A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/David, Ferdinand

DAVID, Ferdinand, one of the best and most influential violin-players and teachers of Germany; born at Hamburg Jan. 19, 1810. His musical talent showed itself very early, and, after two years study at Cassel in 1823 and 1834 under Spohr and Hauptmann, he entered, when still a mere boy, on that artistic career which was destined to be so eminently successful.

His first appearance at the Gewandhaus at Leipzig, with which he was afterwards so closely identified, was in 1825, in company with his sister Louise—ultimately famous as Mme. Dulcken. He passed the years 1827 and 1828 as a member of the band of the Königstadt Theatre, Berlin, where he first became acquainted with Mendelssohn. In 1829 he accepted an engagement as leader of a quartet in the house of a noble and influential amateur at Dorpat, whose daughter he subsequently married. He remained in Russia till 1835, making frequent and successful tours to Petersburg, Moscow, Riga, etc. In 1836 Mendelssohn, on becoming conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts, obtained for him the post of leader of the band (Concertmeister), which he filled with such distinction and success until his death. Of the intimate nature of their connection a good instance is afforded by the history of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. It is first mentioned in a letter from Mendelssohn to David, dated July 30, 1838. Constant letters on the subject of the work passed between them during the process of composition; hardly a passage in it but was referred to David's taste and practical knowledge, and canvassed and altered by the two friends; and he reaped his reward by first performing it in public at the Gewandhaus concert of March 13, 1845.[1] The autograph is now in the possession of David's family. In like manner 'Antigone' (letter of Oct. 21, 1841), and probably many another of Mendelssohn's works, was referred to him; and he was one of the three trustees to whom the publication of the MS. works of his illustrious friend was confided after his death.

As a virtuoso David combined the sterling qualities of Spohr's style, with the greater facility and piquancy of the modern school; as a leader he had a rare power of holding together and animating the band; while as a quartet-player his intelligence and tact enabled him to do justice to the masterpieces of the most different periods and schools. Among numerous compositions of the most various kinds his solo-pieces for the violin are most pleasing and effective, and are so founded on the nature and character of the instrument as to be indispensable to the student. As a teacher his influence was probably greater than that of any preceding master, and to him the German orchestras owe many of their most valuable members. He took a warm personal interest in his pupils, amongst whom the most eminent are Joachim and Wilhelmj. Within the sphere of his influence he was always ready to help a friend or to further the true interests of musical art and artists.

It is one of David's special merits that he revived the works of the eminent violin-players of the old Italian, German, and French schools, which he edited and published with accompaniments, marks of expression, etc. He also edited nearly the whole classical repertoire of the violin for purposes of study, and took a prominent part in the critical editions of the works of Beethoven, Haydn, and other great masters. His unremitting activity was as earnest as it was quick. He was particularly fond of intellectual pursuits, was eminently well read, full of manifold knowledge and experience. His conversation abounded in traits of wit and humour, he was the pleasantest companion, a faithful friend, and an exemplary husband and father.

In 1861 the 25th anniversary of his appointment as leader was celebrated at Leipzig. He died very suddenly July 1 8, 1873, while on a mountain excursion with his children, near Klosters in the Grisons. He was buried at Leipzig, where he was highly honoured, and where a street has recently been named after him.

Among his numerous compositions the five violin concertos, a number of variations, and other concert pieces for the violin hold the first rank. He also published for piano and violin 'Bunte Reihe,' 'Kammerstücke,' etc. Besides these, two symphonies, an opera 'Hans Wacht,' a sextet and a quartet for strings, a number of songs and concert pieces for trombone and other wind instruments, deserve to be mentioned. His 'Violin School' is certainly one of the best works of the kind, and the publication of the 'Hohe Schule des Violinspiels' (a collection of standard works of old violinists) marks an epoch in the development of modern violin-playing.

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  1. See details in the programme of tht Crystal Palace Saturday Concert. Dec. 19, 1871.