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David, Ferdinandlocked

  • Albert Mell

(b Hamburg, June 19, 1810; d Klosters, Switzerland, July 18, 1873). German violinist, composer and teacher. His date of birth is given in many sources as 19 January, but 19 June is more probably correct. The son of a well-to-do business man, he and his pianist sister, Louise (1811–50), were both prodigies. He studied the violin with Spohr and theory with Moritz Hauptmann in Kassel from 1823 to 1825. During the next two years he and Louise played in Copenhagen, Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin. In correspondence with Mendelssohn in the summer of 1826, he discussed possible openings in Berlin at either the Royal or Königstadt theatres. While a violinist at the Königstadt (1826–9), he became friendly with Mendelssohn, often playing chamber music with him and Julius and Edward Rietz. After a six-year period (1829–35) as a quartet leader under the patronage of Karl von Liphart in Dorpat (Tartu, Estonia), he went to Leipzig in 1836 to assume the leadership of the Gewandhaus orchestra under Mendelssohn, a post he held for the rest of his life. He also became orchestral leader at the Stadttheater and took charge of church music in Leipzig. The same year he married Sophie von Liphart, the daughter of his former patron. He quickly established himself as an important musical figure in Leipzig, playing frequently in sonata and chamber concerts with Mendelssohn and giving regular quartet matinées.

In the spring of 1839 David visited England, where he gave recitals with Moscheles and appeared with the Philharmonic Society in one of his own violin concertos on 18 and 22 March. Moscheles wrote of him: ‘This worthy pupil of Spohr played his master’s music in a grand and noble style, his own bravuras with faultless power of execution, and his quartet playing at the soirées of Mori and Blagrove delighted everyone with any genuine artistic taste’. After concerts in Manchester and Birmingham and again in London, David played at the Lübeck Festival (26–8 June) before returning to Leipzig. A second visit to England two years later was less successful.

When the Leipzig Conservatory opened on 27 March 1843, David headed a violin department that included Moritz Klengel and Rudolf Sachse; among his first pupils was Joachim, who went to him at Mendelssohn’s suggestion. On 13 March 1845 he gave the first performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, which was subsequently dedicated to him; the success of the work is partly due to David’s invaluable advice and suggestions during the period of its composition. Mendelssohn’s death in 1847 was a terrible blow to David, who served as a pall-bearer at the funeral. Paul Mendelssohn later asked him to join Moscheles, Hauptmann and Julius Rietz in editing his brother’s manuscripts.

In 1851 David considered an appointment at Cologne. By early 1852, however, he had renewed his contract at the Gewandhaus; his official duties were lightened and his salary was increased. During the last 15 years of his life he was increasingly active as a conductor. In 1861 the 25th anniversary of his appointment as leader was celebrated by his pupils and friends, and he received an ovation at the Gewandhaus.

David’s health began to fail in his last years, and a nervous affliction often made it painful for him to play. When his physician urged him not to play, he answered: ‘I should not wish to live any more if I cannot play the violin’. Despite chest ailments that caused severe breathing difficulties, he continued to perform; his final public appearance was on 16 March 1873, when he performed in Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, Mendelssohn’s Andante and Scherzo from op.81 and Schubert’s d minor Quartet. He died of a heart attack while on the Siloretta glacier near Klosters, where he was on holiday with his children.

David’s most significant achievements were as an orchestral leader, teacher and editor. He possessed all the attributes of the ideal leader: an energetic attack, full tone and solid technique, together with responsibility, quickness of perception and musical intelligence, qualities which also made him an excellent conductor. An imaginative and stimulating teacher, he made the Leipzig Conservatory a centre of violin study. His most famous pupils were Joachim, Wilhelmj and Wasielewski. He prepared excellent editions of studies by Kreutzer, Rode, Fiorillo, Gaviniés and Paganini, and of concertos by Kreutzer and Rode. He brought out the first practical edition of Bach’s unaccompanied violin works, which he often played in public. His Violinschüle (1863) and supplementary études opp.44 and 45 were widely used until the end of the 19th century. Although Moser criticized David’s Hohe Schule des Violinspiels, which contains works of famous 17th- and 18th-century composers, for its stylistic inaccuracies and interpolations, he nevertheless acknowledged David’s important contribution in making these and other works available. His editions of chamber music are particularly valuable and are completely free of editorial eccentricities.

David was a prolific composer. His output includes five concertos and other solo works for violin and orchestra, concert pieces for various wind instruments, a String Sextet and a String Quartet. He also wrote a number of songs and a few choral works. He withdrew his only opera, Hans Wacht, after its second performance (Leipzig, 1852). While he was better known during his lifetime for his numerous transcriptions and editions than for his own compositions, it is for his didactic works that he is now chiefly remembered. Two compositions for wind instruments are currently in print: a Concertino for trombone and orchestra op.4, a seminal work in the history of the trombone repertory, and a Concertino for bassoon and orchestra op.12. David’s editions of Rode’s violin concerto no.7 in A minor and Viotti’s concerto no.23 in A major are still in print, along with his editions of Tartini’s L’arte del arco and Corelli’s ‘La Follia’ Variations.

Two fine violins are associated with David: the ‘Lark’, a long Stradivari of 1694, and a Guarneri del Gesù of 1742, for many years the preferred instrument of Jascha Heifetz.




Introduction and Variations on original theme, vn, orch


Concertino no.1, A, vn, orch


Concertino, E♭, tbn, orch (also vn, orch)


Introduction and Variations on ‘Je suis le petit tambour’, vn, orch


Introduction and Variations on ‘Der rote Sarafan’, vn, orch


Introduction, Adagio and Rondeau brillante, vn, orch


Introduction and Variations on ‘Sehnsucht’ Waltzes (F. Schubert), cl, orch


6 Caprices, vn


Violin Concerto no.1, e


Introduction and Variations on ‘Wenn die Lieb und deinen blauen Augen’ (W.A. Mozart), vn, orch


Concertino, E♭, bn/va, orch


Introduction and Variations on original theme, vn, orch


Violin Concerto no.2, D


Introduction and Variations on ‘Lob der Tränen’ (Schubert), vn, orch


Andante and Scherzo capriccioso, vn, orch


Violin Concerto no.3, A


Variations de Concert on original theme, vn, orch


Introduction and Variation brillante on original theme, vn, orch


6 Caprices, vn, orch


Introduction and Variations on Scottish theme, vn, orch


Concert-Polonaise, D, vn, orch


Violin Concerto no.4, E


12 Salon pieces, 3 bks, vn, pf


Salon duet on a song by E. Haase (‘The Fearless Finlay’ by R. Burns), vn, pf


6 Lieder, bk 1, 1v, pf


6 Lieder, bk 2, 1v, pf


5 Salon pieces, vn, pf


6 Lieder, bk 3, 1v, pf


Bunte Reihe, 24 pieces, vn, pf


6 Lieder, bk 4, 1v, pf


String Quartet, A


Psalm cxxi, 2 S, pf


7 Stücke, vc, pf


Violin Concerto no.5, d


Kammerstücke, 2 bks, vn, pf


4 Marches, pf 4 hands


Sextet, G, vn, va, 2 vc


Dur und Moll, 25 Etudes, Caprices and Character Pieces, vn, pf


3 Impromptus in the form of a waltz, vn, pf


Nachklänge (continuation of Bunte Reihe op.30), 15 pieces, vn, pf


Festmarsch, orch


Suite, vn


Zur Violinschule, 24 Etudes


Zur Violinschule, 18 Etudes


Aus der Ferienzeit, 5 bks, vn, pf

Also arrs. and edns of works by J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, Paganini, Schubert, Spohr, Leclair, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Moscheles and others


  • MGG1 (U. Lehmann) [with list of works]
  • F. Hofmeister : Handbuch der musikalischen Literatur (Leipzig, 1817)
  • W.J. von Wasielewski : Die Violine und ihre Meister (Leipzig, 1869, 8/1927/R)
  • C. Moscheles, ed.: Aus Moscheles Leben, 2 (Leipzig, 1872; Eng. trans., 1873/R as Recent Music and Musicians described in the Diaries and Correspondence of Ignatz Moscheles)
  • A. Dörffel : Geschichte der Gewandhausconcerte zu Leipzig (Leipzig, 1884/R)
  • J. Eckardt: Ferdinand David und die Familie Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (Leipzig, 1888)
  • A. Moser : ‘Zu Johann Sebastian Bachs Sonaten und Partiten für Violine allein’, BJb 1920, 30–65
  • E. van der Straeten : The History of the Violin (London, 1933/R)
  • E. Arro : ‘Ferdinand David und das Liphart-Quartett in Dorpat 1829–1835’, Baltische Monatshefte (1935), no.1, pp.19–30
  • W. Schwarz : ‘Eine Musikerfreundschaft des 19. Jahrhunderts: unveröffentlichte Briefe von Ferdinand David an Robert Schumann’, Zum 70. Geburtstag von Joseph Müller-Blattau, ed. C.H. Mahling (Kassel, 1966), 282–303
  • W.S. Newman : ‘Three Musical Intimates of Mendelssohn and Schumann in Leipzig: Hauptmann, Moscheles and David’, Mendelssohn and Schumann: Essays on their Music and its Content, ed. J. Finson and L. Todd (Durham, NC, 1984), 87–98
A. Moser: Geschichte des Violinspiels (Berlin, 1923, rev. 2/1966-7 by H.J. Nösselt)
Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart