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Home > Orchestra : Orchestra

 

Das Philharmonische Tagebuch

Wed, 19. June 2002

 

A Tribute to Wolfgang Schneiderhan

"Despite the great disparity in artistic ability between him and myself, there existed from the beginning an exceptionally fruitful partnership between the two of us. The fact that this turned with time into a close friendship which remains to this day, fills me with much gratitude toward the artist and the person of Wolfgang Schneiderhan. I count this as one of the great treasures which my long life has given me."

With this sentence, the Philharmonic's former chairman and honorary chairman Otto Strasser ended his laudation on the occasion of Wolfgang Schneiderhan's 80th birthday in 1995 which appeared in the newsletter of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien and also in the "Musikblättern der Wiener Philharmoniker". In hindsight it is especially poignant in the fact that this was the last article among so many which Strasser had written for the "Musikblätter" over the course of several decades. The artistic fulfillment which Strasser obtained through his chamber music, in addition to his work on behalf of the Philharmonic, was closely linked to his friendship with Schneiderhan, and was based on their mutual appreciation of music and of the Vienna Philharmonic, even though their respective orchestral careers varied significantly.

Wolfgang Schneiderhan was born on May 28, 1915 in Vienna as the son of the actor Theodor Schneiderhan, and received his first violin lessons from his mother, the prominent zither virtuoso Emma Schneider-Fallmann. He performed in public for the first time as a child prodigy in 1920. He then studied with Julius Winkler in Vienna, and supplemented his training through studies with Otakar Sevcik in Pisek, as did his brother Walther, who later became concertmaster of the Vienna Symphony. By the end of the 1920s Wolfgang Schneiderhan's international career had begun, which would lead him to important centers of music and festivals worldwide. In addition to this, he developed a very successful orchestral career, becoming concertmaster of the Vienna Symphony in 1933 before taking up the same position with the Vienna State Opera on September 1, 1937. He was awarded membership in the Vienna Philharmonic on March 1, 1938.

Shortly thereafter, together with Otto Strasser, Ernst Morawec und Richard Krotschak, he founded the Schneiderhan Quartet, an ensemble which existed until 1951. By then, Wolfgang Schneiderhan had already left the Philharmonic. His solo career was not compatible with work in the orchestra, und despite great efforts on the part of then chairman Rudolf Hanzl, he relinquished his orchestral duties on May 31, 1949, although in the following years never did he lose contact with the orchestra. Even after parting with the string quartet he did not turn away completely from chamber music activities, as he continued to play piano trio with Edwin Fischer and Enrico Mainardi and violin sonatas with Carl Seemann.

As successor to Georg Kulenkampf he directed master classes in violin at the International Music Festival in Lucerne, an institution which provided him a musical home for many decades. He was co-founder, together with Rudolf Baumgartner, of the renowned Festival Strings Lucerne in 1956, where also he first met probably his most prominent student, our unforgettable concertmaster Gerhart Hetzel, who died in a tragic accident on July 29, 1992. Schneiderhan's professorships at the Salzburg Mozarteum and Vienna College of Music are indicative of his lifelong activities as pedagogue, which he complemented through his endeavors as editor and publisher of numerous classical violin compositions, and articles and lectures pertaining hereto, which continued up until his death.

Wolfgang Schneiderhan was concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic for only 12 years, yet it is not unsuitable to speak of this period as a specific era of the orchestra's history. Without doubt, his artistic performance put his stamp on the quality of the orchestra's playing, and for many years after leaving the orchestra he remained its predominant soloist. In all, he appeared 80 times with the Vienna Philharmonic as soloist, not including the great orchestral soli in such works as Beethoven's "Missa solemnis", Strauss' "Ein Heldenleben", "Also sprach Zarathustra" and "Der Bürger als Edelmann". The solo repertoire which he performed with the Philharmonic was predominantly made up of the violin concertos of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Dvorák, as well as Mozart's "Sinfonia concertante", Beethoven's "Triple Concerto", violin romances, and the "Double Concerto" of Brahms. He also performed works by Arcangelo Corelli, Joseph Haydn, Giovanni Battista Viotti, Niccolò Paganini, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Edward Elgar, Edouard Lalo and Igor Stravinsky.

Among such a large number of performances, only a few can be singled out here for special mention. There were the "Soloists Concerts" conducted by Josef Krips for the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna, where in each of the years 1947, 1948 and 1949, Schneiderhan performed an entire evening of two or three violin concertos. At the Vienna Bach Festival in 1950, he performed Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043, with Yehudi Menuhin as the other violinist and Herbert von Karajan conducting. On January 25, 1963, in a festival concert conducted by Paul Klecki honoring the 50th anniversary of Vienna's Mozart Society, Schneiderhan appeared with his wife, Irmgard Seefried, who sang Mozart's soprano aria "Non temer, amato bene", KV 490, while he played the violin obbligato. The time span of Schneiderhan's appearances with the Vienna Philharmonic was longer than most musicians' entire professional career. On August 14, 1938, he performed together with Ernst Morawec Mozarts "Sinfonia concertante" in E-Flat major, KV 364 in the "Kursaal" in Badgastein conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch, and in a subscription concert conducted by Zubin Mehta on November 17 and 18, 1984, he stood with our orchestra on the concert podium for the last time, performing Bach's "Double Concerto" with his former student Gerhart Hetzel.

In addition to the numerous solo concertos and orchestra solos, there were three instances in which Schneiderhan conducted the Philharmonic. On February 18, 1973, in a concert for the "Musikalische Jugend" in the Golden Concert Hall of the Musikverein, he conducted Benjamin Britten's "Simple Symphony" for String Orchestra, played Mozart's Violin Concerto in A Major, KV 219, and then conducted Frank Martin's "Petite Symphonie Concertante" (with Hubert Jelinek, harp, Johann Sonnleitner, harpsichord, and Rudolf Buchbinder, piano), the "Rondino giocoso", op. 4, by his friend of many years Theodor Berger (1905-1992), and the "Rumanian Folk Dances" of Béla Bartók. He conducted Mozart's March in D Major, KV 335/1; Divertimento in D Major, KV 136 and Dvorák's Serenade for Strings in E-Flat Major, op. 22, as well as playing Bach's Double Concerto together with Gerhart Hetzel on June 28, 1973. He was also featured as soloist in the third concert he conducted on August 4, 1973, when between Mozart's concert Divertimento in F Major, KV 138, and Serenade in G Major, KV 525 ("Eine kleine Nachtmusik") he played the A Major concerto, the Adagio in E Major, KV 261, the Rondo in C Major, KV 373, and the Rondo concertante in B-Flat Major, KV 269.

Wolfgang Schneiderhan performed with the most prominent musicians of the 20th century: Geza Anda, Karl Böhm, Edwin Fischer, Pierre Fournier, Ferenc Fricsay, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Gerhart Hetzel, Herbert von Karajan, Istvan Kertész, Hans Knappertsbusch, Clemens Krauss, Richard Krotschak, Enrico Mainardi, Lord Yehudi Menuhin, and Janos Starker. The most prominent admirer of his artistic ability was none other than Richard Strauss, who conducted concertmaster Schneiderhan in both of the legendary concerts on the occasion of the master's 75th and 80th birthdays on June 11, 1939 and again in 1944, in performances of the orchestral suite from "Der Bürger als Edelmann". Strauss regularly attended Schneiderhan Quartet concerts, and entrusted this ensemble with the first performance of the Sextet from "Capriccio", his last opera, on May 7, 1942 (before the Munich premiere of the complete opera), after having personally rehearsed this enthralling prelude and having "...sent them the score for corrections and entering of bowing marks..." For Richard Strauss, Wolfgang Schneiderhan was the measure of all things relating to the violin, as is demonstrated in a letter he wrote to Karl Böhm on September 30, 1944: "...For quite a while now, I have been working on an exercise which should even keep Schneiderhan in form - an adagio for about 11 solo strings, which may turn into an allegro seeing as how I cannot stand this Brucknerian organ tranquility for very long..." This "exercise" eventually became the "Metamorphosen" for 23 Strings, one of Strauss' most moving works.

The Vienna Philharmonic has also bestowed Schneiderhan with significant honors. In the course of the orchestra's 150th anniversary celebrations he was awarded honorary membership for his life's work and long lasting partnership. The award was not just an expression of recognition and respect, but also a token of gratitude for Schneiderhan's affinity for the orchestra and never ending interest in its activities, which he expressed in this poignant manner, written into the Philharmonic's "Golden Book" on October 24, 1984: "In hindsight, I am truly thankful for my work with this orchestra and the greatest conductors of this century. This has had the most profound importance for my artistic career. Due to the rapid rate of turnover among members of the orchestra, I see only a rare face from among those who were there when we worked together. Yet, the spirit of this splendid orchestra weaves its way with new vitality from generation to generation." These words he underlined with actions right on through to the end of his life. Despite increasing physical frailty, he regularly attended Philharmonic concerts with great interest, listening for the last time to the 8th subscription concert on April 28, 2002. Nor did he let his difficulties stop him from attending the ceremonies bestowing the orchestra's honorary membership on Zubin Mehta on April 22, 2001, and Lorin Maazel on April 7, 2002. The last letter he sent to the orchestra, which already has already found its place in the Schneiderhan file of the historical archives, is a response to an invitation on behalf of the chairman to a celebration of Schneiderhan's 87th birthday, which had been scheduled to take place after the 9th subscription concert on May 26, 2002.

Wolfgang Schneiderhan's prominent place in the musical history of Vienna is just as strongly anchored as his place in the history of this orchestra. His ties to the Philharmonic he saw as a "...mix of friendship, affection, admiration and true fellowship among colleagues, which will remain a part of me forever...", as expressed in a letter to chairman Werner Resel on July 10, 1990 in which he also stated "...I assure you that despite my international solo career, in my heart I will always remain a member of the Vienna Philharmonic..." Music lovers who heard Wolfgang Schneiderhan on the podium will never forget him. The musical standards which he set as soloist, concertmaster, and chamber musician are fortunately well-documented on recordings for future generations. Yet, the people who were close to him, as Otto Strasser expressed, will consider his personal friendship as one of the great treasures of their lives.

 

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