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Louis Spohr (1784-1859)

Although Louis Spohr’s name is no longer a familiar one, he was once as famous as Beethoven. Born in 1784 in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany, Spohr was active as a composer, conductor, and violinist.

Between 1805 and his death in 1859, Spohr served in a number of court positions throughout Germany and Austria. He was the leader of the orchestra at Gotha from 1805 to 1812, leader of the orchestra at Theater der Wien in Vienna from 1813 to 1815, director of the Frankfurt Opera from 1817 to 1819, and Hofkapellmeister at the city of Kassel from 1822 to 1857. His violin playing was greatly admired by audiences throughout Europe, including Queen Victoria. He was a prolific composer, writing nine symphonies, 15 violin concertos, and 36 string quartets, as well as operas and oratorios.

Despite these considerable accomplishments, Spohr is perhaps best remembered for having preserved and promoted the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. As a conductor, Spohr programmed the music of these two great figures at time when their works were considered old fashioned and out of place. (Felix Mendelssohn famously shared this same enthusiasm.)

Spohr made an indelible mark on the modern orchestra through his invention of the first violin chin rest. It is also been said that Spohr was among the first conductors to use a baton.