Carl Traugott Queisser: Being a musician in the first half of the nineteenth century

Trombonists know the name Carl Traugott Queisser (1800-1846) as one of the first internationally famous trombone soloists. A Concertino for Trombone by Ferdinand David that probably every trombone major in college plays at one time or another was composed for Queisser. A famous virtuoso is certainly not a typical musician, but in many ways Queisser is representative of how many different roles a professional musician of his time had to perform in order to make a living.

Like most German instrumentalists, Queisser received his first musical training as a Stadtpfeifer, or town musician. He began his apprenticeship at age 11 in the town of Grimma and learned to play all of the instruments of the orchestra. He chose to concentrate on the violin and trombone. The latter was a highly unusual choice. No one in Grimma’s band (or probably very many other similar band throughout Germany) played it well enough to show him anything more than the slide positions. As a trombonist, then, he was entirely self taught.

In 1817, he moved to the nearby city of Leipzig to see if he could get into its band. Leipzig was not yet a world class musical center, but it boasted the first permanent orchestra in Europe that played only concert music (established in 1781), and the first performance space dedicated to orchestral concerts (the Gewandhaus). It had a separate theater orchestra, the world’s first financially successful professional string quartet, and a town band that had existed for centuries.

At that time, many towns and cities in Germany still maintained the kinds of wind bands that had started as early as the fourteenth century. There was no separation of church and government. Town governments maintained the churches and hired their personnel. That is one reason the old-fashioned bands lasted far longer in Germany than anywhere else in Europe. The band formed the nucleus of musicians for the church orchestra and had a legal monopoly on music at weddings and certain other occasions.

In 1833, several members of the band complained to the city council that the leader wasn’t paying them properly and wasn’t offering much leadership, either. This group formed its own band under Queisser’s leadership. By that time he had already led the two bands of the civil militia for three years.

At about the same time, someone else began to challenge the town band’s traditional monopolies. Queisser wound up as de facto leader of the city’s music, but the man he displaced maintained the official title of city musician. Legal wrangling over the band’s leadership and monopolies continued even after Queisser’s death.

Queisser played his first trombone solo with the Gewandhaus orchestra in 1820. It may come as a surprise to many trombonists, but he was never part of the trombone section in that orchestra. Remember: trombone was one of two instruments he concentrated on as a student. The same year he  joined the town band, he became trombonist in the theater orchestra, but by 1820, he started to play violin in the Gewandhaus orchestra.

He evidently decided that he could make more money as a violist. He was named principle violist in the theater orchestra in 1827 and became principle violist of the Gewandhaus orchestra the following year. In 1829, Leipzig became the first city in Europe with two professional orchestras when the Euterpe society started giving public concerts. I have not been able to document claims that Queisser had anything to do with its founding, but he was a member (probably on either violin or viola) from 1835 to 1838 and rejoined it at concertmaster in 1841. He also played viola in the string quartet from no later than 1835 through the 1838-1839 season. The Gewandhaus orchestra did not even have a permanent trombone section until 1842. Before then, it hired trombonists as extras when needed. It surely did not put its principal violist to work in that capacity!

Queisser did play in the Gewandhaus’ trombone section at least once, a fact worthy of notice in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. In 1839 local instrument maker named Christian Friedrich Sattler invented the trigger, a valve operated by the player’s left thumb so that it could work as an adjunct to the slide. Earlier applications of valves to the trombone replaced the slide. Later that year, Queisser played David’s Concertino on a Gewandhaus concert using the new instrument. For the last piece on the program, the finale of Rossini’s Semiramis, he put down his viola and played the new trombone. The poor singer seems a mere afterthought in the review that was mostly about Sattler’s invention as demonstrated by Queisser both in his ordinary role as soloist and one-time role as a section player.

So far, then, this article has touched on Queisser as a trombone soloist and mentioned his professional activities (playing three different instruments) with the town band, two militia bands, three orchestras, and the string quartet. As leader of the town band, he took students and perhaps got paid extra by them. Was that combination enough for him to make a living as a professional musician and raise his family? Apparently not.

When he got married in 1822, his father-in-law owned a pleasure garden called the Kuchengarten. After he died, Queisser owned it until 1841 or 1842. Music had always been part of the entertainment at such venues. The town band had played there for years. Queisser occasionally played solos there and certainly booked all the entertainment, but his main role as owner was to sell food and beer. Perhaps it was owning and operating the Kuchengarten that gave him the financial means to make it as a professional musician. None of his various musical activities paid especially well.

So here is some comfort for any professional musicians who have to take non-music jobs to pay the bills: it’s nothing new. Being a full-time professional musicians actually easier now than it used to be. Queisser had conspicuous leadership roles in three orchestras, led three bands, and achieved an international reputation by playing trombone solos all over Germany. And for most of his professional life, he ran restaurant with live entertainment that probably made up his single largest income stream.


Carl Traugott Queisser: Being a musician in the first half of the nineteenth century — 2 Comments

    • Thanks, Ken. Largely Allgemeine musicalische Zeitschrift, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, and other musical journals of the time. Also the commemorative volume written for the 50th anniversary of the Euterpe Orchestra. Plenty of secondary sources, too, of course.

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