Berlin, most of his students were American violinists.  Among other things, Halir wrote violin etudes and scale studies and a cadenza for the Brahms concerto, works which are not well-known today.  Halir died (in Berlin) on December 21, 1909, at age 50. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Alessandro Rolla

Alessandro Rolla was an Italian violinist, violist, composer, conductor, and teacher, born on April 22, 1757.  Although he was a very successful virtuoso of his time, he is most famous for being one of Paganini’s teachers.  Unfortunately, he lived during a time when many great musical luminaries roamed the earth – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Rossini, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Berlioz, to name the better-known among them.  For example, after Mozart died in 1791, Rolla lived an additional 50 years and was witness to Mozart’s eventual universal success.  His life also encompassed Beethoven’s and Schubert’s entire lifetimes.  As a violinist, he was eclipsed by the likes of Paganini, Giovanni Viotti, Louis Spohr, Karol Lipinski, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Heinrich Ernst, and Pierre Rode.  Some of his compositions (about 600 in all according to one source) attest to the fact that many techniques which Paganini routinely used later on – including left-hand pizzicato, extremely high hand positions on the fingerboard, octaves, and double stopping - were first put forward by Rolla.  After his early studies, he moved to Milan where he studied from 1770 to 1778.  At his first public performance, he played a viola concerto of his own composition, said to be the first viola concerto ever heard.  That was in 1772 - he was 15 years old.  However, he did not write the first viola concerto – the first viola concerto was, in all likelihood, written by George Telemann.  In 1782, he was made leader of the Ducal Orchestra in Parma, Italy, playing violin and viola.  He was 25 years old.  He first met Paganini in 1795.  Paganini was then 13 years old.  How much time Paganini actually spent studying with Rolla is anyone’s guess.  It could have been one lesson or several or many.  During those years in Parma, Rolla traveled widely, published many of his works in Paris and Vienna, and conducted far and wide.  He was at Parma until 1802.  He then moved to Milan, where he was concertmaster and conductor of the opera orchestra at La Scala.  It has been said that none other than Louis Spohr praised this orchestra highly.  In 1808, the year of its inauguration, Rolla was made violin and viola professor of the Milan Conservatory, having been invited by Bonifazio Asioli, its first Director.  In 1811, Rolla was also director of the Cultural Society in Milan.  He was associated with La Scala until 1833 – thirty one years.  Upon leaving, Rolla was 76 years old.  At La Scala, he had conducted many of the operas of Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, among others.  He had also conducted Beethoven’s early symphonies as part of his activities with the Cultural Society.  He was among the first contributors to the music catalog of the famous Italian publisher, Ricordi.  These works included violin etudes in all keys.  His fame spread far and wide via publication of his works in Leipzig, Paris, Vienna, London, and Milan.  For the viola, he wrote no fewer than a dozen concertos, as well as duos for viola in combination with an assortment of other instruments.  He also wrote many violin concertos.  One of the more recent champions of Rolla's music was Emanuel Vardi.  Some, but certainly not many, of Rolla's works have been recorded and some of his music is still in print.  You can listen to tiny bits of some very charming works by Rolla here.  One of several YouTube postings can be found here and an extensive list of his works is available at this website.  Rolla died on September 15, 1841, at age 84.  Though very highly regarded and almost surely well-compensated during his lifetime, he became neglected in more modern times.  Before someone rescued their music from oblivion, the same fate befell Bach, Vivaldi, and Zelenka.  Perhaps things will change for Rolla, though that is unlikely.