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HUGO HEERMANN - VIOLINIST

The German violinist and great friend of Johannes Brahms writes two bars of the theme of the 3rd, rondo movement in a high register of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major, Sydney, July, 1905.

 

Heermann (1844 - 1935) visited Australia in June and July of 1905 performing with his son Emil, a fellow violinist.  Heermann was Belgian trained at the Brussels Conservatoire with Lambert Meerts and at the Paris Conservatoire with Charles De Beriot.  He finished in his native Germany with Joseph Joachim who introduced the young violinist to Johannes Brahms. In 1864,, after he completed his studies with Joachim in Berlin, Heermann based himself in Frankfurt, where he taught privately and eventually at the Hochschule für Musik in Frankfurt from 1878-1904. (He taught among others Bronislaw Hubermann.) Moreover, he performed as soloist there and on tour throughout Europe and Great Britain.  Among other things was he led the local premieres of Brahms Violin Concerto at the composer’s request in Frankfurt, Paris and later in Sydney (1905) and New York (1903).  He was also the leader of the Heermann Quartet with Hugo Becker, Fritz Bassermann and Adolf Rebner. (They were often referred to as the Museum Quartet as they played performances in the Frankfurt Art Museum.)  Among the works written and premiered by the Heermann Quartet are, the Brahms Klavier Trio #2 op. 87 1882, the String Quintet #1 in F minor op. 88 in 1882 and the Dvorak Piano Quartet #2 in E flat major in 1890.  Heermann also gave the important Frankfort premiere of Brahms’s Violin Sonata #3 op. 108 in 1889.  It appears the relationship with Brahms ended in 1884 when Brahms performed with the Heermann Quartet in Frankfurt and refused to take a bow with the composer after Brahms had stood and glared at him after the close of each movement.  According to Clara and Robert Schumann’s grandson Ferdinand who traveled with his grandmother and Brahms, the audience went wild and Brahms insisted Hugo Becker come out for the bow instead of Heermann who had rejected the request and Brahms exclaimed afterwards that “he would never look at him again”.  (“Brahms and Clara Schumann” by Ferdinard Schumann, 1884. p. 513)

 

Heermann’s touring began to include countries outside of Europe and Britain in 1903, when he premiered the Brahms Violin Concerto in New York City with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Orchestra. (He also would perform the American premiere of the Bruch 1st Concerto as well with Damrosch.)  After a performance of the Beethoven concerto with Damrosch, The New York Herald critic wrote, Heermann left a deep impression upon the audience, and was rewarded with all the enthusiastic applause which his performance warranted, being recalled again and again.   In 1905 he toured Asia and Oceana, including concerts in Australia and New Zealand. On this trip, he took his son Emil a rising young violinist.  A snarky critic for the Red Page of the “Sydney Bulletin” published the following criticism of the final Sydney concert on July 27, 1905. The critic goes on to critique other critics writing, including the far more important “Sydney Daily Telegraph”.

 

…Something very like an organized claque was in evidence at violinist Hugo Heermann’s last recital in Sydney. Emil Heermann, his father’s son, who gave a clever rendering, of a Paganini concerto, was recalled seven times—say six times more than the performance intrinsically warranted. Hugo Heermann maybe described as a virtuoso of the German class.  He plays admirably, beautifully; but he plays like a man of science, who is fond of music.  Of musical temperament in the special sense he has little. What the music gives, he gives correctly and rather coldly.  The people who compared his style with the style of Melba’s singing were in the right. We are of those- who like personal emotion in music. The violin, like the lyre, “is a winged instrument, and should transport.” In Ysaye’s hands it does; so also in Kreisler’s. These men, like Paderewski, have the genius of music. Heermann has only the science. One guesses that It would have astounded Munich to read the criticisms in Sydney Daily Telegraph, where superlatives were lavished galore. 

It would appear the snarky critic of lesser stature who opined here accepted instrumentalists who were predisposed to changing the composer’s intentions as the three he mentioned were wont to do.  As opposed to Heermann who was considered one of the finest violin technicians of his day whose entire being was steeped in composer’s intentions and struck with the score.

To that end, Heermann arrived in the United States in 1905 and took up residency.  After two years of tours, he settled as a Professor at the Chicago College of Music in 1907. In 1909, he left Chicago to take the position of Concertmaster of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under the leadership of the young Leopold Stokowski, who had just accepted the Music Directorship.  He left the position in 1911, with his son Emil inheriting the Concertmaster position.  Heermann then returned to Europe where he taught at the Stern Concervatory in Berlin for a year, then the Conservatoire in Geneva, eventually retiring in 1922 to Merano Italy.