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Julius Reubke

born: 23 March 1834
died: 3 June 1858
country: Germany

Julius Reubke was born on 23 March 1834 in the village of Hausneindorf, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) south-west of Magdeburg. He came from a musical family: his father Adolf made pianos before turning to organ-building where he found considerable success, not least with the large instruments he built at Madgeburg in the 1850s for the church of St Jakobi and the Cathedral. Julius was the eldest of three boys. Emil (b1836) later joined his father’s organ-building firm, while Otto (b1842) was a brilliant pianist and organist who—like Julius—studied with Hans von Bülow at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin and who later had a successful career as a choral conductor, succeeding Robert Franz as director of the Singakademie in Halle.

In 1851 Julius Reubke arrived in Berlin to study at the Berliner Musikschule (later the Stern’sches Konservatorium), founded in 1850 by Julius Stern with the pianist Theodor Kullak and the composer and theorist Adolf Bernhard Marx. Kullak was an established virtuoso—a pupil of Carl Czerny and Otto Nicolai—who taught Reubke the piano. Marx was editor of the Berliner allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, became a friend of Mendelssohn and greatly admired Liszt. He was an innovative composition teacher whose aim was to produce thoroughly trained but creatively independent students. During his student years in Berlin Reubke made two important friendships, both of whom were associated with Liszt: with the pianist and organist Alexander Winterberger (1834–1914) and the great pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow (1830–1894). On 12 December 1853, von Bülow wrote to Liszt from Dresden:

Winterberger’s best friend is a young man called Reubke, the best student at the Conservatory, who has great abilities as a composer and interpreter. Reubke played the Concerto by Henselt in the last competition, and Sascha [Winterberger] asks me to recommend this young man to you. After finishing his studies with Marx here next year, he intends to present himself in Weimar and ask if you would have the kindness to help direct his final studies.

Reubke had heard Liszt’s music—and most likely met him personally—on at least two occasions during his time in Berlin. One of these was an all-Liszt programme conducted by the composer, including the tone poems Tasso and Les Préludes, the choral-orchestral Psalm 13, and the first piano concerto with von Bülow as soloist. On arrival in Weimar in 1853 Reubke was thrust into the cultural milieu of Liszt’s circle, whose members at the time included the composers Joachim Raff and Hans Bronsart, the poet-composer Peter Cornelius, and the writer Richard Pohl, as well as Hans von Bülow. They were soon joined by the brilliant teenage prodigy Carl Tausig, who quickly became one of Liszt’s favourite pupils.

In Autumn 1857, Reubke immersed himself in Wagner’s Lohengrin and started to plan an opera of his own, as well as a series of piano pieces to illustrate Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s novel Paul et Virginie. But following a visit to Dresden for a concert with Liszt in November, Reubke decided to move there. He was increasingly frail, but gave a concert on 2 March 1858 at the Hotel de Saxe, appearing as the pianist in Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata and Schubert’s B flat major Piano Trio as well as playing Liszt’s twelfth Hungarian Rhapsody and his own Scherzo. A few days after this concert, Liszt wrote to Caroline zu Sayn-Wittgenstein from Prague a letter full of concern for his pupil, whom he had seen in Dresden:

This gallant and charming young man does not have long to live, I fear, despite the care he is receiving from three or four doctors, including Carus. When these chest illnesses are so advanced, they rarely heal; but usually the patients have hope until the last moment, and die peacefully … He has just given quite a successful concert at the Hotel de Saxe and, if he is still alive, that success will continue.

At the end of May, Reubke moved to nearby Pillnitz, on the banks of the Elbe, hoping that its peace and quiet would help his recovery. It was not to be; on 3 June 1858 he died at the Gasthof zum Goldenen Löwen and was buried four days later in the churchyard of Maria am Wasser in the village of Hosterwitz.

from notes by Nigel Simeone © 2015


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