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Past Exhibition of the Month - September 2013

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David Popper.  Photograph.  Frankfurt, 1875.

David Popper. Photograph. Frankfurt, 1875.

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POPPER , David (b.Prague, 16 June 1843; d.Baden, 7 August 1913)

David Popper, the centenary of whose death fell last month, is of major importance in 19th century cello history. Remembered as 'one of the greatest masters of his instrument of all times', he achieved equal success as a composer of attractive salon pieces, many of which (together with his valuable studies) are still played today. The son of a Kantor at two synagogues in the old Jewish quarter of Prague, Popper played the piano and violin from infancy but was steered towards the cello when he entered the Prague Conservatory at the age of twelve. At 15 he was capable of deputising for his teacher as Solo Cellist at the Opera and on graduation in 1861 was offered a post in the Löwenberg Court Orchestra in Lower Silesia. Here he had the opportunity of working with Berlioz, Wagner and most significantly with Hans von Bülow. A highly successful Berlin performance under the latter's baton of the Concerto by Robert Volkmann provided a turning point in Popper's career and led to a London debut (among other capital cities) in 1864. This was also the year in which his first compositions were published. From then on Popper's life was largely that of a touring virtuoso though for five years from 1868 he was Principal Cello at the Vienna Imperial Opera and from 1886 cello professor at the Royal Hungarian Academy of Music in Budapest. In this year he contracted a somewhat stormy marriage with Liszt's former pupil Sophie Menter and joined his colleague Jeno Hubay in the formation of the Budapest Quartet. The Quartet often collaborated with Brahms in their concerts and gave first performances of several of his chamber works. Later in his career he was accompanied on one occasion by the 19-year old Béla Bartók. Return visits to the UK in the 1890s aroused enormous enthusiasm, the Musical Times styling him 'the Sarasate of the Violoncello' while George Bernard Shaw described him as 'the best player in the world, as far as we know here' and praised his compositions as alternately 'elegant and fanciful' and 'elegiac'. Popper received honours from almost every European country and two days before he died of a heart attack was created a Hofrat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)

4tes Nocturne, Op.47. Leipzig, 1883. Spanische Tänze, No.5, Op.54.  Hamburg & St. Petersburg, 1887. Quatrième Gavotte à l'Ancienne Mode, Op.68. London, 1892.