Stoelzer & Blodeck - The Mozart Symphony Club
01 December 2010
Posted by Mike Brubaker
Two musicians pose for a promotional photograph, but their instruments are not the typical violin and cello but something very different - a Viola d'Amore and a Viola da Gamba - two antiquated string instruments that went out of fashion in the late 17th century. The players are Richard Stoelzer and Mario Blodeck from New York City, who were founding members of a chamber music group called the Mozart Symphony Club. This photo, by Geo. Schmitt of Cincinnati, OH was taken sometime around 1891-92, and probably used as a concert advertisement or souvenir.
Richard Stoelzer (1864 - 1947) was from Leipzig, Germany and came to the United States on tour in 1885 with the Royal Saxon Orchestra playing viola and clarinet. Unfortunately the orchestra tour failed and musicians were given a choice of returning to Germany or remaining in the US. Stoelzer stayed and found work in theaters and then with the Boston Symphony Orchestra Club. In 1891, he and Blodeck, who was also a German emigrant, formed the Mozart Symphony Club which played concerts programed around their novel instruments. Much more on Stoelzer and photos of his instruments can be found at this website. Richard Stoelzer Collection
The viola d'amore has 14 strings of which only 7 are played with the bow, while the others run below the finger board for sympathetic vibration. It has a flat back and no frets on the fingerboard. It was one of many varieties of early bowed string instruments that were popular during the renaissance and baroque periods.
The viola da gamba, or bass viol, goes back to medieval times and has 6 strings and a flat back. It was typically played in a consort of viols that came in different sizes from treble to bass. A renaissance viol would have frets made of gut twine, tied around the fingerboard, but Mr. Blodeck's fingerboard is more like a cello without frets. Also both bows are not the style used during the baroque period and Blodeck holds his in the modern overhand position. These instruments, while suitable for music of their time, could not compete with the violin and cello for range of expression and dynamics and they were discarded by the early 19th century.
They traveled with an ensemble of about 10 players including vocal, violin, harp, flute and cornet soloists from 1891 to 1906. The musicians and programs seem to remain constant over the years, doing a medley of popular opera and light classics. Other instruments included in some programs were the Roman triumphal trumpet; alpine echo horn, and saxophone. Given the hundreds of performances, I would bet they played from memory.
Occasionally they played with others, such as the famous violin soloist Maude Powell in Washington DC in 1891. This clipping is from an 1891 Washington Sunday Herald.
Herr Theodor Hoch, was the cornet soloist of the Mozart Symphony Club and continued with the group until it disbanded in 1906. The excerpt below from a 1905 Paducah KY newspaper offers a glimpse of the personality and flair of these musicians. It describes how Hoch played at the 1896 Berlin exposition:
"Mr. Theodor Hoch has just returned from Berlin where he had been engaged at the exposition. Besides he gave other concerts in his native city, and everywhere he met with the warmest reception. The last day he went up 6,000 feet in a balloon, playing a cornet solo, starting with the "Star Spangled Banner", "Dixie Land" , etc. While descending he played the German national airs, but when he reached the ground he again played "Home Sweet Home". The applause which greeted him was deafening, people from far and near having gathered to hear him. His object in going into the balloon was to be able to judge the distance his instrument might be heard. Musicians who had come to hear him said every note could be heard distinctly, the effect being wonderful at times.