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Reinecke, Carl (1824-1910)

Carl Reinecke

born: 23 June 1824
died: 10 March 1910
country: Germany

In the pantheon of great composers, Carl Heinrich Carsten Reinecke sits just below the salt. But only just. Pianist, violinist, conductor, composer, arranger and teacher, Reinecke’s prolific and high-quality output commands, at least, our respect if not admiration. His 288 opus numbers take in all genres except ballet, and though most of his music has disappeared from the repertoire, his name has by no means disappeared from reference books—unlike some recent releases in this series, such as Gablenz and Elmas.

Reinecke’s flute sonata ‘Undine’ remains popular; the cadenzas he supplied for nineteen piano concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Weber are known to many pianists (some even play them); his Toy Symphony was famous in its day; he wrote one of only two known nineteenth-century piano sonatas to be composed for the left hand alone; and for many years after its premiere, the present Piano Concerto in F sharp minor enjoyed great popularity—though not enough for it ever to have been performed at any Henry Wood or BBC Promenade Concert. Indeed, not a single note by Reinecke has been heard at the Proms since 1909, when his flute concerto was played.

Yet during his lifetime he was held in very high regard. In 1871 The Musical Times reported on a Mr W Cohen’s Concerts of Modern Music at the Hanover Square Rooms in April that year:

The composers whose works have been selected from have been Volckman [sic], J. Brahms, Rubinstein, Reinecke, etc., all of whom have been well represented, some showing us what they can do, and others what they cannot do. Were we to express our individual opinion, we should unhesitatingly declare that we do not care if we never hear another note of Volckman or Rubinstein again. J. Brahms and Reinecke are creative artists of whom we have a right to be proud, although the clear and musicianlike writing of the latter is in our judgement infinitely superior to the somewhat forced and exaggerated style of the former …

He was known as a musical conservative, but, as Waldo Selden Pratt put it succinctly in his New Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians (Macmillan, 1924), ‘his spirit had much more in sympathy with the more imaginative side of romanticism and he was far from being reactionary. His works are marked by perfect form and clarity, great contrapuntal dexterity and much melodic and harmonic beauty.’ A similar assessment is found in Grove (in 1900, when Reinecke was still alive): ‘His style is refined, his mastery over counterpoint and form is absolute, and he writes with peculiar clearness and correctness.’ As a pianist Reinecke was highly regarded for his playing of Mozart. Rudolph Ganz, writing in the late 1960s, recalled as a teenager hearing Reinecke play the ‘Coronation’ concerto in 1891 ‘as if it were a week ago’.

Born in the same year that Schubert composed his string quartet ‘Death and the Maiden’, D810, he died the year Alban Berg wrote his String Quartet, Op 3. It was Reinecke’s long life that led to a unique distinction: he is the earliest-born musician ever to have made a recording of any kind. Between 1904 and 1907 he made some twenty-seven piano rolls for Hupfeld (on their Triphonola label) and Welte-Mignon, twelve of which were of his own music. Three of these were duets with his wife—arrangements of numbers from his piano suite The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, Op 46 (1855). Another roll contained the slow movement of Mozart’s aforementioned ‘Coronation’ concerto. He subsequently made a further fourteen rolls for Aeolian. Strangely, no one recorded a single piano piece by Reinecke in the whole of the 78rpm era (though Bruno Walter did choose Reinecke’s cadenza for his 1937 recording of Mozart’s D minor concerto, K466). Only in the 1970s did any of his music begin to make it onto disc.

Gerald Robbins and the indefatigable Michael Ponti both recorded the F sharp minor concerto in the same year (1973), Robbins also adding the second concerto. (Ponti recorded No 1 again in 1997.) All four concertos appeared on a 1994 release from CPO with pianist Klaus Hellwig.

The multi-faceted Reinecke was born in Altona, then part of Denmark but now part of Hamburg, on 23 June 1824. All his education and musical training came from his father (Johann Peter) Rudolf Reinecke, a respected teacher and writer on musical subjects. Carl is said to have begun composing at the age of seven, but certainly by the time he was twelve, he had appeared as a soloist both on the violin and the piano, thereafter also becoming an accomplished orchestral player. As an eighteen-year-old he made a successful tour of Sweden and Denmark before being awarded a grant in 1843 by the Danish King Christian VIII, enabling him to study in Leipzig. Here he met Mendelssohn, Gade, Schumann and David, greatly profiting from their advice and society, and finally made his debut at the Gewandhaus in a concert conducted by Mendelssohn.

Over the next seventeen years we find him in Copenhagen (1846-48) as court pianist to Christian VIII, in Weimar (1848) where he gave concerts with Liszt and Clara Schumann, and in Paris (1851) where he mingled with Berlioz and Ferdinand Hiller. The latter made him a professor at his Cologne Conservatory (1851-54); thereafter Reinecke took up posts in Barmen (1854-59) as the city music director, and at the Singakademie in Breslau. In 1860 he moved into a different league, with his appointment as conductor of the prestigious Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a post he would hold for thirty-five years (he was succeeded by the great Arthur Nikisch). He supplemented his income by becoming professor of piano and composition at the renowned Leipzig Conservatory. Here his pupils included Grieg, Sinding, Svendsen, Sullivan, Stanford, Albéniz, Bruch and a host of others who went on to enjoy significant careers as instrumentalists, composers and conductors.

In short, for over forty years Reinecke was one of the most influential figures in the musical world. While sceptical of the progressive ideas and the new music of Liszt and Wagner, he nevertheless conducted numerous performances of contemporary works, among them the premiere, in 1869, of the full seven-movement version of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem. He retired from the Conservatoire in 1902, but continued composing until his death in Leipzig on 10 March 1910.

Brahms, Mozart, but principally Mendelssohn and Schumann were the chief influences on his music. His 1902 autobiography Erlebnisse und Bekenntnisse: Autobiographie eines Gewandhauskapellmeisters (‘Experiences and Confessions: Autobiography of a Gewandhaus Music Director’, pub. Doris Mundus, Leipzig 2005) provides a valuable insight into the Romantic period of music with which his life coincided and to which his career was central. ‘I will not indulge in the misleading hope’, he wrote presciently, ‘that my works are set to endure for very long, maybe except for those I wrote for young people.’

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2023


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