On tour with Ernst

With some misgivings (see HWE:181-2), Ernst undertook a 31-concert tour of the British Isles lasting from 28th January until the middle of March 1851. One of the supporting artistes, who is not mentioned in the main press reports, was the young singer Mathilde Marchesi. The account she gives in her memoirs confirms the quality of Ernst’s playing despite his poor state of health, and allows us to glimpse the difficult relationships between members of the company. She also gives us the first sight of a theme that would eventually form the main melody of the slow movement of Ernst’s String Quartet in Bb Op.26 of 1862. Although in old age she says the tour was towards the end of the Season, it was actually at the beginning: 

[Shortly after a little music festival towards the end of the season in 1851] I was engaged for a tour of the English provinces [including Manchester], together with Ernst, the violinist; Angri, the Italian contralto; Julius Stockhausen, the concert singer; Formes, the bass, and several other distinguished artistes. […] Our company was composed of the most heterogeneous elements. Fraulin Angri, possessor of a rare contralto voice, never sang during the day, but was constantly knitting; Herr Formes, whose ways were somewhat rough, would from time to time omit inarticulate sounds in order to try his voice, as he put it; and Ernst, who was very delicate, would generally lie in bed until the beginning of the concert. While travelling, we usually occupied different carriages, as there existed very little sympathy for one another between the various members of the company.

I experienced particular pleasure during this tour from Ernst’s divine violin playing, for he drew forth tones from his violin such as I have seldom heard equaled since. He instrument, echoing his mood, was either all tears or all joy, though the latter was seldom the case, for Ernst was in the highest degree impressionable and melancholy. His playing was consequently very unequal; but when in good health and in the humour, he never failed to excite enthusiasm. During the last years of his life the unfortunate artist became lame, was confined to his room, and his violin was heard no more. His wife, a faithful companion, younger than he by many years, tended the weary, sick, dispirited man with most loving care up to the moment of his death, which occurred on 8th October 1865. But long before that – at the end of our concert season, in fact – he had written the following in my musical album. [Here she reproduces Ernst’s autograph m/s of a harmonized theme in B minor; this would later become the main G minor theme of the slow movement of the Quartet.]

Mathilde Marchesi, Marchesi and Music (Memphis: General Books, 2011), p.15 

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