From the archives: Joseph and Fritz Giese, cellists

Submitted by admin on Tue, 05/01/2012 - 12:24
This unique and well preserved little portrait shows cellist Joseph Giese (1821-1903) and his son Fritz (1859-1896).

Joseph Giese and Fritz Giese, albumen print (carte-de-visite) by Maurits Verveer (1817-1903), ca. 1865. NMI, H.F.W. Jeltes archive (75/F678)


Father Joseph Giese, born in Coblenz, was a student of the famous Moritz Ganz (1802-1868). After concert tours through France and Switzerland, he found employment as a teacher at the Royal School of Music (Royal Conservatory) in The Hague. He was also appointed solo cellist at the Théâtre Français, which in those days produced opera in that city. Joseph Giese kept his post at the conservatory till 1902, and is known to have been the teacher of a number of prominent cellists, including Anton Hekking, Henri Bosmans (father of composer Henriëtte Bosmans), and his own son Fritz.

Fritz may not have been completely free in the choice of his instrument, but his later career proved him exceptionally gifted. Fritz Giese was born in The Hague in 1859. He studied the cello since age four, first using a viola as substitute (as we can see in this picture). At age ten he played Bernhard Romberg’s Concert nr. 2 in public, and at age eleven he was granted a scholarship by King William III, allowing him to continue his studies with Friedrich Grützmacher in Dresden and Léon Jacquard in Paris. After a concert tour through Sweden, Norway and Denmark he stayed for one year at Amsterdam, playing in the Park Orchestra. A successful performance before the King earned him the title ‘Solo cellist to His Majesty’.

In 1878, nineteen years of age, he accepted an invitation to join the Mendelssohn Quintet Club of Boston, Massachusetts. An ear witness writes in a biographical sketch of 1887:

“We have heard him in connection with this club, and it may safely be said that Americans never heard more perfect cello playing than his. Surely we never saw a greater and more perfect technique on this instrument than that of Fritz Giese.”

Bomberger 1999, p. 117
And a report from a later date is just as enthusiastic:

“Giese was the most capable artist of the ensemble who not only delighted the public, but also moved up his fellow musicians to fresh enthusiasms every evening. Although he never took his instrument from its case between one concert and another, his playing was masterly in every respect as to tone, technique and phrasing. I have never heard his like.”
Quoted after Gould 2008, p. 59

For most of his later career Boston served Fritz Giese as home base. He played in the Philharmonic Club and its successor, the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1884-1889). With other members from this orchestra he formed a string quartet in 1885, led by violinist Franz Kneisel; the Kneisel Quartet has been an important factor in the establishment of a chamber music culture in the United States. In 1889 Giese was succeeded in this quartet by Anton Hekking (1856-1935), also a native of The Hague and student of Joseph Giese.

At some time Fritz Giese has taught at the National Conservatory of Music in New York, where he confronted the rivalry of a colleague, Dublin born Victor Herbert (1859-1924), who has made his name chiefly as operetta composer. The talents of both start cellists were played off against each other by the orchestras of New York and Boston, and reviewers eagerly took the opportunity to compare the qualities of both.

Despite his phenomenal successes, Fritz Giese’s short life must have been sad. The effects of alcohol abuse became audible in his playing, and were the cause of his untimely death at age 37, in 1896.

LM, 1-5-2012



Bomberger, E. Douglas (ed.). 1999. Brainard's biographies of American musicians. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Boston Symphony Orchestra Musicians Roster.

Gould, Neil. 2008. Victor Herbert: a theatrical life. New York: Fordham University Press.

Ledbetter, Steven. Kneisel Quartet. In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online (accessed May 1, 2012).

Letzer, J.H. 1911. Muzikaal Nederland 1850-1910: bio-bibliografisch woordenboek van Nederlandsche toonkunstenaars en toonkunstenaressen [etc.]. Utrecht: J.L. Beijers.

Wasielewski, Wilhelm Joseph von, and Waldemar von Wasielewski. 1925. Das Violoncell und seine Geschichte. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.