The Morning Call (San Francisco), Vol. 74, No. 95 (September 3, 1893), p. 20.
Reminiscence articles are posted here for historical interest only, with the caveat that they may contain false or misleading information.
A Rising San Francisco Violinist.
HIS STUDIES IN GERMANY.
Mr. Beel Speaks of Concerts Here and Compares Them With Those in Europe.
The Carr and Beel Saturday “populars” have now become one of San Francisco’s established institutions. Before they started into existence there were no regular series of concerts which continued season after season.
The success of the “pops” — as they are termed by anglomaniacs — however, has encouraged other musicians to branch out on similar lines, and now San Francisco is beginning to be considered a very promising concert field.
“I believe it was Mrs. Carr’s idea,” remarked Sigmund Beel, when questioned by the CALL reporter on the subject. “We had been speaking of the Saturday and Monday ‘pops’ that are a feature of music in London, and she remarked that she did not see why the same idea could not be made a success here. We naturally had to work very hard at the beginning to insure anything like success, but I think it speaks well for the people here that twenty-eight concerts should have been prosperous.
“Times have changed wonderfully in late years,” continued Mr. Beel, reflectively. “The people here are really musical, although until recent years they have scarcely had the opportunity to develop their tastes in that direction. When I was a boy it was impossible to get first-class violin lessons. Why? Well, I think people were looking more for gold dust than for anything else. They did not devote much time to developing their latent taste for music.”
Sigmund Beel, however, like one or two other young Californians who are beginning to make a name in the musical world, seems to have studied in spite of obstacles. He was born in North Oakland, and as a boy devoted a great deal of time to the violin, although his parents intended him to follow a medical career. Indeed, Sigmund Beel matriculated at the State University and studied there for two years, but finally resolved to abandon his collegiate studies and devote his life entirely to music.
It was toward Germany that he turned his steps when he made this resolution, for as every one knows, Germany is the home of Joachim, the master among the violinists of the age. In Munich, Levy, the conductor of the Bayreuth festivals, chanced to hear the young Californian play, and was so charmed with his talent that he immediately persuaded him to go to the high school in Berlin, with a warm letter of recommendation to Joachim, who directs that celebrated institution.
Joachim was thoroughly satisfied with Sigmund Beel’s ability, and took him as his own personal pupil for the violin, an honor by no means conferred upon all the students of the high school. In this congenial atmosphere the young Californian plunged into hard study, supplementing his violin lessons by instruction in theory from Franz Schultz, in piano from Alexander Dorn, whose father was the teacher of Schumann, the famous composer, and by attending Professor Spitta’s musical lectures.
When questioned respecting his student life in Berlin Mr. Beel replied enthusiastically: “Of course it was delightful. It is not alone the music heard that gives the life its charm, but the fact of living in an entirely artistic and musical world. It has always seemed to me such a simple, sincere life that they had over there. I remember once when several of us were giving a concert in the town of Potsdam. We met the old pastor in the afternoon when we were looking through the beautiful memorial church. He promised to come to our concert, and in the evening after the performance he thanked us for the pleasure we had given him by laying a hand on each of our heads and giving us his blessing. I think we were all deeply impressed by the incident.
“But my pleasantest recollection of student life is that of Joachim’s fiftieth anniversary as a musician. It was a great day, for Joachim is adored by his pupils and friends as well as by the public. All of his old pupils came from far and near to take part in the festivities of his anniversary.
“Years before Joachim had composed two overtures, one to ‘Hamlet’ and one to ‘Richard III.’ [sic. recte: Henry IV] They had never been performed and he had them under lock and key in his desk, and seemed, in fact, to have forgotten their existence. The students found out about them, however, and managed to steal them without Joachim’s knowledge. Then they assembled an immense chorus and orchestra and rehearsed them, with Valdemar Bargiel as conductor.
“On the anniversary day all the students and professors assembled in the hall of the high school. The exercises opened with a cantata by Bach, which Joachim conducted. Then Professor Spitta surprised the master by unveiling his bust and presenting it to him in a few well-chosen words. After that we began to perform a Joachim overture, and I never saw a man so taken aback in my life.
“‘A speech!’ we all called out at the end, but Joachim was feeling so affected that he could scarcely utter a word, though he is a very capable speaker on ordinary occasions. Then the student began to cry, ‘Play something,’ and he took up the nearest violin and played a chacone of Bach as he had never in his life played before. That is my happiest recollection of student life,” concluded Sigmund Beel.
“And how did the day end?” was asked.
“There was to be a banquet in Joachim’s house in the evening, and I suggested that we should take the horses out of the carriage and drag our master there ourselves. Such a thing had never been heard of in Berlin, but the students caught on to the idea. At the banquet Johannes Brahms presented him, in the name of his friends in Berlin, with $2500, and the Emperor sent him a great gold medal for art and science. It had never been presented to anyone since Spontini’s time.
“That is Joachim’s picture,” said Mr. Beel, pointing to a large photograph that hung over the piano in the music-room of his home in California street, “and that picture in the corner, he added, “is Paganini. What a wonderful genius Paganini must have been to dare to branch out into such original lines, and break through the traditions of his age! No wonder the people said he was possessed by an evil spirit when they heard of his playing on one string and playing on a shoe. I would give a good deal to have been able to hear Paganini though. He must have possessed an extraordinary power over the violin.”
“Are you the happy owner of a Cremona violin?” was asked.
Mr. Beel shook his head sadly. “I used a beautiful Bergonzi for three years in Germany that Joachim lent me, but I returned it on coming to America. I have a valuable old Italian violin though, but it is from a Venetian workshop, not from Cremona. Would you like to see it?
And with the true violinist’s affection for the bits of wood and string that cunningly handled speak more sweetly than the human voice Sigmund Beel brought his treasure from its case and pointed out its unscratched varnish and its rich, deep color.
“Did you play much in Europe?” was asked.
“Oh, yes; a great deal,” was the reply. “I toured through Holland as soloist with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Berlin, playing the Beethoven concertos [sic] and other classical music, besides performing in a number of German towns.”
“And how do the audiences here and there compare?” asked the reporter.
“There is fully as much sympathy and intelligence to be found here. In fact, I have never felt so much pleasure as when playing for a San Francisco audience. Of course there is a great deal in the way a programme is arranged. It must be given with a view of not tiring people. An hour and a half is quite long enough for a morning concert to last. This season we intend to give one programme devoted entirely to compositions by American composers.
“Mrs. Carr, Mr. Heine and myself have been working together for three years now,” concluded Mr. Beel, “and we feel more satisfied than ever with the outlook for music in this city.”
Sigmund Beel was born in North Oakland, CA in 1863. He studied with Joseph Joachim at the Berlin Hochschule. He died in San Francisco in 1953.