It was on reaching music college in Manchester that we began to look for a new name for the group and found it in the great Russian violinist Adolf Brodsky who was a pioneering figure in that city’s musical history. Born in Taranrog in 1851 into a family of violinists, he rose from child prodigy to famous performer throughout Europe and America before eventually emigrating to Manchester at the invitation of Sir Charles Halle, to lead the Halle Orchestra. He later became Principal of the Royal Manchester College of Music, as well as one of its leading violin professors, and formed a quartet to whom Elgar was to dedicate his only work for the medium.
Brodsky (L) picnicking near Manchester
with Grieg (R) and co.
The revival of the name caused excitement amongst those who remembered his great influence as a teacher and performer in the early 20th century, and we began to receive fascinating memorabilia from college archives and private collections, most importantly for us from the son of the cellist of the original Brodsky Quartet, Carl Fuchs. Photos of the Brodsky and Greig families picnicking in the fields behind the very house we were then living in as students; old concert programmes from all the local venues in the North-West in which we were starting to perform; and an intimate memoir by Anna Brodsky describing their years touring Europe as newly-weds, the young violinist making his name long before they came to settle in Manchester.
The book offers a touching account of the friendships Brodsky enjoyed with Tchaikovsky, Brahms and others, recalling musical soirees full of teasing, joking and friendly rivalry. This was often a bitter-sweet experience for the painfully shy Tchaikovsky who could not bear to hear his own music played in such company. Brodsky had been single-handedly responsible for the success of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, battling for months to learn it after it was dismissed as “unplayable” by its original dedicatee Leopold Auer and insisting on its worth against all critical opinion until it was finally accepted as a masterpiece. Tchaikovsky changed the dedication and the two became great friends.
As we came to study the Tchaikovsky quartets we felt a great affinity with them through the connections of our namesake and, maybe because of that but also through our long association with the Shostakovich quartets, we were making a name for ourselves in Russian repertoire. Brodsky was a man close to our hearts, in his day an ecclectic musician capable of jamming in the fields with peasant bands as well as performing in Vienna’s finest halls, preaching openness to all new music and socialist ideals, and championing those he believed in.
Anna Brodsky’s memoir contains one particularly poignant recollection:
‘Sometimes Tchaikovsky would send us a telegram from Berlin, or any other town where he happened to be, to this effect: “I am coming to see you. Please keep it secret.” We knew well what this meant; that he was tired and homesick and in need of friends. Once after such a telegram Tchaikovsky just arrived in time for dinner; at first we had him quite to ourselves, but after dinner, as he was sitting in the music room with his head leaning on his hand as was his custom, the members of the Brodsky Quartette quietly entered the room bringing their instruments with them as had been previously arranged. They sat down in silence and played Tchaikovsky’s own String Quartet No.3 which they had just carefully prepared for a concert. Great was Tchaikovsky’s delight! I saw the tears roll down his cheek as he listened, and then, passing from one performer to the other, he expressed again and again his gratitude for the happy hour they had given him. Then turning to Brodsky he said in his naive way: “I did not know I had composed such a fine quartette. I never liked the finale, but now I see it is really good.”
This time he did not reproach us for having disobeyed the incognito.’
Jacqueline Thomas 2004– sleeve notes to Tchaikovsky Quartets 2 and 3
(Brodsky Records BRD3500)
With excerpts from ‘Recollections of a Russian Home....A musician’s experiences’ by Mrs.A.Brodsky – Sherratt and Hughes 1904.
...with the original Manchester quartet