Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Wolf Gang - 40 years to life

by Joe Peterson

Why couldn't Mozart find his teacher? Because he was Hayd-n. Acclaimed for their seamless ensemble playing and their sensitive interpretations, the Amadeus Quartet is one of the most highly regarded and well-known string quartets in recorded history. They received many honors, including the Order of the British Empire, honorary doctorates from the universities of Caracas, London, and York, and, the highest of all German awards, the Grand Cross of Merit. They also recorded a lot of Mozart and Haydn.

The Amadeus String Quartet

Three out of four members of the Amadeus Quartet, Norbert Brainin, Siegmund Nissel, and Peter Schidlof (all violinists) met in a
British Internment camp during World War II after being driven out of Vienna, their home where their hearts were, as a result of Hilter's Anschluss. The Brits initially labeled them and many other Jewish refugees as "enemy aliens," having come from enemy dictated territory, and they sent them to an internment camp on the Isle of Man. Essentially, composer Ralph Vaughan Williams busted them out, and the three violinists went out for tea and decided they were soul mates.

composer Ralph Vaughan William

It was Peter Schidlof, Norbert Brainin, and Siegmund Nissel who were connected by the misfortunes of war, and these three, all violinists, went to study with renowned violin teacher and virtuoso Max Rostal, who taught them for free. Through Rostal, they met British cellist Martin Lovett, who had just been kicked out of the Royal College of Music for "unauthorized orchestral playing" (who knew that was a thing?). Lovett recalls: "It was 1945, and I was trying my hand at playing quartets with formidable German refugees who spouted Goethe at me. A couple of years later I was in The Amadeus Quartet." 

The first photograph of the Amadeus String Quartet

The quartet was officially formed in 1947, originally calling themselves the Brainin Quartet, after first violinist Norbert Brainin, though that name didn't last. After a suggestion from second violinist "Sigi," the group changed the name to the Amadeus Quartet, aka, "The Wolf Gang." They'd keep that name and each other for forty years, until violist Peter Schidlof passed away from a sudden heart attack. As the group had been happily married for forty years, they decided to disband. 



During their tenure, the Amadeus Quartet recorded the complete quartets of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, among many other works. Benjamin Britten even wrote his third quartet expressly for them. In all, Amadeus produced over 200 recordings.

Composer Benjamin Britten

Collectively, the Amadeus Quartet played on a number of good fiddles. First violinist Norbert Brainin played on the Rode Guarneri Del Gesu of 1734 and the Chaconne Stradivarius of 1725. He also owned the Gibson Stradivarius, the one currently owned by violinist Joshua Bell, for a period of time. Second violinist Siegmund Nissel played on the Payne Stradivarius of 1731. Violist Peter Schidlof played on the Macdonald Stradivarius of 1701, which now is estimated to go for $45 million dollars in auction, almost 3 times as much as the last most valuable instrument!  Cellist Martin Lovett played on a Gennero Gagliano, as well as the Bonjour Stradivarius cello. Not. Too. Shabby. 

Peter Schidlof with Macdonald Stradivarius


1696 Bonjour Stradivarius cello


1748 Gagliano Cello


If you're in for a good laugh, there are videos of Amadeus cellist Martin Lovett telling jokes on Youtube. Be warned: Some of them are pretty raunchy. 

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