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Georg Kulenkampff

Biography

Born: January 23, 1898; Bremen, Germany   Died: 1948  
Georg Kulenkampff was one of Germany's most beloved violin virtuosos of the first half of the twentieth century and a teacher to many younger stars of the violin. Kulenkampff gave the premiere performance of Robert Schumann's violin concerto and made the first recording of the piece; additionally, his performances of the violin concertos of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Glazunov, and Bruch are considered among the finest on record, despite their having Read more been recorded during the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s. Only the fact that his recording career coincided with the Nazi era, coupled with his tragically early death from encephalitis, has prevented his name from being better known to modern listeners.

Georg Kulenkampff was born into a family of very successful Bremen merchants and raised in happy, well-to-do circumstances. He showed an interest in music very early in his life and at age six, was given his first violin. Soon after, he began studying with Hans Kolkmeyer, the concertmaster of the Bremen Orchestra, and later with the orchestra's conductor, Ernst Wendel. He later studied with Von Auer in Dresden and in response to Von Auer's encouragement, Kulenkampff's parents presented the 12-year-old prodigy with a Stradivarius violin and sent him to the Berlin Conservatory.

Kulenkampff spent the years immediately after World War I recovering from serious health problems and became concertmaster of the Philharmonic Society of Bremen. His concert and recital career grew by leaps and bounds and a few years later, he moved to Berlin, becoming a professor at that city's conservatory. From the mid-'20s onward, Kulenkampff was Germany's leading violin virtuoso, concertizing all over the country and throughout Europe and he also making regular appearances on the radio.

In 1935, Kulenkampff formed a trio with Edwin Fischer and Enrico Mainardi, with whom he performed for the next 13 years. Additionally, Kulenkampff was one of the most respected teachers of his era and his students included the young Yehudi Menuhin, among many others. His master classes and lectures were unique for their passion, depth, and intensity.

One of the top recording artists of his era, Kulenkampff left behind many examples of his work from the 1930s and 1940s, including the first recording (done shortly after the premiere performance) of Robert Schumann's long-suppressed violin concerto in 1935. The story of the violin concerto's premiere is a fascinating one and illustrates the esteem with which Kulenkampff was held in Germany. Schumann's intent of conducting the piece in Dusseldorf in 1853, in a performance by Joseph Joachim, had never been realized, owing to insufficient rehearsal time and Schumann's own failing health; the Beethoven violin concerto (itself not a popular piece until then) was played instead. After several failed attempts to secure performances of the work, Joachim decided with Schumann's family that the piece should be suppressed as unworthy of the composer's memory. Joachim arranged that the concerto should not be published until 100 years after Schumann's death in 1856. In the 1930s, however, two of Joachim's grandnieces began making attempts to have the work performed.

Their efforts culminated with Kulenkampff's performance of the concerto in November 1937. With help from Paul Hindemith (whose own work had already been banned by the Hitler government), Kulenkampff and Georg Schunemann undertook a series of alterations -- which Schumann himself had begun -- to make the concerto more playable.

Ironically, the world premiere was to have been played in San Francisco by Kulenkampff's one-time pupil Yehudi Menuhin, under the aegis of the publisher, but the Nazi-controlled government insisted that the work had to receive its first performance in Germany in the hands of Kulenkampff, as Germany's greatest violinist and an "Aryan." For his part, Kulenkampff -- despite his having remained in Germany for most of the Hitler era -- took none of these racial concerns seriously, insisting on using the cadenza by Jewish virtuoso Fritz Kreisler in his performances and recordings of violin concertos of Beethoven and the otherwise banned Felix Mendelssohn in 1935.

Kulenkampff moved to Potsdam in 1940 and continued to play concerts -- among his more important recordings from this era are the Max Bruch violin concerto and, from a live performance, the Sibelius violin concerto conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. In 1944, he left Germany for Switzerland for reasons of health and the impending collapse of Germany. He made his career in Lucerne and immediately following the end of the war began concertizing in Germany again as well. Among his more notable postwar recordings was the Glazunov violin concerto done with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in March 1948. Kulenkampff also played and recorded chamber music, including the Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 9 ("Kreutzer") and the Mozart Violin Sonata No. 40, both with future superstar conductor Sir Georg Solti as accompanist. Kulenkampff contracted encephalitis in 1948 and died very suddenly just a few days after playing what proved to be his final concert. Kulenkampff's playing was very clean and unpretentious yet expressive, with rich intonation. His performance of the Schumann concerto is arguably still the best ever recorded and his Beethoven violin concerto is one of the finest available. Read less
Browse 1-10 of 10 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    Georg Kulenkampff: Concerto Recordings, Vol. 1
    Label: Opus Kura   Catalog: 2090 Release Date: 02/12/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven,  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff
    Conductor:  Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt,  Arthur Rother
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,  Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra
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  • 2.
    Georg Kulenkampff: Concerto Recordings, Vol. 4
    Label: Opus Kura   Catalog: 2093 Release Date: 09/13/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Antonín Dvorák,  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky,  Ludwig van Beethoven
    Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff
    Conductor:  Eugen Jochum,  Arthur Rother,  Paul Kletzki
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  • 3.
    Georg Kulenkampff - Concerto Recordings Vol. 5
    Label: Opus Kura   Catalog: 2094 Release Date: 08/09/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Max Bruch,  Johannes Brahms,  Max Reger
    Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff,  Enrico Mainardi
    Conductor:  Carl Schuricht
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra,  Suisse Romande Orchestra
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  • 4.
    Georg Kulenkampff: Concerto Recordings Vol. 2
    Label: Opus Kura   Catalog: 2091 Release Date: 03/08/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Robert Schumann,  Johannes Brahms,  Ludwig van Beethoven
    Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff
    Conductor:  Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt,  Arthur Rother
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  • 5.
    Georg Kulenkampff: Concerto Recordings, Vol. 3
    Label: Opus Kura   Catalog: 2092 Release Date: 01/11/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Louis Spohr,  Felix Mendelssohn,  Max Bruch
    Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff
    Conductor:  Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt,  Joseph Keilberth
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  • 6.
    Kulenkampff Plays Mozart, Spohr & Bruch
    Label: Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog: 9804 Release Date: 11/09/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,  Max Bruch,  Louis Spohr
    Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff
    Conductor:  Arthur Rother,  Joseph Keilberth,  Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra,  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 7.
    Kulenkampff Plays Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Bach & Schumann
    Label: Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog: 9800 Release Date: 11/09/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky,  Felix Mendelssohn,  Johann Sebastian Bach,  Robert Schumann
    Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff
    Conductor:  Arthur Rother,  Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra,  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 8.
    Early Solo & Chamber Recordings (1927-1947)
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 459003 Release Date: 07/30/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Paul Hindemith,  Richard Wagner,  Claude Debussy,  Johann Sebastian Bach  ... 
    Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff,  Franz Rupp,  Wilhelm Kempff,  Otto A. Graef  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hindemith Trio
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  • 9.
    Georg Kulenkampff Plays Brahms / Mainardi, Schuricht, Et Al
    Label: Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog: 9795 Release Date: 03/10/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johannes Brahms
    Performer:  Georg Kulenkampff,  Enrico Mainardi
    Conductor:  Carl Schuricht
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,  Suisse Romande Orchestra
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  • 10.
    Original Masters - Sir Georg Solti
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 473127 Release Date: 05/13/2003   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven,  Richard Strauss,  Zoltán Kodály,  Béla Bartók  ... 
    Performer:  Sir Georg Solti,  Georg Kulenkampff,  Ferdinand Frantz,  Elisabeth Höngen  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian State Orchestra,  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
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