Gernsheim, Friedrich


Gernsheim, Friedrich

Piano Quartet No. 3 in F Op. 47


Friedrich Gernsheim

Quartett No. 3, F dur, für Pianoforte,Violine, Viola und Violoncell, op. 47 (1883)

(b. Worms, 17 Juli 1839 — d. Berlin, 11 September 1916)


When one sees the name Friedrich Gernsheim — and this still happens all too rarely — then usually in connection with that of Johannes Brahms: Gernsheim belonged to the Brahms Circle; Gernsheim was influenced by Brahms. This is partly true, but overlooks a lot. Granted, Gernsheim was a conservative composer, little drawn to program music and by all accounts less drawn to opera than Brahms; he was also a friend of Brahms’s from their first encounter in 1862 until the death of the great master. But the charge that he was merely a Brahms epigone rests upon unfamiliarity with his works, and often upon latent (or not at all latent) anti-Semitism as well. When one takes a closer look at his works, one recognizes in Gernsheim a composer who in his music — whether thanks to his origins in the Rhineland, or whether because of his activity as conductor — melds together echoes of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Spohr, Schubert and (of course) Brahms into a convincing style of his own. Above all one recognizes in Gernsheim a composer who developed an almost unflinching sense of formal perfection and who was averse to any kind of empty gesture.

Friedrich Gernsheim came from an enlightened, largely assimilated, and yet deeply religious Jewish family in Worms. Karl Holl, the author of a 1928 study that remains the standard work on the composer (Friedrich Gernsheim, Leben, Erscheinung und Werk) relates a story that is representative of the family’s spiritual-intellectual attitude: There had long been in Worms a building at one of the city gates that bore the sign “Jewish Prison”; Jews who had sought to evade the Jew tax were incarcerated there. After the French army conquered the city and introduced the legal principle of “liberty, equality, fraternity”, the composer’s grandfather mounted a ladder and smashed down the sign with a club. Years later at that very location his son Abraham, the composer’s father, would erect the house in which Friedrich was born on 17 July 1839. Abraham Gernsheim was a physician by trade, and in his few spare hours an enthusiastic flute player; his wife, an uncommonly talented pianist, gave the young Fritz — the couple’s only child — his first music instruction. He quickly demonstrated extraordinary talent both as a pianist and as a composer of songs, and at the tender age of seven he began to receive instruction in piano and theory from Louis Liebe, who had once been a student of Louis Spohr’s. The two would remain lifelong friends. In 1848 the family decided that mother and son should move to Mainz, which was little touched by the revolutionary disturbances of the time. This was intended as only a temporary measure, but despite his love for his family and his home town, from then on the child would return to Worms only as a guest. He had been in Mainz hardly a year when Aloys Schmitt, a Frankfurt piano teacher, brought mother and child to Frankfurt. There he impressed his teachers so quickly and deeply that they put together a concert to showcase his talents: On 5 May 1850 he appeared on stage at the Frankfurt Stadttheater as a pianist (in the A-minor Concerto by Hummel), as a violinist (in the G-major variations by Rode), and finally as a composer (with an orchestral overture written during his years in Worms). The young Fritz was celebrated as a child prodigy, and further concerts and a concert tour up the Rhine as far as Karlsruhe soon followed.


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225 x 320 mm

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