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Two Teachers: Hering and Hauptmann


The Pleissenburg, Leipzig

The academic tutor that Mendelssohn chose for Joseph was a young man named Hering, a lover of Bach and Beethoven, originally known to Mendelssohn for his fine tenor voice. A native Thuringian, Hering had come to Leipzig as a Thomaner — a choirboy at St. Thomas’s. Now a graduate student in Theology, he lived an ascetic life in a garret high in Leipzig’s Pleissenburg fortress, rented to him by the celebrated mathematician and astronomer August Ferdinand Möbius. The apartment was furnished with a desk, a couch and a few chairs, a wash table, a small stove and a lamp — and many piles of books and papers. In fair weather, birds flew in and out through the open windows, and were frequently rewarded with crumbs of bread.

Hering crop

Hering was a small man with gentle eyes, thoughtful and unpretentious, a man of few needs who would often keep to his rooms for weeks at a time, occasionally descending at night for solitary walks through the city. He never married. Among the few exceptions to his asceticism was his weakness for fine strong cigars and fresh apples (Andreas Moser tells us he would carefully air out his apartment before Joseph arrived, and save the reddest apples for his young student). Hering was fondly remembered by Joachim in his later years — “I climbed up to him many times a week, literally and figuratively,” he wrote. [i] Joseph’s studies with Hering included Latin, Geography, History, Literature and Religion. The latter, according to Moser, was of particular value to young Joseph, being taught from an ethical rather than from a dogmatic perspective, with no effort to proselytize. Mendelssohn also took a personal interest in Joseph’s academic work. “I had to go to him regularly to ‘report progress’ on my studies,” Joachim later recalled, “and his influence over me was of the highest good.” [ii]

Hering Pleissenburg

Martin Laemmel:
Magister Hering’s apartment in the Pleissenburg [iii]

Joseph’s theory and composition teacher was the cerebral Moritz Hauptmann (1792-1868). Hauptmann was then in his second year as Cantor at the church of St. Thomas, and just taking up his duties at the newly-founded Conservatory — it would be a decade before he would publish the magnum opus: Die Natur der Harmonik und Metrik, [1] a treatise that exercised a considerable influence over generations of theorists, and the work for which he is best known today. By Hauptmann’s own meticulous count, J. Joachim from Pest was his 104th student, and only his third in Leipzig.

Himself a violinist, and a disciple and friend of the eminent Ludwig Spohr, Hauptmann took a special interest in the young prodigy that Mendelssohn sent him. “We have here a young Viennese called Joachim, a born virtuoso on the violin,” he wrote to Spohr. “He is thirteen years old, and all but perfect. I wish you could hear him, but still more do I wish that he could hear you.” [iv]


Now in his early fifties, Hauptmann was at last enjoying the fruits of a long carreer as a musical journeyman. He had been born in Dresden, the son of he city’s chief provincial architect. As a boy, he learned mathematics, science, drawing and languages: subjects intended prepare him to follow in his father’s profession. At the same time he studied music with Carl Maria von Weber’s sometime rival, the director of Dresden’s Italian Opera, Francesco Morlacchi (he held a poor opinion of Morlacchi’s teaching). In 1811, nineteen years old and feeling a vocation to a musical career, he traveled to Gotha to study violin and composition with Spohr. Spohr gave him four lessons a week, and demanded that he devote six or seven hours daily to practice. In addition, he gave him one or two weekly lessons in composition. [v]  “I spared no pains, the one year that I studied under Spohr in Gotha,” he recalled later. “I had two motives for hard work — one, my own delight in a thing that required my undivided attention; and secondly, the thought ‘In a year’s time, you must be a made man!’ My very anxiety left me no time for idleness.” [vi]

After a series of temporary jobs in Dresden and Vienna, Hauptmann accepted a position in the household of Prince Nicolai Grigorievich Repnin-Wolkonski, the Russian Governor General of post-war Saxony. From 1815 to 1819 he lived successively in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Pultava and Odessa. For twenty years, beginning in 1822, he played violin in the Cassel Opera, where he again came into close contact with Spohr. Nevertheless, it was not a job that could satisfy his artistic impulses. “I like to remember those old Cassel days, when I first met you…” he wrote to his friend Franz Hauser. “How new and fresh it all was! Though I had passed my teens, life was still before me, the future was hidden, and the sun shone gaily. Why, that time, compared with this, was as spring to winter! … I could cry when I think of it. There is dry wood, where once there were green leaves. … It is intolerable to be tumbled into a place like Cassel, and to have to stay there for the rest of one’s life. However, to get any farther, one must be able to do something. When a fellow like me has been sitting for six or eight years in the orchestra, nobody thinks of asking whether the Herr Kammermusikus is really musical; but supposing he were to go to a new place?” [vii]

Hauptmann’s opportunity finally came in 1842, when, with Spohr’s and Mendelssohn’s help, he succeeded Christian Theodor Weinlig as Cantor of St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig. In time, Hauptmann would become a respected composer, theorist and journalist, and a founding member and president of the Bach Gesellschaft. Together with Mendelssohn and Schumann, he was one of the original teachers of theory and composition at the Leipzig conservatory. After a lifetime of teaching, he would count Ferdinand David, Joachim, Otto Goldschmidt [2], Wilhelm von Wasielewski, Hans von Bülow, Bernhard Cossmann, William Mason, F. O. Dessoff, Salomon Jadassohn, Felix Draeseke, Norbert Burgmüller, August Wilhelmj and Sir Arthur Sullivan among his more than 300 students.

Hauptmann’s letters reveal him to be a sympathetic figure, formal but not pompous, conservative but without rigidity. In his earlier years, he was intensely self-critical. “Bad at the fiddle, bad at the piano, out and out bad as a musician” was his self-assessment at age 35. [viii] At 45, he wrote: “[…] I know that I make so unfavorable an impression at a first interview that I have little chance of getting a second; hence my aversion to fresh introductions. What a paralyzing feeling is self-consciousness, the seeing and hearing of nothing but one’s self! I am only at one with myself amongst people who know my clumsiness, and can still tolerate me […]. ” [ix] With time and position, he seems to have become more self-assured — as a musician and a person — though he continued to regret his lack of skill as an instrumentalist. In his Leipzig years, he is said to have led a comfortable, contemplative life, suited to a man of a philosophical nature.

As a teacher, Hauptmann was a firm believer in the mastery of fundamentals, which, unlike Mendelssohn, he attempted to teach in a systematic way. “[…] I had far rather start with a pupil de novo,” he declared to Hauser in 1840. “With those who are able to do something already, I have often had to go backwards, because I had pre-supposed knowledge which did not exist, and unpicking bad work is the worst of all things.” [x] Truth in expression was his maxim — never novelty for it’s own sake. He stuck to traditional models, among them Palestrina, Mozart and Gluck. About the latter, he maintained: “His music is ever new, because it never was modern, it was only true; truth is forever new to us […].” [xi] “Do try to be plain, and keep to the old rules as far as possible!” he wrote to his pupil Ferdinand Brennung in 1851. “What is good is not necessarily peculiar nor out of the way; the right way never has changed.” [xii]

For Hauptmann, musical truth lay not in intellectual fashion, but in the nature of the musical materials themselves, and in what he referred to as “the laws of musical architecture.” For this reason, he was suspicious of extra-musical meanings, and out of tune with what he referred to at a later date (1861) as “the egotism of the latest style of emotional music […].” [xiii] In his judgment of his contemporaries, Hauptmann was often on the wrong side of history. “The phenomena of this modern Romantic Music, or whatever they call it, suggest the vegetable kingdom,” he wrote. “Schumann’s construction is that of a tree — a branch more or less, and what does it matter? Mozart’s is that of the human body: you cannot add an arm or a leg.” [xiv] All the same, in his opinions he could occasionally be like the very people he criticized. Schumann himself disliked the term Romantic, and Schumann’s opinion of the piano virtuosi was confoundingly similar to Hauptmann’s. “Once is enough for Liszt and Thalberg,” wrote Hauptmann in 1840; “ — all very well in its way, but we know what it means.” [xv]

Teaching reinforced Hauptmann’s opinion of the corrupting influence exercised by the new “emotional” music. “So many of our young composers have had absolutely no poetic, innocent childhood in their art; they begin right away with the Paradise lost […]. That which is not extravagant appears dull and unimportant to them. The word ‘beauty’ is no longer in their lexicon.” [xvi] He had seen more than his share of young “tone poets,” long on conception and short on technique. “Speaking generally, a pupil must have an instinct of pure writing, an innate and comprehensive grasp of the meaning of harmony, rhythm, and melody,” he wrote to Hauser from Cassel. “Many a lad, however thoroughly well drilled at first in theory and practice, will never learn the secret of composing a good four-part chorale. Modern music is a bad nursery, and the most modern music of all is a bad schoolroom. Pianists who have Henselt, Chopin, and Liszt at their fingers’ ends, feel it especially. If they have had no other models, they may labor in vain for any clear idea of harmony or polyphonic writing. You may as well expect to learn the beautiful proportions of the human body when all that you have seen is the lady of a fashionable journal, with her puffed sleeves and her wasp’s waist; of course there is a body inside it all, and even tight lacing can’t change it much, but we see only the accessories; there may be a form underneath, even a form harmonious in itself, but it is a difficult task to recognize the articulation of the limbs. Set them to draw from the nude, and they will do it fairly well, though perfunctorily, for their one wish is to get it done. ‘What’s the good of it?’ they say. ‘People don’t go about stark naked.’ […]  Most of the learners of this generation do not care for what I can teach them. I am, quâ teacher, superannuated […]. It is idle to say, ‘this is good,’ and ‘that is bad.’ Some clever fellows, Aristotle and Plato amongst the number, think it far better to explain clearly how things are, and how they have come to be so; the rest can be done by the veriest simpleton, just as well as the wisest.” [xvii]

Hauptmann was unquestionably a demanding teacher. “‘Pretty good!’ is the worst that can be said of a work of art,” he wrote. “It had much better be abominable at once, for then no one would bring it out, no one would care to hear it. But ‘Pretty good!’ is good enough for so many people, and, as it is, we are deluged with things that are ‘Pretty good!’” [xviii] Nevertheless, he was no pedant, and he did not gladly suffer pedantry in others. A story made the rounds of the conservatory that a certain student had handed in his assignment with the remark that the ink was not yet dry. “Oh, just give it to me,” Hauptmann replied laconically. “Your assignments are usually dry enough.” [xix] Hauptmann took exception to Mendelssohn’s dictum that “Talent is industry,” saying: “[…] he never would allow that talent could exist under any other conditions. There is an element of truth in this, if it be rightly understood; but long continued, permanent industry is also a sign of utter want of talent. Who, that had the smallest insight in matters of Art, but would do anything rather than torment himself and others by making mechanical exercises, which lead to nothing, the principal business of his life?” [xx]

The Thomaskantor had a poet’s gift for description and feeling for form. “In most of Bach’s cantatas,” Hauptmann explains in a letter, “the central elevation occurs at the beginning, in the form of a broad introductory chorus, a sort of steam-engine, dragging after it a row of Recitative and Aria trucks, ending up with a choral mail-coach.”[xxi] For all his insistence on classical models, he recognized artistic authenticity, and valued originality. In 1860, he wrote to Otto Jahn: “It is amusing to see our youngsters in the Conservatoire composing whole pieces, which are Mendelssohn from beginning to end, without so much as a suspicion that they are plagiarizing. It is not a casual drop here and there; the whole bucket is drawn from Mendelssohn’s well. They are like the caterpillars on the mignonette, just as green as the plant they feed on.” [xxii] Once, when listening to an unfamiliar piece, he exclaimed: “That sounds quite Mendelssohnian, it must be by Sterndale Bennett.” [xxiii] To a student he wrote: “Imitate the great men in this alone; be yourself. There is no plagiarism in that; it is common property, like air and light.” [xxiv] “He spoke little,” wrote Felix Moscheles, “but when he did, it was to say much.” [xxv]

Above all, as a teacher Hauptmann seemed to possess an artist’s sensibilities, combined with that distinctive appreciation for the wonders and delights of childhood that characterized the age in which he lived: “What an epoch in a child’s life are the first cherries of the season!” he exclaims to Eduard Hille in May of 1855. “What a joy are the first three strawberries! Now, when cherries come in again, I feel as if I had eaten cherries yesterday. Very well! Buy the first cherries, and peas, and strawberries for the children, and think what they were to you when you were a child, not what they are now you are old!

‘How cherries and berries taste,

Children and sparrows know best,’

says Goethe. It is just the same with other and more important things. ‘In youth there’s no truth,’ says the proverb; but youth does not need it. The young enjoy themselves unconditionally, not indirectly — on condition — by comparison — after mature reflection — as we do. Of course our enjoyment is more intellectual, less material, and we are bound to arrive at that stage, if we are ever to become men; nevertheless, we should be careful to respect the spirit which makes the common people enjoy a ballad when they neither know nor care whether it is a good composition. For him who likes it, it is a good one.” [xxvi]

Hauptmann was five years old when Schubert was born, and thirty-five when Beethoven died. He came late to music, and he knew his limitations. His reluctance to embrace the new is what we might expect from a man of his generation who was intelligent and well-schooled, but not by disposition a trail blazer. His aversion to modern music often took the form of indifference rather than outright enmity. Nevertheless, he was not shy about expressing his judgments, which he delivered in his heavy Saxon accent, and with characteristic, sardonic humor. Once, passing through the green room where a young woman was warming up her fingers on a dumb piano, he remarked to Ferdinand David: “it’s a shame that more hasn’t been written for that instrument.” [xxvii] Later in his life, he liked to tell the story of his young son Ernst’s reaction to a performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin. Asked how he had liked the opera, the little boy said: “some of it quite well, some of it not.” “So, what didn’t you like?” asked the father. The son replied: “Well, for example, the music.” [xxviii]


Moritz Hauptmann

It is likely that Hauptmann was a better teacher for the intellectually intuitive Joachim, Bülow and Sullivan than for the average student. “As a theory teacher,” wrote his former student Alfred Richter [3], “Hauptmann was not as outstanding as one would assume from his excellent achievements in precisely this field. To be sure, he did possess a scholar’s nature, which was capable of captivating a circle of intelligent listeners for hours through brilliant elucidations; but he was incapable of teaching, in a clear, transparent and methodical way, an average person who needed to know the same material. He was supremely interesting when presented with the opportunity to expound on his favorite subjects; his judgments on music and musicians, though many may not have shared them, were also clever and well-founded. But, though students may have enriched themselves with these in a general way, they made no other progress. In the practical sphere, he lacked precisely the view of an experienced teacher who immediately notices where the weak points are, and steers the student to proper activity — which, for intellectually eminent men, may not exactly be very amusing. Everyone was proud to call himself his student, but, truth to tell, they would have to say that they learned what they learned from other teachers.” [xxix] Whether this is true in Joachim’s case we cannot say.

© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013

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[1] Die Natur der Harmonik und Metrik (1853, 2nd ed. 1873, translated as The Nature of Harmony and Metre, London, 1888).

[2] Joachim’s contemporary student, Goldschmidt was later the husband of soprano Jenny Lind.

[3] Alfred Richter (1846-1919) was the son of Hauptmann’s colleague, the composer, theorist and later Thomaskantor Ernst Friedrich Richter (1808-1879). His rich, detailed memoir of Leipzig’s musical life, Aus Leipzig’s musikalischer Glanzzeit, has recently been made available for the first time, edited by Doris Mundus and published by Lehmstedt (2004).

[i] Letter to Herman Grimm, Joachim/BRIEFE II, p. 95.

[ii] The Musical Times, Vol. 39, No. 662 (April 1, 1898), p. 226.

[iii] Stadtgeschichtliches Museum, Leipzig. Also: Picture of Hering in Briefe II, p. 96. Engraving: “Magister Hering in his Hermitage” Die Gartenlaube No. 16 (1882), p. 269.

[iv] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 272.

[v] Spohr/FESTSCHRIFT, pp. 55-56.

[vi] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 10.

[vii] Hauptmann/CANTOR, I, pp. 33-34.

[viii] Hauptmann/CANTOR, I, p. 33.

[ix] Hauptmann/CANTOR, I, p. 102.

[x] Hauptmann/CANTOR, I, p. 217.

[xi] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 230.

[xii] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 222.

[xiii] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 244.

[xiv] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 271.

[xv] Hauptmann/CANTOR, I, p. 212.

[xvi] Naumann/ZUKUNFTSMUSIK, p. 22. Translation: RWE

[xvii] Hauptmann/CANTOR, I, pp. 217-218.

[xviii] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 271.

[xix] Richter/GLANZZEIT, p. 283. Translation: RWE

[xx] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 273.

[xxi] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 240.

[xxii] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 242.

[xxiii] Moscheles/FRAGMENTS, p. 53.

[xxiv] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 222.

[xxv] Moscheles/FRAGMENTS, p. 53.

[xxvi] Hauptmann/CANTOR, II, p. 225.

[xxvii] Edmund Singer, “Aus meiner Künstlerlaufbahn,” Neue Musik-Zeitung, Vol. 33, No. 1, p. 16.

[xxviii] Richter/GLANZZEIT, p. 284. Translation: RWE

[xxix] Richter/GLANZZEIT, p. 282. Translation: RWE