Birth and Early Life of the Violinist Spohr.—He is presented with his First Violin at six.—The French Emigre Dufour uses his Influence with Dr. Spohr, Sr., to have the Boy devoted to a Musical Career.—Goes to Brunswick for fuller Musical Instruction.—Spohr is appointed Kammer-musicus at the Ducal Court.—He enters under the Tuition of and makes a Tour with the Violin Virtuoso Eck.—Incidents of the Russian Journey and his Return.—Concert Tour in Germany.—Loses his Fine Guarnerius Violin.—Is appointed Director of the Orchestra at Gotha.—He marries Dorette Schiedler, the Brilliant Harpist.—Spohr’s Stratagem to be present at the Erfurt Musical Celebration given by Napoleon in Honor of the Allied Sovereigns.—Becomes Director of Opera in Vienna.—Incidents of his Life and Production of Various Works.—First Visit to England.—He is made Director of the Cassel Court Oratorios.—He is retired with a Pension.—Closing Years of his Life.—His Place as Composer and Executant.
“The first singer on the violin that ever appeared!” Such was the verdict of the enthusiastic Italians when they heard one of the greatest of the world’s violinists, who was also a great composer. The modern world thinks of Spohr rather as the composer of symphony, opera, and oratorio than as a wonderful executant on the violin; but it was in the latter capacity that he enjoyed the greatest reputation during the earlier part of his lifetime, which was a long one, extending from the year 1784 to 1859. The latter half of Spohr’s life was mostly devoted to the higher musical ambition of creating, but not until he had established himself as one of the greatest of virtuosos, and founded a school of violin-playing which is, beyond all others, the most scientific, exhaustive, and satisfactory. All of the great contemporary violinists are disciples of the Spohr school of execution. Great as a composer, still greater as a player, and widely beloved as a man—there are only a few names in musical art held in greater esteem than his, though many have evoked a deeper enthusiasm.
Ludwig Spohr was born at Brunswick, April 5, 1784, of parents both of whom possessed no little musical talent. His father, a physician of considerable eminence, was an excellent flutist, and his mother possessed remarkable talent both as a pianist and singer. To the family concerts which he heard at home was the rapid development of the boy’s talents largely due. Nature had given him a very sensitive ear and a fine clear voice, and at the age of four or five he joined his mother in duets at the evening gatherings. From the very first he manifested a taste for the instrument for which he was destined to become distinguished. He so teased his father that, at the age of six, he was presented with his first violin, and his joy on receiving his treasure was overpowering. The violin was never out of his hand, and he continually wandered about the house trying to play his favorite melodies. Spohr tells us in his “Autobiography”: “I still recollect that, after my first lesson, in which I had learned to play the G-sharp chord upon all four strings, in my rapture at the harmony, I hurried to my mother, who was in the kitchen, and played the chord so incessantly that she was obliged to order me out.”