Articles by David Johnstone:
This article wishes to bring to public attention the most interesting career of the romantic cellist Robert Hausmann, who can be considered as one of the great chamber-music players of the second half of the nineteenth century. His long-term friendships with Brahms and Joachim undoubtedly marked his artistic path; it is a shame that we have lost so many anecdotes from the times!
Shortly after this Hausmann took an engagement with Count Hochberg, in Silesia, as cellist of the string quartet formed by him, but after this was dissolved, in 1876, he was named second master of Cello playing at the Berlin High School for Music; three years later he rose to the position of first teacher (receiving the title of ‘professor’ in 1884 for his very able work, and succeeding, or perhaps even displacing, his old teacher Wilhelm Müller), and from that time he fulfilled the duties alone in his own department.
Hausmann was a celebrated soloist and chamber musician who played an active role in the musical life of London as well as of the Continent. His greatest chamber role was undoubtedly in the Joachim Quartet, but before that he had gained considerable experience in the Dresden String Quartet. He was a member of the Joachim quartet for almost twenty years; he had joined the Joachim Quartet in 1878 succeeding, once again, Wilhelm Müller, and stayed with them until the violinist's death in 1907. His friendship and understanding with Joachim was to play a decisive role in his artistic evolution. By the way, it should be made clear that the Joachim Quartet in London was a different group, of which Piatti was the cellist; the London ensemble performed regularly at the famed Monday and Saturday Popular Concerts, and this quartet is remembered for performing the late Beethoven string quartets for the first time in public in London.
Hausmann was not especially noted for coaxing or ‘badgering’ new compositions out of composers, but he was given several important tasks in this respect, especially from Johannes Brahms. It was he who made Brahms' E-minor sonata widely known and appreciated, through numerous performances of it with the composer. According to Elisabet von Herzogenberg, Hausmann was "crazy with excitement" when he received the new F major Sonata, Op.99 . Composed in the summer of 1886 at Thun, the Sonata (of course, dedicated to Hausmann) was first performed on November 24, 1886 by the cellist with Brahms himself at the piano, at Hausmann's concert in the Kleiner Musikvereinssall, Vienna. He was also to be the soloist, with Joachim, in the premiere of the Double Concerto, Op. 102. The story of this concerto work is that the long friendship between Brahms and Joachim was interrupted when Brahms unintentionally contributed to the dismissal of charges against Joachim's wife for adultery with the music publisher Simrock. Clara Schumann reconciled the old friends, with Joachim and the cellist, Hausmann, premiering the Brahms Double Concerto. Regarding the compositional stage we know: "I have been of late unable to resist the idea of a Concerto for violin and cello, however much I have tried, again and again, to talk myself out of it," – at least this is what Johannes Brahms was reported to have told violinist Joseph Joachim in July 1887. The Double Concerto was to be his last orchestral work; a fitting end to resolving his differences with Joachim and the delivery of a promised concerto to Hausmann.
Robert Hausmann, with Brahms
Following the Cello Sonatas, we have detailed information relating to Hausmann on Brahm’s Trio for clarinet, cello and piano in A minor, Op.114. In November of 1891 Brahms is invited to Meiningen, where on the 24th of the month, after rehearsing from the manuscripts, the first private rendition of the work was made – along with the Quintet Op.115 – in the court of the Duke of Saxony, George II. The performers were: Brahms at the piano, Mühlfeld on clarinet and Robert Hausmann on cello. These musicians brought about the public premiere on the 12th December of this year in Berlin; however, there was a triumphal greeting of the Berlin public from the first instance, even from the dress rehearsal on 10th December 1891.
Yet another interesting anecdote relates to the Clarinet Quintet, in which Hausmann also played. According to the English cellist Percy Such, Hausmann had related to him that Brahms was seriously ‘toying’ with the idea of a Cello Concerto, and that work would not have simply been developed from that basis into the new Double Concerto (which has often been implied since by writers). Such very clearly said that Hausmann assured him that the theme which became the opening melody of the Clarinet Quintet had originally been conceived as an important theme for a Cello Concerto in A minor. This perhaps to the lasting regret of many a cellist!
There is no doubt to distrust either Hausmann or Such. Hausmann had every confidence of Brahms. There was true affection between the colleagues. In May 1894, a group photo was taken of Brahms among his close friends. Towering in back of Brahms (who is seated) is the tall and distinguished-looking Hausmann. With a look of boyish mischief on his face, Hausmann is holding his arms outstretched over Brahms, pretending to "play" Brahms like a cello! Few cellists would have had the opportunity, in this way, to "play Brahms"!
He was the dedicatee of many other works, the majority of which are simply lost or have not survived the passing of time. However, Max Bruch wrote for him the Hebrew Adagio ‘Kol Nidrei’ Op.47 for cello and orchestra, and Hausmann gave the world premiere in 1881; the work has commanded a high place in the cello repertoire ever since.
In other aspects he also tried nobly to help the cello’s cause. He published an edition of the Bach Suites which is supposedly closer to the original text than those of his contemporaries. He made an edition of both Mendelssohn Sonatas, and the ‘Variations Concertantes’ of the same composer. He also made a cello/piano version of Schumann’s ‘Marchenbilder’ (Fairy Tales), Op.113, originally written for viola.
Of Hausmann’s students very little has been written about, and few became top level interpreters of the instrument. I have found the following names:
English cellist Percy Such (b. 1878), as previously mentioned, worked with
Hausmann, and also studied chamber music with Joachim. He also, as like
Hausmann, played without a spike, surely one of the last ‘serious’
exponents of the modern cello to do so.
He was born in Berlin and studied cello with Robert Hausmann and composition
in the Royal Orchestra of Berlin between 1882 and 1891, after which he accepted a
position of music director (Kapellmeister) for the resort town of Baden-Baden. A
year later, he returned to Berlin, where he concentrated on composing and
teaching, eventually becoming a professor and director of theory at the
among his many students.
Robert Hausmann played a superb Stradivarius cello dated 1724, from Stradivarious’s best period, which today still bears his name as the ‘Hausmann’ Strad. The instrument had first been heard in Great Britain on 25 April 1900 when the ensemble made their debut at the St. James's Hall in London. This cello passed, for many years, to Edmund Kurtz.
Before I try to briefly sum up the name of Robert Hausmann I should like to mention the name of Tovey. Donald Tovey (1875–1940) has long been known as one of the finest writers on music in English – but he saw himself primarily as a composer. The contrasting tone of the dark, heroic Elegiac Variations for cello and piano was inspired by the death of Robert Hausmann, cellist of the Joachim Quartet and a cherished chamber-music partner of Tovey’s. His music is influenced by both Brahms and Elgar. By the way, Tovey’s Cello Concerto – written for his friend Pablo Casals in 1932–33 – may be the longest ever in history, at over an hour long! He also produced a very large-scale Solo Sonata for Cello, again for Casals.
In summing up, Robert Hausmann is not generally so widely known today as his German contemporaries Grutzmacher, Klengel or Becker. Perhaps this is because he did not consider producing a major treatise on the instrument, or have an important line of students to follow him. Neither did he produce any lasting compositions for the cello repertoire, not even in his own age. However, having said that, he is definitely a player worth while discovering once more. By all accounts he was a stylish player whom Brahms fully trusted and entrusted, and who was above all a faithful servant of good romantic music.