Cornelius Gurlitt

gurlittGurlitt was born at Altona, Prussia, February 10, 1820.

For six years he studied under the father of Carl Reinecke, the famous head of the Leipsic Conservatory, with whom Gurlitt was class mate.

His first appearance in public took place during his seventeenth year, and the gratifying reception he obtained determined him to proceed to Copenhagen. Here he studied under Curlander, and Weyse, for organ, piano and composition. Here also he became acquainted with Niels W. Gade, and their friendship terminated only at the death of the Norwegian composer.

In 1842 Gurlitt settled in Hirschholm, near Copenhagen, where he resided for four years.

From thence he went to Leipsic, where Gade was then musical director to the Gewandhaus concerts.

Thence he proceeded to Rome, where his brother, Louis Gurlitt, a well known painter, was then studying. Cornelius Gurlitt’s merits as a musician were readily recognized in the art centre, and the papal academy “Di Santa Cecilia” nominated him an honorary member, and graduated him “Professor of Music” in 1855.

While in Rome he studied painting with excellent results. On his return to Altona, the Duke of Augustenburg engaged him as teacher to three of his daughters, and when the Schleswig-Holstein war broke out, in 1849, Gurlitt became a military band master.

His compositions are prodigious in quantity, and range from songs and teaching pieces to operas, cantatas, and symphonies. He died at Altona, June 17, 1901.

Reminiscences of Cornelius Gurlitt From His Lifetime Friend Carl Reinecke

Carl Reinecke was a friend to Cornelius Gurlitt from boyhood and always followed his works.

Perhaps I may be considered to have laid a wreath on the grave of Cornelius Gurlitt, my boyhood friend and schoolmate, when I published, with Angener in London, a collection of twelve piano pieces, which began with the initials of his name (C.G.).

Even if I dared to believe that this wreath has not yet become faded, I am still constrained to write a few words in memory of my departed friend, partly because I have learned with great satisfaction how much his works are played in the United States, and also because I have read in Reimann’s “Dictionary of Music and Musicians” the following unappreciative words: “Gurlitt’s music is carefully written but without depth of content,” words which occasion me great sorrow.

Must everything be deep and profound? Is there not in this beautiful creation of God an endless number of things that are simply lovely and charming, that are destitute of depth, and yet rejoice our senses and our hearts? And is it just to complain of a certain lack in an artist’s work, and not mention the worthy things he has done, the characteristics that specially distinguish him?

It is true that Gurlitt was not a master among composers, but his work was deserving, and in particular was he specially strong in a line in which musicians know least of him; I refer to his songs, the fine compositions of the “Plattdeutsch” poems by Claus Groth, and “Weinbachlein” by Wackernagel.

Cornelius Gurlitt was born in 1820 in Altona.

His love for music early manifested itself and he was placed under the instruction of an old musician in Altona, Peter Groenland. But he was soon perceived that the old gentleman was not advancing him, and left him to become a pupil of my father in piano playing and in theory.

The theoretical instruction we received together, and vied with each other in our work an din our compositions, but always pleasantly. He was four years older than I, which at our years was considerable of an advantage. When I, at seven, was writing my first little songs and piano pieces, he was far in advance of me. But as a player I surpassed him, for he had no special talent and little inclination for piano playing. Gradually, however, I approached him in strength, and we contested strenuously in our composition work. If one wrote a sonata or cantata, the other did the same.

Gurlitt’s first published work was a piano sonata; soon after that appeared a sonata for piano and ‘cello, Op. 4, which he dedicated to my father. Later he dedicated to my sister a piano trio, and to me a cycle, “The Seasons,” Op. 26, for male voices. In return I honored him with my piano quartet, written in 1844, and published by Litolff, as Op. 34. This makes apparent a very friendly intercourse between him and the Reinecke family.

When Gurlitt finished his studies he went to Copenhagen, where his brother, a well-known landscape painter was living. From Copenhagen he went to Hirschholm, on the island of Seeland, where he worked professionally as organist and teacher. When, soon after that, I was in Copenhagen on a concert tour, he invited me to visit him and at the same time to give a concert, to which I was very glad to consent.

It was in May, 1843, at this concert, that I played, with my friend, a “Concert Allegro” for two pianos by Kalkbrenner. The program, yellowed with age, lies before me, and I cannot refrain from giving it in full, since I believe it will interest the readers here to know what composers figured on programs during this year:

  1. Concert-Allegro, for two pianos, by Kalkbrenner
    1. Etude: “If I Were a Bird” Henselt
    2. “Serenade” Reinecke
    3. “Song Without Words” Mendelssohn
  2. “Pensees Fugitifs” Piano and Violin Heller-Ernst
  3. Sonata (C Sharp Minor) Beethoven
  4. Concertuck (F minor) Weber
    1. “Tremolo” Etude Doehler
    2. “Song Without Words” Schosser’s Complaint Reinecke
    3. Reminescences of “Lucia di Lammermoor” Liszt

One can note, by looking at the program, that during the whole evening I was at the piano; in quantity, at least, therefore, I gave a very successful concert. The Gade, who assisted in the “Pensees Fugitifs” (Fugitive Thoughts) was the afterward celebrated Danish composer.

And now to come back again to Gurlitt. The war which broke out in 1847 between Denmark and the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein, drove him back home to take part in the campaign as musical director to the army. He wrote, during that time, several military marches which are still used by the German military bands. From that time on to his death he remained in his native city, where he filled the position of organist in the principal church. He was also a teacher in the Hamburg conservatory, and worked diligently at composition to supplement his income, a necessity, as he felt, on account of marrying somewhat late in life.

But it was probably the pressure of this necessity that disclosed to him his special talent, that of writing perfectly suitable, charming and poetic works for the young. And yet, assiduously as he worked at musical composition, he also found time to establish himself as a highly talented painter.

It is probably known to few persons that Gurlitt painted so very well that his celebrated brother once said that he could hardly tell Cornelius’ work from his own. Once when I was looking at a picture of his house I said: “Where did you get this ‘Aschenbach?’” He answered in his jovial manner: “I paint the ‘Aschenbachs’ myself.” Many of the pictures that he exhibited at Hamburg were readily sold. I might add that he furnished very tasteful designs for the song collections before mentioned.

As a caricature artist he did some clever things. I have in my possession, now, two pictures of that kind in which I play quite an amusing figure.

His hand no longer directs the brush, and no longer moves the pen in note writing, but his memory will not soon be lost. He was a good and true man!