Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hugo Wassmann & the Guild of Funerary Violinists

Several correspondents across the Atlantic have, in recent days, raised queries over Hugo Wassmann’s falling out with the Guild of Funerary Violinists in 1901 (last Thursday's post). CRWM, writing on the blog AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (link below) asks, “Did you not find it interesting that [Rohan Kriwaczek's] AN INCOMPLETE HISTORY failed to mention the irony that brother of one of the greatest proto-modernists was one of the last links to this most pre-modern of traditions?” Indeed, this fraternal relationship is a curious one, but I also find it telling that it was only after Johann’s death in 1898 that Hugo reconsidered his affiliation with the Guild.

A letter from the noted Swedish music publishers Elin and Ulla Johnson, dated 5 December 1901 and addressed to Hugo, sheds some light on Hugo’s state of mind in coming to what must have been a wrenching decision (above). The letter is currently in the archives of The Wassmann Foundation, Washington, D.C. Although written in an old Swedish dialect, I will translate as best I can.

The letter opens thanking Hugo for a photograph (fotographi) he has recently sent them. They then go on to reassure Hugo he has made the right decision in leaving the Guild (def Gál), heartening him with the conviction that the saxophone will one day be the centrepiece of both orchestral and funerary composition, although not necessarily among Lutherans. The letter closes with this encouragement: “The burden is on your shoulders Hugo but God will provide.” It is signed on the reverse, “Elin & Ulla Johnson,” with the added remark, “…send Helge and Eva our love.” Helge and Eva were Hugo’s two surviving daughters.

I hope this sheds further light on the last remaining years of the Guild.

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