The history of the 12 cellists

I. The prehistory

The Twelve have realized that which others had only dreamed of. At least two great names symbolize the pre-history of an idea which - although it now appears quite obvious - no one, for so long, dared to actually realize. Both of these forefathers were great virtuosos of their instrument.

II. The background of an idea

Pablo Casals is said to have dreamt of an orchestra consisting exclusively of cellos - an unusual idea, but not an entirely novel one. In fact, it is evidence of his strong historical memory. [more…]

III. The beginnings of the 12

Seven years earlier, another master of the instrument had already prepared the way with a preliminary work in the realm of chamber music. In 1920, Julius Klengel, the cello virtuoso, teacher and composer, wrote his 'Hymn' for twelve cellos; together with eleven of his chosen students, he is said to have presented it to his friend Arthur Nikisch (principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from 1895 to 1922) as a serenade for the latter's 65th birthday. [more…]

IV. A New Repertoire

This first precondition was facilitated by, among other things, one of those happy accidents that often likes to accompany success and vigorous initiative. Anyone who has followed the history of the Twelve Cellists even casually must know the authentic anecdote about the fifteen-year-old daughter of a composer who was hitchhiking her way through Berlin in rainy weather, and was brought to the very door of her house by someone well acquainted with her address, and with the prominent figure residing there. By way of thanks, her father composed a piece for the cello group of the Philharmonic Orchestra. [more…]

V. Symbol and Practice, or the Indispensable

Twelve is a mythical number, standing for perfection. Twelve months complete the year, twelve half-tones make an octave, and day and night each complete their respective cycles in two-times-twelve hours. Twelve tribes composed the ancient peoples of Israel, twelve disciples accompanied the founder of our customary religion, carrying his teaching across nations, and twelve gates lead to the Heavenly Jerusalem, the visionary city of a free humankind. [more…]

VI. The High Value of Diplomacy

Nothing is more difficult to write about than the history of a continuing success. On paper - in drastic contrast to in reality - it has a slightly monotonous effect, thereby converting the actual quality of an event into its opposite. Musicians abroad are measured by the strictest of standards, all the more so should they come from Berlin: they are viewed as ambassadors of their city, even of the nation. [more…]