Podcast 2 – Musicians on the Road – Materials and Concerns. s A violinist explores the letters of the Schubert Club Music Museum St Paul Minnesota

Posted on December 30th, 2022 by

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A violinist explores the archives


As a violinist, what do I find inspiring? The most obvious answer is the music that I play. One of the most exciting things about performing is that music does not happen, until till it is made, and the making of usic involves, at its most basic- , composition, performance and listening. [Pause] Every musician finds the silent scores that we use all the time,  to be, at once, objects of veneration and utility. They are, in every sense, what the pianist Daniel Ben Pienaar calls ‘our Daily Bread’. We spend whole lifetimes trying to understand them ,  scrutinizing their meaning, looking to find purchase in them, so that we might reach for the beauty, the profound truths, that they so often reveal and hide in equal measure. And we understand them as primers, as instruction books, road maps: they tell us what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and occasionally …why.

But we musicians always need to know more, to discover more. This is not because there’s any inadequacy in the way that music is communicated to us, on the page, in the score.  Indeed, by comparison with play and movie scripts, the notation of music is far more integrated: it offers an amazing simultaneity of multiple practicalities (of pitches, rhythms, text, dynamics, tempo, counterpoints, timbres, and much more). But we musicians are never satisfied: Perhaps this very abundance of materials, of information, leads performers to want something more to try to dig deeper: I ofter think that we are convinced that music is a huge conspiracy – that the more composers tell us, in the score, the more we are convinced that they must be hiding from us. But, some of this something more that so many of us reach for can be found in letters between musicians, offering us, a glimpse behind the curtain, of the celestial workings.

…all of which makes the collection, the paper holdings,  of the Schubert Club Music Museum, here in St Paul, at once a treasure, and an inspiring ‘tool kit’ for performers like me. Today I would like to explore just a few of the musicians that reach out to me from this extraordinary collection,  for a variety of reasons.

I would like to frame this  little talk with material associated with one of the great travelling violinists,  first international musicians to play in St Paul and Minneapolis: the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull. He stands only hundred metres from where I wrote this,  or rather, his sculpture, by Jakob Fjelde, resplendent in Loring Park.

For travelling musicians like me,  one of the most pressing questions is ‘what do I bring with me’. Even coming on a relatively short trip to the US like this autumn, I struggled to decide what performing materials I should bring with me. Most of the weight of my 50lb baggage allowance is music. This  was ever so,  especially the case for Ole Bull, who toured regularly in the USA from the early 1840s and eventually made his American home down the road in Madison Wisconsin, years after the collapse of his ‘Oleanna’ colony in Potter County, Pennsylvania. This extraordinary portfolio, now is a  practical, touring collection of music, in Bull’s very recognisable musical handwriting, prepared for the keyboard players who would provide accompaniments for him – pianists of course (such as Maurice Strakosch, the uncle of the young Adelina Patti – who played for Bull on his first appearance not far from here in 1856. But also, of harmonium players – as you can just see from the slide.

What’s fascinating about some of the older houses up on the hill behind us is that so many of them were furnished when they were built in the late 19th century with all the keyboards that necessary for a well-appointed house – increasingly large square pianos of course, but, wherever possible, harmoniums, small organs. These latterly came to be used for hymn singing, but often played, alongside the piano, as a duo, a chamber stand-in for the orchestra, which is what is going on with the materials collected in this book.

For this is the harmonium part, to be played with the piano, of

Et Saeterbesog, the piece I just reminded you of, which is engraved on the statue in Loring Park.

On the back page of the portfolio, there’s a typical Bull joke, in his handwriting, perhaps a wry allusion to his incessant travelling. It reads:

‘Ole Bull, født I Bangalore’

Ole Bull, Born in Bangalore. [Pause] Bull made his way  all the way to Egypt, and to Grass Valley California (now Nevada), but he never visited India. Of course, he was born in B-erg-en. It’s not a very good joke, but I image it amused him

Travel was a source of great anxiety for touring artists in the 19th century. Even with the advent of steam, it did not necessarily become any safer. The first timetabled steamship service across the Atlantic was introduced in 1843. For all that, Ole Bull was unable to persuade his dear friend Hans Christian Andersen to take ship to America, where an enormous public awaited him. His determination not to venture the Atlantic crossing was rendered final in 1858, when his dear friend Henriette Wulff died, en route to America, on the steamboat SS Austria. Bull’s first trips to the USA had been on sailing ships, but as with the innovations in road and rail travel of the 1830s and 40s, new technologies did not ensure more safety. Charles Dickens was involved in a horrific train crash and Bull escaped not one, but two steamboat fires in the USA.

This is a letter from the great pianist-composer Clara Schumann, also a friend of Ole Bull. It brings this home:

Baden 11th of July 1873:

Dearest father/ thank heaven that you are on the roads to recovery! Today we received horrible news and I am completely shaken. My brother Voldemar with wife and child wanted to go to Thüringen -at the first station in Rotterdam a train hit theirs. His wife was thrown from the railway carriage: as she fell, she dropped her child (just two years old) from her arms. He slipped between the wheels and his leg was so badly crushed that it had to be amputated immediately. He’s alive but one really cannot wish for him to survive. How terrible the train accidents are now! /With my sincerest greetings/your Clara

I can’t see her handwriting, without hearing, feel, the extraordinary, sensitive lyricism of her compositions, such as the opening of her Op 21 Romanze.

Voldemar, in that heart-breaking letter,  was the composer pianist Voldemar Bargiel, Clara’s half-brother. Clara’s great friend and collaborator, the composer Johannes Brahms, did not enjoy travelling. For decades he resisted the entreaties of their mutual friend the Hungarian composer-violinist Joseph Joachim, to tour with him, as this letter in the collection here makes clear. Johannes Brahms 1879:

‘every day I can expect Joachim to take me to Transylvania [Siebenburgen]… For that however I need the above holy scriptures [Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann] to preach to the heathens.’

He never went to the Balkans, and was equally resistant to England – where Joachim played every year from 1844 to 1904. Brahms was particularly scathing about the huge British amateur choirs – the idea made him shudder. And he turned down at least six separate invitations to come from potential festival commissions to performance opportunities, and two attempts to coax him to Cambridge University to receive an honorary doctorate.

Many of the letters in this collection speak about collaboration. And there was no greater, nor grumpier, collaborator than Johannes Brahms. His performing career had begun as the accompanist to another travelling Hungarian violinist Ede Remenyi (who would later die on stage in San Francisco), Then, of course he worked with both the Schumanns and then he produced an astonishing body of work with and for Joseph Joachim. What is fascinating about this letter, is that it shows the preparation for their work together. It’s the main body of this letter:

‘dear friend, I have an urgent request, so urgent, that is not even enough to do it immediately. You must have already done it! For the next 14 days I definitely need: two violin sonatas by Beethoven, one in G major, and the one in C minor, and the Kreutzer Sonata. Then the b-minor rondo for violin and orchestra (explain the muddle) by Schubert, and lastly, very much the F minor Sonata, also by Schumann (Explain the muddle). The latter maybe later on, or not at all, if you don’t find it. / in case you cannot access these things in the archive, it will also be alright, if you would buy the Peters issue, and if the sonata’s there are not available individually, the complete sonatas from Beethoven for violin, the same with Schubert! / but these things should already be in the mail right now!!!!’

1878, when this letter seems to date from (it’s undated) marked the beginning of the of the great series of piano and violin sonatas by Johannes Brahms – in G Major, A Major (dedicated to Clara), and D minor.

In the ‘workshop’ the two musicians explored possibilities by playing and studying great piano/violin works together – and it was necessary to obtain these works from their publishers. This was similar to the No the way that Pyotr Tchaikovsky worked with N Kotek, preparing his violin concerto (playing Lalo and Mendelssohn in the hunt for ideas an inspiration). They also relished the Haydn Sonatas – which are actually transcriptions of Haydn’s string quartets.  List of the pieces that they produced together in this collaboration includes the three sonatas Op 78, 100, 108, the violin concerto, the double concerto, the two sextets (the first of which Joachim rewrote), two string quintets, three piano quartets, the piano quintet, just to name a few. It’s an astonishing output. Here’s a sliver of music from Joachim, left in a visitors book, an album in Gottingen.

(Play Joachim)

In the same year that Brahms wrote his letter Joseph Joachim met a 20-year-old Belgian concertmaster of the Benjamin Bilse Brauhaus Orchester which would later the Berlin Philharmonic. He encouraged him to think beyond a career as an orchestra leader, to be a soloist. Soon, the brilliant young violinist was collaborating with Joachim’s duo pianist, Clara Schumann, playing sonatas. This was the Eugene Ysaÿe –

like all of the performers that we are talking about today, Ysaÿe was a performer- composer. Let me just remind you of the unique sound of his music.

Musicians can’t always really say why things go right or go wrong on stage! And we never stop worrying about it.  Perhaps the problem that this greatest of  early 20th century Belgian violinists faced was that of being, fundamentally, a ‘natural’ player. When the teenage Ysaÿe had played played his prize winning diploma recital in Liege, the great Belgian virtuoso Henri Vieuxtemps, chairing the panel, noted, in the margin of his mark sheet:

‘he plays the violin as the birds sing… Naturally.’

Interestingly the problems Ysaye later faced, mirrored many of the problems that his greatest student, Yehudi Menuhin enduredfor much of his career – the challenge of tremendous natural ability unsupported by matching technical preparation (much due to the strange methods of his first teacher in San Fransisco, Louis Persinger).

Ysaÿe, like Menuhin,  was the most natural of violinists, and he  always suffered terribly with performance nerves. Once, after performing Elgar’s violin concerto, soon after its 1910 premiere by Fritz Kreisler, he spotted the young fellow-violinist Carl Flesch, and whispered to him:

“Oh, if only I had the tranquillity of your bow arm!”

This letter in the collection  documents the struggles that  eventually drove Ysaÿe performing in the late 1920s, exacerbated by his diabetes. It was written from ?ód?, in January 1925, to his American second wife, Jeannette Dincin, who was 44 years younger than he.

‘Yesterday evening here was not good. […] I played badly, without creating, as if indifferent, with mediocre physical-technical means, and a capricious and unstable bow – having one- and one-half days of rest, I hope to find myself back to normal tomorrow in Cracow.’[i]


As a player I sympathise, and empathise with his plight. The violin is a capricious collaborator, situation exacerbated by the physical complexity of making it work. Any physical incapacity is instantly revealed to all and sundry by the merciless amplification of its technique. This is why we practise incessantly, and are still surprised – pleasantly and unpleasantly by the public outcome.

But lets circle back to Joachim, long after his meeting with Ysaye in Bonn,. Joachim’s great nieces were also spectacularly gifted violinists themselves. Jelly and Adila D’Aranyi – who took the married name, Fachiri. Jelly never married – she never recovered from the death of her lover, the Australian composer/oarsman Septimius Kelly at Gallipoli in 1916. Today, Jelly is the more remembered– she inspired and collaborated with many composerand premiered Bartok’s two sonata (with the composer), as well as works by Vaughan Williams, and Ravel: his celebrated Tzigane, is very much a portrait of her performance style.

Adila and Jelly were the dedicatees of Gustav Holst’s double concerto (they both made homes in the UK from the mid-20s onwards). And it seems that Adila’s incandescent playing was also the inspiration for Leos Janacek’s unfinished violin concerto, which would find its way into his ‘Diary of One who disappeared.’ Before the first World War, the young Bela Bartok had been the sisters’ piano tutor in Budapest, and they all remained in close touch until his death in the USA at the end of WW2.

An undated letter in the collection here speaks of the onset of the illness which would eventually kill Bartok, and the irritations of concert life. Interestingly the ‘listening from backstage’ or from the wings has largely vanished from the classical world, thought not elsewhere, where the ‘backstage pass’ is still highly prized currency. Clearly Bartok did not have the right lanyard.

‘Dear Adila/ I wanted to be the first to congratulate you on your success tonight. It is an outrage that the doorman of the artists room was not even willing to announce anyone. He said you have to have permission for X or Y to enter! The only thing to do was to turn around on ones heal and leave. And I would so much have liked to hear the first selection from the artists room, because of my frightful fatigue, and then take my leave. I could not have taken a seat in the concert hall. But such a Cerberus is standing in front of your door!! / Bartok.’

To round off this little talk, I would like to return to Ole Bull.

Ole Bull first came to the Twin Cities in the summer of 1856, on the tour with the child prodigy soprano  Adelina Patti, only 13 at the time. St Paul was at that point little more than a cluster of houses around the steamboat landing. It’s possible to get a sense of the St Paul that Bull would have found, if you nose around nearby Irvine Park, today separated from the Mississippi by the railroad and the Shepard Street.


A charming record of Bull and Patti’s pioneering 1856 visit was left by a Swedish pianist, and organist,  one ‘C.A.Widstrand’, who together with the other professional musician in the Twin Cities, the violinist ‘B.E.Messer’, had founded a ‘Quintet Club’ to give music salons a few years earlier. Widstrand, supplied and tuned pianos.


Widstrand  wrote down his memories forty years later, which explains a few of the anachronisms that crept in. Asking about Ole Bull in the Midwest, where he remains as important a figure, a hero even, frequently results in misalignments of dates and people, often occasioned by how easy it is to forget how small the European settlements in across the plains and prairies were, until long after the Civil War ended in 1865.


Widstrand recalled that the first of Bull’s concerts, on the ‘East Side of the river’ (St Paul), was given in Edwards Hall. This is as unreliable a memoir as many of the stories that are told about Bull’s performing venues today. Edwards Hall was, or would be, one of the student residencies (today we’d call it a frat house) that formed part of Macalester College when it opened in the 1800s. It would have been exactly the kind of place where, there not being concert halls or theatres for some decades, Bull might have performed in 1856. But Macalester College would not be founded until 1874.


However, Widstrand gives us a wonderful description of what used to be called ‘getting up a concert’, describing his part in the concert that happened ‘over on this side’ of the Mississippi. Widstrand was the first organist of the Gethsemane church, ‘on this side’ in Minneapolis, noted that it took place ‘in the upper story of Arthur McGhee’s grocery store on Second avenue S., then called Helen Street, between Washington Avenue and Second Street.’



Widstrand continued: ‘Mr Bull came over on this side, and inspected the very diminutive hall. He discovered what seemed to him a weakness in the floor and insisted that extra timbers be put so as to make the hall perfectly safe before he consented to player there.


Bull himself was presenting and taking the risk for the concert. Bulls touring journals I have handled in Norway make this clear: Bull kept meticulous notes on the costs of getting venues ready for performance, down to n umbering seats, and stretching to buying the attendance of sympathetic local journalists. Naturally, he would also do what we would today call ‘risk assessment’ for the venue, and the audience falling through the floor of an upper-floor venue was not a risk he was willing to take. In the late 1600s, during a concert given in a Whitefriars Tavern in London’s square mile, in an upper storey, the floor collapsed., with fatalities and many injuries.

Bull was prepared for this; his touring account journal for the spring of 1845, when he travelled from Montreal to New Orleans, marked out by the repeated costs to ‘bære Piano’ which appear for the first time on his records for his first appearance in Nashville that year. It cost $2.


Widstrand remembered that Bull ‘Was very much incensed at what seemed to him to be an extortion when the parties owning the Grand Piano which had been used in the concert on the East Side demanded $50 for taking the piano over to Minneapolis proper.’ It’s not surprising that he was suddenly expected to stomach a 2500% increase of what he paid for what he thought of as a trifling expense. Roughly adjusting for inflation, the amount being asked for was about $1800 in today’s money.


The approximate cost to deliver and tune a 9-foot Steinway, in Minneapolis in 2022, is $2200. Take away $300 for a very good tuning at Steinway prices, and the cost is about the same. Bull would not be pleased.


Bull ‘Finally succeeded as a makeshift in obtaining the small piano owned by Colonel Stevens.’  Colonel Stevens needed no introduction to Widstrand’s readers, as he was the first person given permission to build a house on the west bank of the Mississippi, over from Fort Snelling. Technically he was the founder of the City. He probably enjoyed sticking it the la-de-da types around Irvine Park, on the other side of the river. I have a feeling that the expensive piano was that in the Ramsey Residence. We know that 20 years later, Mrs Ramsey was happy pay $1500 for a new Steinway from Chicago; she was most likely the owner of the one quality instrument in the city.


But wait a minute – on the other side of the river … There was a new, bridge, the first to cross the Mississippi, which had been planned and built by Colonel Stevens and Franklin Collett. It opened in 1855, to great fanfare, and then was promptly destroyed by a hurricane. The general opinion was, that it was not safe. Perhaps, just perhaps, Mrs Ramsey had no wish to trust her precious instrument to the upstart  West Bank colonel’s wobbly crossing.

‘The piano, however, was badly out of tune,’ Widstrand recalled, ‘ and this fact afforded me the pleasure and privilege of tuning it for the great violinist, which it seemed I did to his complete satisfaction, as he gave me a recommendation which I treasure very highly.’ Widstrand’s recollection of Bull’s first appearance in the ‘very diminutive’ hall out the McGhee’s grocery store is very much from his party in the success:


“Then Ole Bull came forward and struck the A on his violin. Mr Roth struck the A on the piano and off’. Again, Widstrand’s memory was playing tricks on him. At the piano was Patti’s grown-up brother-in-law, Maurice Strakosch, who would tour with Bull many times in the following decades. ‘Mr Bull afterwards expressed himself as much pleased with having the piano up to concert pitch, as in the west he had nearly always had to lower his violins to suit the piano.’


Widstrand left a wonderful clue as to how small the Twin Cities actually were when Bull began his long association with the area. He remembered that ‘in the evening, the small hall was packed to its utmost capacity with the elite of the city – we were all elite at that time.’ Clearly, everyone who was anyone was there, and everyone was there. According to Bull’s notes of his 1845 tour, he would normally have ensured that there was advertisements paid for and press, paid off, but according to Widstrand: ‘ There was no announcement in the papers of the concerts, but both concerts had capacity crowds.’ The two newspapers which already existed in the Twin Cities in 1856 are still there today, the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, and they celebrated all of Bull’s subsequent visits.

It’s  lovely to recall this time when travelling musicians first found their way to the twin cities, undaunted by the challenges which stopped Clara Schumann, Brahms, and even Joachim from ever travelling to the USA. We are celebrating the Schubert club, founded just a few years after Messmer and Widstrand’s Quintet club. It’s wonderful what has grown, and I must congratulate the Schubert Club, and it’s fantastic collection, which inspires me so much, in it’s anniversary year! Tillykke, and thankyou


If you come to Minneapolis today, you will find the Bull and his friends difficult to avoid. In Loring Park, Jakob Fjelde’s statue of Bull, has stood, playing in joyful 3rd position since 1896. And in the park around Minnehaha falls you will find Fjelde’s bronze of Hiawatha and Minnehaha, the most famous creations of Bull’s greatest American literary friend and admirer, Longfellow, whose statue, robed like a bearded Roman senator, stands nearby. And in the same park, the cottage where, without doubt, Bull went to try Colonel Steven’s first cottage, the first house of the new city, was saved and in 1896, re-erected as a memory of the early cities which would celebrate Bull to this day.

[i] c.2010.0.7 Lodz 24 January 1925

Letter from Clara Schumann
Schubert Club Music Museum

Letter from Bela Bartok to Adila Fachiri (Undated)
Schubert Club Music Museum

Letter from Eugene Ysaye, 1925
Schubert Club Music Museum

Ole bull ‘born in Bangalore’ Bull ca. 1875 (USA)
Schubert Club Music Museum

Harmonium part for Ole Bull ‘Et Saeterbesog’
Schubert Club Music Museum






Photograph of Ole Bull ca. 1875 (USA)
Schubert Club Music Museum

Jelly d’Aranyi, Bartok, and Adila Fachiri in 1923



by Sir Leslie Ward, watercolour, published in Vanity Fair 5 January 1905

Franz von Lenbach’s picture of Clara Schumann (1878)





With Ole Bull’s Hardanger violin. Schubert Club St Paul Minnesota 2017


Janacek and Adila Fachiri, London 1926.










The young Joachim










Musicians on the Road – materials & concerns A violinist explores the letters of the Schubert Club Music Museum St Paul Minnesota Podcast 2 Peter Sheppard Skærved – Presenter/violin Engineer – Maximillian Carlson Written by Peter Sheppard Skærved Pianists – Aaron Shorr (Bartok), Roderick Chadwick (Schumann, Ole Bull), Ensemble ‘Longbow’ (Ole Bull) Supported by: Research England / Knowledge Exchange Royal Academy of Music London With thanks to The Schubert Club St Paul Minnesota Barry Kempton, Artistic & Executive Director Kate Cooper, Director of Education & Museum https://schubert.org www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com XXX XII MMXXII