Louis Spohr as a young man: a self-portrait
Louis Spohr (April 5, 1784 - October 22, 1859) was a German composer, violinist and conductor. Born Ludwig Spohr, he is usually known by the French form of his name outside Germany.
Spohr was born in Brunswick-Lüneburg and showed talent for the violin from his early childhood. He joined the ducal orchestra at the age of 15. Three years later he was sent, with the Duke of Brunswick's support, on a year-long study tour to St Petersburg with the virtuoso violinist Franz Anton Eck. Spohr's first notable compositions, including his First Violin Concerto, 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 put the influential music critic Friedrich Rochlitz on his knees, not only because of Spohr's playing but also because of his compositions, and brought the young man overnight fame in the whole German-speaking area.
In 1805, Spohr got a job as concertmaster at the court of Gotha, where he stayed until 1812. There he met the 18-year-old harpist Dorette Scheidler, daughter of one of the court singers, and fell in love with her. They were married the next year. They performed successfully together as a violin and harp duo, touring in Italy (1816-1817), England (1820) and Paris (1821), but Dorette later abandoned her harpist's career and concentrated on raising their children. Her untimely death in 1834 brought him great sorrow.
Spohr lated worked as conductor at Theater an der Wien, Vienna (1813-1815), where he became friendly with Ludwig van Beethoven, and as 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 post, from 1822 until his death, was as the director of music at the court of Kassel, a position offered him on the suggestion of Carl Maria von Weber.
Spohr was a prolific composer whose opus list amounts to over 150 works, in addition to a number of works without opus number. He wrote music in all genres. His nine symphonies (a tenth was left unfinished, but finished by Eugene Minor and premiered by the Bergen Youth Orchestra (http://www.bergenyouthorchestra.org/history.html)) show a progress from the classical style of his predecessors to the programme music of the ninth symphony, Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons). Spohr wrote more violin concertos than any other great composer of the time, sixteen in all. Some of them are formally unconventional such as the one-movement Concerto No. 8 in the style of an operatic aria. Better known today, however, are the four clarinet concertos, all written for the clarinet virtuoso Johann Simon Hermstedt, which have established a secure place in clarinettists' repertoire.
Among Spohr's chamber music is a series of no less than 36 string quartets, as well as four interesting 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 best operas Faust (1813), 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 Nazis because it depicted a European hero in love with an Indian princess. Spohr also wrote dozens of songs, many of them called Deutsche Lieder (German Songs), as well as a mass and other choral works.
Spohr was a noted violinist, and invented the violin chin-rest. He was also a significant conductor, being one of the first to use a baton and also inventing the large letters which are found on sheet music as a rehearsal aid (they enable a conductor to ask the orchestra to start playing "from letter C", for example).
In addition to musical works, Spohr wrote an entertaining and informative autobiography, published posthumously in 1860.
- The Spohr Society of Great Britain (http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/societies/spohr.html)