Louis Spohr

Louis Spohr ([ˈluːi ˈʃpo:ɐ], 5 April 1784 – 22 October 1859), baptized Ludewig Spohr,[1] later often in the modern German form of the name Ludwig,[2] was a German composer, violinist and conductor. Highly regarded during his lifetime,[3] Spohr composed ten symphonies, ten operas, eighteen violin concerti, four clarinet concerti, four oratorios, and various works for small ensemble, chamber music, and art songs.[4] Spohr was the inventor of both the violin chinrest and the orchestral rehearsal mark. His output occupies a pivotal position between Classicism and Romanticism,[4] but fell into obscurity following his death, when his music was rarely heard. The late 20th century saw a revival of interest in his oeuvre, especially in Europe.

Spohr self-portrait


Spohr was born in Braunschweig in the duchy of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel to Karl Heinrich Spohr and Juliane Ernestine Luise Henke, but in 1786 the family moved to Seesen.[5] Spohr's first musical encouragement came from his parents: his mother was a gifted singer and pianist, and his father played the flute. A violinist named Dufour gave him his earliest violin teaching. The pupil's first attempts at composition date from the early 1790s. Dufour, recognizing the boy's musical talent, persuaded his parents to send him to Brunswick for further instruction.

Louis Spohr
Bust of Spohr

The failure of his first concert tour, a badly planned venture to Hamburg in 1799, caused him to ask Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand of Brunswick for financial help. A successful concert at the court impressed the duke so much that he engaged the 15-year-old Spohr as a chamber musician. In 1802, through the good offices of the duke, he became the pupil of Franz Eck and accompanied him on a concert tour which took him as far as Saint Petersburg. Eck, who completely retrained Spohr in violin technique, was a product of the Mannheim school, and Spohr became its most prominent heir.[6] Spohr's first notable compositions, including his Violin Concerto No. 1, date from this time. After his return home, the duke granted him leave to make a concert tour of North Germany. A concert in Leipzig in December 1804 brought the influential music critic Friedrich Rochlitz "to his knees," not only because of Spohr's playing but also because of his compositions. This concert brought the young man overnight fame in the whole German-speaking world.

In 1805, Spohr obtained a position as concertmaster at the court of Gotha, where he stayed until 1812. There he met the 18-year-old harpist and pianist Dorette Scheidler, daughter of one of the court singers. They were married on 2 February 1806, and lived happily until Dorette's death 28 years later. They performed successfully together as a violin and harp duo (Spohr having composed the Sonata in C minor for violin and harp for her), touring in Italy (1816–1817), England (1820) and Paris (1821), but Dorette later abandoned her harpist's career and concentrated on raising their children.

In 1808, Spohr practiced with Beethoven at the latter's home, working on the Piano Trio, Op. 70 No. 1, The Ghost. Spohr wrote that the piano was out of tune and that Beethoven's playing was harsh or careless. In 1812, Spohr conducted a concert in the Predigerkirche of the French-occupied Principality of Erfurt to celebrate Napoleon's 43rd birthday.[7] Spohr later worked as conductor at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna (1813–1815), where he continued to be on friendly terms with Beethoven; subsequently he was opera director at Frankfurt (1817–1819) where he was able to stage his own operas — the first of which, Faust, had been rejected in Vienna. Spohr's longest period of employment, from 1822 until his death in Kassel, was as the director of music at the recently succeeded William II, Elector of Hesse's court of Kassel, a position offered him on the suggestion of Carl Maria von Weber. In Kassel on 3 January 1836, he married his second wife, the 29-year-old Marianne Pfeiffer. She survived him by many years, living until 1892.

In 1851 the elector refused to sign the permit for Spohr's two months' leave of absence, to which he was entitled under his contract, and when the musician departed without the permit, a portion of his salary was deducted. In 1857 he was pensioned off, much against his own wish, and in the winter of the same year he broke his arm, an accident which put an end to his violin playing. Nevertheless he conducted his opera Jessonda at the fiftieth anniversary of the Prague Conservatorium in the following year. In 1859 he died at Kassel.

Like Haydn, Mozart, and his own slightly older contemporary Hummel, Spohr was an active Freemason.[8] He was also active as a violin instructor and had about 200 pupils throughout his career – many of them becoming famous musicians. His notable pupils included violinists Henry Blagrove and Henry Holmes. See: List of music students by teacher: R to S#Louis Spohr.


A composer, Spohr produced more than 150 works with opus numbers, in addition to a number of nearly 140 works without such numbers. He wrote music in all genres. His nine symphonies (a tenth was completed, but withdrawn: Cf.[9]) show a progress from the classical style of his predecessors to program music: his sixth symphony represents successive styles from "Bach–Handel" to the moderns; his seventh symphony represents the 'sacred and secular in human life' with a double orchestra; and his ninth symphony represents Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons). (The autograph score of the tenth symphony, which bears the complete work, is held by the Staatsbibliothek Berlin.[10] Furthermore the same institution holds a complete set of copied parts.[11] Cf. also [12]). Between 1803 and 1844 Spohr wrote more violin concertos than any other composer of the time, eighteen in all, including works left unpublished at his death.[13] Some of them are formally unconventional, such as the one-movement Concerto No. 8, which is in the style of an operatic aria, and which is still periodically revived (Jascha Heifetz championed it), most recently in a 2006 recording by Hilary Hahn. There are two double-violin concertos as well. Better known today, however, are the four clarinet concertos, all written for the virtuoso Johann Simon Hermstedt, which have established a secure place in clarinettists' repertoire.

Among Spohr's chamber music is a series of no fewer than 36 string quartets, as well as four double quartets for two string quartets. He also wrote an assortment of other quartets, duos, trios, quintets and sextets, an octet and a nonet, works for solo violin and for solo harp, and works for violin and harp to be played by him and his wife together.

Though obscure today, Spohr's operas Faust (1816), Zemire und Azor (1819) and Jessonda (1823) remained in the popular repertoire through the 19th century and well into the 20th, when Jessonda was banned by the Nazis because it depicted a European hero in love with an Indian princess. Spohr also wrote 105 songs and duets, many of them collected as Deutsche Lieder (German Songs), as well as a mass and other choral works. Most of his operas were little known outside of Germany, but his oratorios, particularly Die letzten Dinge (1825–1826) were greatly admired during the 19th century in England and America.[14] This oratorio was translated by Edward Taylor (1784–1863) and performed as The Last Judgment in 1830 for the first time. During the Victorian era Gilbert and Sullivan mentioned him in act 2 of The Mikado in a song by the title character.

Spohr, with his eighteen violin concertos, won a conspicuous place in the musical literature of the nineteenth century. He endeavored (without any good result) to make the concerto a substantial and superior composition free from the artificial bravura of the time. He achieved a new romantic mode of expression. The weaker sides of Spohr’s violin compositions are observed in his somewhat monotonous rhythmic structures; in his rejection of certain piquant bowing styles, and artificial harmonics; and in the deficiency of contrapuntal textures.[15]

Spohr was a noted violinist, and invented the violin chinrest, about 1820. He was also a significant conductor, being one of the first to use a baton and also inventing rehearsal letters, which are placed periodically throughout a piece of sheet music so that a conductor may save time by asking the orchestra or singers to start playing "from letter C", for example.

In addition to musical works, Spohr is remembered particularly for his Violinschule (The Violin School), a treatise on violin playing which codified many of the latest advances in violin technique, such as the use of spiccato.[16] It became a standard work of instruction.[14] In addition, he wrote an entertaining and informative autobiography, published posthumously in 1860.[9] A museum is devoted to his memory in Kassel.

According to Rey M. Longyear, Spohr's best works were hailed by many of his contemporaries as quintessentially Romantic and inherited by Mendelssohn.[17]

Selected recordings


  • Faust (WoO 51) Hillevi Martinpelto, Franz Hawlata and Bo Skovhus. Klaus Arp conducting the SWR Radio Orchestra, Kaiserslautern. Label: Capriccio, 1995.
  • Faust (WoO 51a – recitative version of 1852) A live recording of Bielefeld Opera from June 17/18, 1993. Geoffrey Moull conducting the Bielefelder Philharmonie, Chorus of the Bielefeld opera house. Label: CPO Records, 1994.
  • Zemire und Azor (WoO 52) "The Beauty and the Beast" – A production with singers of the Manhattan School of Music, New York, Christopher Larkin conducting. English spoken dialogues. Label: Albany Records, 2005.
  • Zemire und Azor (WoO 52) Anton Kolar conducting the Max Bruch Philharmonie, a production of the Theater Nordhausen. Label: Ds – Pool Music und Media, 2003.
  • Jessonda (WoO 53) Gerd Albrecht conducting the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady, Renate Behle, Kurt Moll a.o. The Chorus of the Hamburgische Staatsoper. Label: Orfeo, 1994.
  • Der Berggeist (WoO 54) Wykonawca: Camerata Silesia, Polska Orkiestra Radiowa, Susanne Bernhard, Agnieszka Piass, Dan Karlstrom, Szabolcs Brickner. Conductor: Łukasz Borowicz. Warsaw, April 8, 2009.
  • Der Alchymist (WoO 57) Bernd Weikl, Moran Abouloff, Jörg Dürmüller, Jan Zinkler, Susanna Pütters, Staatsorchester Braunschweig, Christian Fröhlich. Label: Oehms, 2009. The libretto is based on Washington Irving's sketch "The Student of Salamanca" from Bracebridge Hall, 1822.

Note: WoO = work without opus number (see also: Folker Göthel "Thematisch-Bibliographisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Louis Spohr". Tutzing, 1981).


  1. ^ Cf. Brown 1984, p. 3.
  2. ^ The name Louis became a colloquial expression for "pimp".
  3. ^ Musical World, xviii, 1843, p. 259
  4. ^ a b Clive Brown. "Spohr, Louis." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 18 May 2012
  5. ^ Anderson, 1994
  6. ^ Weyer 1980, p. 10.
  7. ^ "1806–1814: Erfurt unter französischer Besetzung" [1806–1814: Erfurt under French occupation] (in German). Erfurt Stadtverwaltung [Erfurt city administration]. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  8. ^ The Harvard Dictionary of Music, edited by Don Michael Randel, 4th ed. (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2003), s.v. "Freemasonry and Music," pp. 333–334. ISBN 9780674011632.
  9. ^ a b "Louis Spohr's Selbstbiographie", 2 vols., Kassel und Göttingen 1860/61; Vol. II, p. 379. A near-contemporary English translation, of uneven quality but a fascinating read for anybody interested in 19th century musical life, has been re-published by the Travis & Emery Music Bookshop in Charing Cross Road, London
  10. ^ Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv, shelfmark: Mus. ms. autogr. Spohr 11
  11. ^ Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv, shelfmark: Mus. ms. 21014
  12. ^ Bert Hagels, "Spohr's Tenth Symphony", in: Spohr Journal 37 (Winter 2010), pp. 2–5.
  13. ^ Keith Warsop. Liner notes to Spohr:Violin Concertos Nos. 2 & 9. Marco Polo 8.223510
  14. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Spohr, Louis" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  15. ^ Swalin 1937, p. 28.
  16. ^ Spohr, 1832
  17. ^ Longyear 1988, p. 64.


  • Brown, Clive. Louis Spohr: A Critical Biography. Cambridge University Press. 1984. ISBN 0-521-23990-7.
  • Weyer, M (1980). "Spohr, Louis" , The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, Macmillan Publishers Limited. 1980.
  • Swalin, B (1937). "The Violin Concertos of Louis Spohr" Bulletin of the American Musicological Society, No. 2. 1937.
  • Longyear, Rey M. (1973). Nineteenth-Century Romanticism in Music, Prentice Hall, 1973. ISBN 0-13-622647-7
  • Spohr, Ludwig, Violinschule, Tobias Haslinger, Vienna, 1832.
  • Anderson, Keith. "Louis Spohr" in accompanying booklet "Clarinet Concertos Nos. 1 & 3, Potpourri, Op. 80", performed by Ernst Ottensamer (Clarinet), Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra and Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra directed by Johannes Wildner, Naxos 8.550688.

External links


In music, cantabile [kanˈtaːbile], an Italian word, means literally "singable" or "songlike". In instrumental music, it is a particular style of playing designed to imitate the human voice.

For 18th-century composers, cantabile is often synonymous with "cantando" (singing) and indicates a measured tempo and flexible, legato playing. For later composers, particularly in piano music, cantabile is the drawing out of one particular musical line against the accompaniment (compare counterpoint). Felix Mendelssohn's six books of Songs Without Words are short lyrical piano pieces with song-like melodies written between 1829 and 1845. A modern example is an instrumental by Harry James & His Orchestra, called "Trumpet Blues and Cantabile".

A cantabile movement, or simply a "cantabile", is the first half of a double aria, followed by a cabaletta. The cantabile movement would be slower and more free-form to contrast with the structured and generally faster cabaletta. Louis Spohr subtitled his violin concerto No. 8 "in moda d'una scena cantata," "in the manner of a sung [operatic] scene"; opera arias exerted a strong influence on the "singable" cantabile melodic line in Romantic writing for stringed instruments.

Clarinet Concerto No. 1 (Spohr)

The Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 26, was composed by Louis Spohr between fall of 1808 and early 1809, and published in 1812. The concerto was the first of four that Spohr would compose in his lifetime, all of which were dedicated to the German clarinet virtuoso Johann Simon Hermstedt.

Spohr was inspired to write the concerto after meeting Hermstedt in Sondershausen and performing the Mozart Clarinet Quintet with him, with Spohr playing the first violin part. Spohr began work on the Concerto No. 1 soon after, and finished it in January 1809. While Spohr was familiar with the range of the clarinet, he was not aware of its limitations and was willing to alter the score according to Hermstedt's advice. However, Hermstedt liked the score the way it was and decided to alter his own instrument to be able to play the piece. The result was an instrument with thirteen keys instead of the usual five. Thus, the composition of the concerto could be seen as a driving factor in the clarinet's development throughout the 19th century.

The concerto was premiered by Hermstedt in June 1809 and was received with much enthusiasm. Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, then the leading musical magazine in Germany, praised both the composer and the performer in its review:

‘As no composition whatever existed in which this excellent artist could display all the superiority of his playing, Herr Concertmeister Spohr of Gotha has written one for him; and, setting aside this special purpose, it belongs to the most spirited and beautiful music which this justly famous master has ever written.’

Faust (Spohr)

Faust is an opera by the German composer Louis Spohr. The libretto, by Josef Karl Bernard, is based on the legend of Faust; it is not influenced by Goethe's Faust, though Faust: The First Part of the Tragedy had been published in 1808. Instead, Bernard's libretto draws mainly on Faust plays and poems by Maximilian Klinger and Heinrich von Kleist. Spohr's Faust is an important work in the history of German Romantic opera.

Ferdinand Fränzl

Ferdinand Fränzl (20 May 1767 in Schwetzingen – 27 October 1833 in Mannheim) was a German violinist, composer, conductor, opera director, and a representative of the third generation of the so-called Mannheim school.

The quality of his violin playing must have been comparable to his father’s who in turn was one of the best violinists of his generation. The violinist and composer Louis Spohr, however, who heard him at least twice already in 1810 judged Fränzl’s playing as old-fashioned, reminiscent of a bygone era; he also criticised Fränzel’s impure tone.

Frederik Thorkildsen Wexschall

Frederick Thorkildsen Wexschall (born 9 April 1798 in Copenhagen, died 25 October 1845) was a Danish classical composer, violinist, and concertmaster of the Copenhagen Royal Orchestra. A pupil of Bohemian composer František Martin Pecháček and German conductor Louis Spohr, Wexschall was married to the Danish stage actress and mezzo-soprano opera singer Anna Nielsen.

Hugo Staehle

Hugo Staehle (21 June 1826, Fulda – 29 March 1848, Kassel) was a German composer.

Staehle was the son of a Hessian army officer. He studied violin and piano with Wilhelm Beichert and composition with Moritz Hauptmann. When Hauptmann went to Leipzig, Staehle studied with Louis Spohr. For part of the years 1843-45, he studied piano with Louis Plaidy, violin with Ferdinand David, and composition with Moritz Hauptmann in Leipzig. He returned to Kassel where he studied and lived with Spohr until he died from meningitis at the age of 21.He wrote at least one opera (Arria, 1846), one symphony (Symphony No. 1 in C-minor, 1844), one concert overture, one piano quartet, and a couple of song cycles.


Jessonda is a grand opera (Grosse Oper) in German by Louis Spohr, written in 1822. The German libretto was written by Eduard Gehe.

Spohr, who wrote the work in 1822, had been newly appointed Hofkapellmeister in Kassel. He had reservations about Weber's recently performed Der Freischütz, and sought a subject that was poetic and uncomplicated, avoiding, in his setting, any spoken dialogue. He was opposed to the use of speech on mundane subjects in an operatic context. Ballets and spectacle were provided in set pieces that might also attract ordinary theatre-goers, in a German form of grand opera.

List of compositions by Louis Spohr

This is an incomplete list of compositions by Louis Spohr (1784–1859). The list is divided into works given an opus number by the composer and those that were not (WoO).

List of string quartets by Louis Spohr

This is a list of compositions for string quartet by Louis Spohr. The composer's works for this medium fall into two classes. Quatuor dialogue, classical quartets where all four instruments are treated equally. Both the Quatuor brillant and Potpourri are mini-concertos where the first violin acts as soloist and the remaining instruments provide accompaniment.

Piano Trio No. 2 (Mendelssohn)

Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 was composed in 1845 and published in February 1846. The work is scored for a standard piano trio consisting of violin, cello and piano. Mendelssohn dedicated the work to the violinist Louis Spohr, who played through the piece with the composer at least once.

Potpourri No. 4 (Spohr)

Potpourri No. 4 in B major, Op. 24, by Louis Spohr, was completed in 1808. The work was one of several compositions that Spohr, a noted violinist, wrote to provide a virtuoso encore when performing more serious chamber works such as Beethoven's Opus 18 string quartets. Written for a virtuoso first violin, with accompanying string trio (violin, viola, cello), like many similar works of this period, was based on themes from popular operas, in this case Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail ('In Mohrenland gefangen war') and Don Giovanni ('Batti, batti').

Romantische Oper

Romantische Oper (German for "romantic opera") was a genre of early nineteenth-century German opera, developed not from the German Singspiel of the eighteenth-century but from the opéras comiques of the French Revolution. It offered opportunities for an increasingly important role for the orchestra, and greater dramatic possibilities for reminiscence motifs – phrases that are identified with a place, person or idea and which, when re-used in a work, remind the listener of the place, person or idea in question.

Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz (1821) inaugurated the genre, which increasingly became associated with a distinctively German national style, as exemplified by composers such as Heinrich Marschner (e.g. Der Vampyr and Hans Heiling), Albert Lortzing (e.g. Undine) and Louis Spohr. Themes explored included nature, the supernatural, the Middle Ages and popular culture, specifically folklore. Musically, German folk music also served as an inspiration. Spoken dialogue continued to be used between musical numbers.

The genre reached its apogee in the early works of Richard Wagner, specifically Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot, The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser, although these differed from their predecessors in not using spoken dialogue. His later operas developed the reminiscence motif into the more protean Leitmotif and gradually abandoned many of the themes of romantische Oper, while still largely focused on myths, legends and nature.

String Quartet No. 11 (Spohr)

Louis Spohr's String Quartet No. 11 ("Quatuor brillant") in E major, Op. 43, was completed in May of 1818. It is one of eight similar works Spohr wrote between 1806 and 1835. Like a concerto, the work is designed to display a soloists skills, but in a more intimate setting than the concert hall.

String Quartet No. 18 (Spohr)

Louis Spohr's String Quartet No. 18 ("Quatuor brillant") in B minor, Op. 61, is one of eight such works the composer wrote between 1806 and 1835, and was published about 1824. Like a concerto, the work is designed to display a soloist's skills, but in a more intimate setting than the concert hall.

String Quartet No. 19 (Spohr)

Louis Spohr's String Quartet No. 19 ("Quatuor brillant") in A major, Op. 68, was composed by Spohr in 1823. Like a concerto, the work is designed to display a soloist's skills, but in a more intimate setting than the concert hall.

String Quartet No. 30 (Spohr)

Louis Spohr's String Quartet No. 30 ("Quatuor brillant") in A major, Op. 93, was completed in September of 1835, it is one of eight such works Spohr wrote between 1806 and 1835. He would not write another string quartet for ten years.

String Quartet No. 3 (Spohr)

Louis Spohr's String Quartet No. 3 ("Quatuor brillant") in D minor, Op. 11, was completed in 1806. It is the first of eight quatuors brillants written by Spohr. Inspired by similar works written by Viotti and Rode, the composition is a mini-concerto, written to provide the composer with the means of demonstrating his skills with a violin in a more intimate setting than a concert hall.

String Quartet No. 6 (Spohr)

Louis Spohr's String Quartet No. 6 ("Gran Quatuor" ) in G minor, Op. 27, was completed in 1812. Dedicated to Count Razumovsky, the dedicatee of Beethoven, Opus 59. string quartets, the composition, like the earlier String Quartet No. 3, is a concertante work with the musical emphasis being placed on the first violinist, while the other players act as accompaniment. Keith Warsop notes that the second Adagio movement seems to have been adapted from sketches to an unfinished violin concerto.


Werke ohne Opuszahl ("Works without opus number") (WoO), also Kinsky–Halm Catalogue, is a German musical catalogue prepared in 1955 by Georg Kinsky and Hans Halm, listing all of the compositions of Ludwig van Beethoven that were not originally published with an opus number, or survived only as fragments.

The abbreviation WoO is also used sometimes to refer to works without opus by other composers, such as Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Muzio Clementi, Louis Spohr, Joachim Raff, or Ferdinand Ries.

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