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Adam Darr - Thoughts On the 125th Anniversary of His Death

Adam Darr was a guitar and zither virtuoso. His zither method was well received and would go on to be published in three languages. In this article, Fritz Stang explores the life of the artist through letters written by A. Darr to his publisher, P.Ed.Hoenes. In these, A Darr's hopes and ambitions, as well as his frustrations, are revealed. Authored by Fritz Stang, this article has been translated from the original German by Jane Curtis.


Does Darr still have something to say to us today?

Until fairly recently, we saw Adam Darr only through the eyes of critics from long-gone decades. For instance, in the opinion of Bielfeld (1847-1924), music director and referent of a well-known Hamburg daily newspaper[2], Darr considered performability and a pleasing melody above all, even at the expense of the theoretical. And Raimund Baczynski even denied that he had any genius or intellectual depth at all, even though (what a self-contradiction)[3] he found Darr's music endlessly pleasing because it pulsated with fresh healthy life. The last part of this statement must indeed be true. If not, Grünwald would hardly have considered the two Darr sonatinas, in G- and F-major, worthy of adapting. Emil Holz also did him reverence, saying in his Report on Musical Forms (Die Zither Nº4/1938) that Darr's Divertissements provide interesting examples in the zither literature.

It must be conceded that Hans Thauer (1848-1924)[4] is right in criticizing Darr for modulating from g' to f#" in the bass strings, for instance, although this was due to the (no longer existing) gaps in the tuning of the old Munich zither[5]. We may assume that Darr knew better. Thauer otherwise attests to Darr's very instructive and melodious manner of writing which opened the way for the development of greater variety in using the bass strings.

We see that the judgment is not uniform. And when we also hear that some serious musicians even contested Darr's aptitude as a composer, our doubts about the validity of the old critiques increase, particularly since more than 90% of his approximately one hundred works are out of print and we are thus not in a position to form a full judgment of their worth.

However, as so often happens when a valuable object is lost and cannot be found despite days of searching, or a difficult problem seems unsolvable despite the most zealous efforts, the lost item turns up sooner or later, or something happens that helps the solution along. Just such a lucky coincidence led us to the heirs of the younger Hoenes (1868-1938), and they granted us access to Darr's correspondence with his publisher. From this we can not only gain insight into Darr's works and become better acquainted with Darr himself as a person and a philanthropist but also dissipate many of the doubts that have arisen over the years about Darr himself and about his work.

We take it for granted that everyone knows that P.Ed.Hoenes (1834-1901) was the publisher of the Darr instruction manual. His special service was to translate it into French and English[6]. Many of the text explanations are also by him. And he it was who got the project underway, for Darr was originally against it. But Hoenes's determination and enterprising spirit made a strong impression on Darr, so that he finally agreed. Later, however, when commercial interests collided with art, Darr was forced to recognize that he could not always write as he wished.

Before we hear from Darr himself, here are a few biographical facts. He was born in Schweinfurt and spent his younger years there. Before he took up the zither, he spent sixteen years as a guitar virtuoso, appearing at eighteen different European courts. In addition he was a private tutor in London for a long time. He later moved to Munich, where he studied the zither with Petzmayer (1803-1884). The last place he lived was Augsburg, where his intellectual creativity developed and from where he carried on his correspondence with P.Ed.Hoenes in Trier. Adam Darr died on 10 October 1866.

9 October 1864[7]

...I received your letter of the 22nd of last month and thank you for the prompt remittance of the fee of 25 talers.

...Enclosed are all the zither compositions I have on hand. I must inform you that it will be impossible during the next three to four months for me to give you anything more for publication, as I have received a job from a music society for which I have been doing compositions and arrangements for several years, and this will prevent me from working on zither compositions for some time to come.

...I composed the enclosed Divertissement at your request, and I feel that it is more successful than any of my others to date (Editor's note: the reference is to the fourth Divertissement). Even music connaisseurs will find that it is designed and carried out with care, so that I can flatter myself that it accords completely with your request. I have dedicated it to a singer of the royal court opera in Berlin who is also known as an excellent zither player in local circles there.

...You will see from the enclosed duets that they have no connection with those of Wimmer and Fröschmann[8] (Editor's note: Wimmer and Fröschmann tried to imitate Darr's style) and that they also present many innovations as regards manner of playing. Don't be alarmed at the waltz; it is not an ordinary waltz but rather a concert piece. If I were Wimmer I would call it the Cleopatra Waltz, but let him go make his own name with that kind of title.

...The Ländler, long intended for a lovely country maid, you must take this time along with the rest, but in the future I shall send you only regulation pieces (Editor's note: what the publisher thought would sell) and I would like to ask you also if you wouldn't consider a four-movement sonata as something suitable for the zither, since one could lend such a work various characteristics and at the same time create something completely new for the zither (Editor's note: he was surely speaking of a sonatina here).

16 February 1865

...I don't recall anything in particular from my childhood, but I remember that we children used to get a bit of butter with our potatoes on major holidays and that in summer we weren't very hard on our boots [Translator's note: i.e.they went barefoot in summer].

9 March 1865

...In case you should fear that my zither manual won't sell well, for the above-mentioned reason, I am prepared to let you have, free, about 30 pieces for the 5-string zither (in the old system) that I have ready and was going to use in the third section of the instruction manual. (Editor's note: a short clarification is needed here. As will become apparent in the following letters, Darr several times made changes in the draft of the manual at the publisher's request. Hoenes feared sales difficulties not only because of the technical requirements but also because the manual still did not include instruction for the recently introduced fifth fingerboard string, which Darr at first completely rejected. He got out of it later with an emergency solution: he supplemented the third section of the manual with 36 exercises and light pieces mainly involving the fifth fingerboard string.[9] )

...It was a very unpleasant surprise for me to see a romance! and a waltz appended to the Reminiscences from the Mountains, an absurdity that would be hard to beat.

9 May 1865

...I only hope that errors such as those occurring in the earlier compositions will be avoided in the future. [Translator's note: the text does not indicate whether the errors were Darr's or the publisher's.]

3 September 1865

...In Würzburg I visited my friends Hamm and Stahl, who assured me that my compositions are very good but somewhat too difficult.

...I offer again to rework the piece Erinnerung an Petersburg, which does deserve this criticism (Editor's note: technical difficulty), in order to make it sell better.

...I'm in no rush to correct the galleys, since I'm occupied with finishing the manual with all speed and would like to complete this work undisturbed.

...Sincere thanks for the kind reception in your home; I assure you that I shall always remember with great pleasure the enjoyable days - except the rainy days and the bird-singing - I was able to spend in your family circle.

11 November 1865

...My labors on the second section of the manual are finally to the point that I can send you the manuscript herewith. The delivery of this second part has dragged on because writing the text, as you will find, cost me particular diligence and care.

...The day before yesterday I received a letter from an old friend who resides in Petersburg and promises me mountains of gold...if I go there.

14 December 1865

Herewith at last you have the rest of the manual and three pieces for zither and flute; regarding the latter I expect that you will let me know that you are satisfied, since I have put in a lot of work on them and am convinced that nothing better in this genre has yet appeared.

...My engagement to be married, which is still being held secret, is costing me a damned lot of money and time, especially with Christmas coming, and on top of that I have to go to my home town Schweinfurt next week to get my papers in order. I accordingly see myself obliged to take up your most kind offer with the request that you help me with an advance of about 15 talers, which I shall try to work off as soon as possible.

11 May 1866

Thanking you for the remitted fee, I request that you not bother sending account statements in the future, as I have too much trust in your honesty to spend my time checking statements.

4 June 1866

...I have already sketched out several of the smaller pieces and would like to ask you kindly to let me finish these little works first, because in my present condition this work provides more of a diversion and is less difficult than other arranging.

...I look forward to your answer by return mail, with all the more longing as every hour I [spend] in this room, in which the happiest and unhappiest events of my life took place, becomes a great burden. (Editor's note: Darr refers to his engagement and its termination.)

This letter of 4 June 1866 was the last to his publisher Hoenes, to whom he was bound by close friendship. He had announced his suicide [intention] four months earlier to his friends. Once he had reached this decision, no one could dissuade him from it. But these excerpts from his correspondence confirm his continual struggle for intellectual depth and his tireless efforts to make the zither an art instrument or at least to set it on the way to becoming one. He was not always able to surmount the circumstances that handicapped him in these efforts.

Melancholy may engulf concerned zither players at the realization that Darr's really artistic works are lost forever, such as e.g. the Divertissements I-IV, the Salonstücke, and other valuable pieces, all missing or at best slumbering somewhere in a few single copies[10] . What would Darr have produced if he had always been able to write as he could and wished? His historic manual has long since been overtaken, i.e. is no longer in step with the times. But it has repeatedly been "adapted", and each time this was done, more of the more instructive and musically demanding studies disappeared from the original, in order to make way for insignificant and unfelicitously arranged operetta songs and other such things in vogue at the time, thus training zither players more and more on merely easy material[11] . Darr could not defend himself against this, for the manual did not appear until shortly after his death.

That this person so valued by his friends chose suicide at the age of 54 because he believed himself afflicted with chronic depression, is the tragic component of the soul of a suffering artist, a musician who once filled the greatest concert halls of European cities with his artistry on the guitar, before he took up the zither (for only a few years but with full engagement), To understand him, we must try to enter into the spirit of his times, there to discover that it is not inborn talents alone that mold the person, but that surroundings, people, and circumstances also play a role in forming human destinies.

Returning to our original question, we are now fully justified in replying: Yes, Darr does still have much to say to us today.



[1]Translator's note: From Saitenspiel, January 1992, pp11-14

[2]Translator's note: August Bielfeld also founded a music school in Hamburg and was very active in matters regarding the zither, particularly after 1876. He favored Trierer Stimmung, a gapless tuning virtually identical with Münchener Stimmung. He co-authored an instruction manual with Ferdinand Gräter, wrote such works as Forms in Zither Music, published many zither compositions, and worked to raise the level of the zither literature. (Nikl pp69, 120, 133, 136.) He was only 19 when Darr died and apparently unaware of Darr's higher aspirations.

[3]Additions by the author are in parentheses as in the original; translator's comments are in brackets.

[4]Translator's note: Thauer was a very big name in the zither world, having studied with Max Albert, concertized widely in Europe, founded a zither club in Munich and served as its artistic director for 42 years, directed the Society of German Zither Clubs, worked as an editor, published a large three-volume zither instruction manual and a Catechism of Modern Zither Playing, composed many works for the zither, and contributed substantially to the spread of bass-clef notation in southern Germany. He knew Petzmayer and wrote a tribute to the maestro's technical skill. (Nikl pp135-136.) He thus seems to have been a qualified judge; his faint praise and technical criticism may stem from his not having known Darr.

[5]Translator's note: There appears to be a misprint in this statement. There has never been an f#" in the accompaniment strings either on the "old Munich zither" (which I take to be Mühlauer's original Münchener Stimmung) or in the tunings in Darr's manual. Probably f#' is meant. Citing Baczinsky's Für Freunde der Zither as his source, Nikl (pp70-71) gives the two tunings from the Darr manual, of which the second includes an f#' gut string and is allegedly gapless:

1. eb' bb f' c' g d' a e' b f# c# g# eb Bb F e G d A E B F# c# G# D C

2. eb' bb f' e' g d' a e' b f#' c#' g# eb Bb f c G d A e B f# c# G# D C

The e between F and G in the upper version and the e' between f' and g in the lower are presumably errors for c and c' respectively. A comparison with Mühlauer's tuning (Nikl p67)

eb' bb f' c' g'd' a e' b f#' c#' g# eb Bb F c G d A e B F# c# G# - -

shows that Darr had replaced the missing g (Mühlauer's tuning had only g' or G) but that in one of his tunings (the second one above, presumably the earlier of the two) he could not easily modulate using the adjacent f# because it was in the bass octave instead of F#, while f#' was up in the accompaniment octave with g. In the first version above (presumably the later one) the problem is solved by stringing as we know it today: f#' does not appear in the accompaniment strings, f# is in the accompaniment octave, and F3 is in the bass octave.

Thus Thauer was criticizing Darr for the poor modulation capability of his tuning, something that Darr definitely was aware of and corrected as indicated above. The f#-f#' and c#-c#' differences in the two Darr tunings may also be due to typographical errors, and the replacement of some basses with contras represents Darr's own solution to the controversy over whether to use basses or contrabasses in the bass octave; he used (and apparently preferred) the gapless tuning with normal basses in Part 1 of the manual, replacing the e- and f-basses with E and F in Parts 2 and 3.

[6]Translator's note: The English text varies somewhat from the German.

[7]Translator's note: Nikl gives the date of his death as 2 October 1866.

[8]Translator's note: Nikl has nothing to say about Wimmer, but Fröschmann appears on p69 as the author of a zither instruction manual using the adapted (gapless) form of Münchener Stimmung.

[9]Translator's note: Nikl (p70) refers to the instruction manual as "the favorite and most-used of its time..., created on the model of Weigel's zither manual".

[10]Translator's note: Among the missing works are also such alluring curiosities as an operetta Robinsonade for male chorus, orchestra, and piano (Nikl p71). This would be an entirely different side of Darr to discover.

[11]Translator's note: The two old editions of the manual in my possession make an interesting comparison and follow-up to Darr's information and the author's commentary. The Carl Fischer edition of 1950, a reprint of the 1888 version edited by Carl Devidé, comprises three sections: general music information; information on the zither (tuning, playing position, the position of the hands, fingering); and instruction text with exercises and illustrative pieces. Of the 58 pages, eight and a half are devoted to the first two sections, the remainder to the third. Devidé says in the preface:

The present edition includes all of Darr's manual and differs from the older edition in only one essential point. When Darr wrote his manual, he used only the four-string fingerboard. When the fifth string (c) later came into general use, he wrote the third part of his work, which deals exclusively with the C-string. This remained in all later reprintings, no doubt for financial reasons The bad thing about this arrangement was that the student, upon finishing the second volume, had to start over in order to learn the C-string. In the present edition the C-string has been included from the beginning, so that the student learns all five strings at the same time; the exercise pieces from the third section are distributed appropriately in both volumes. ... The accompaniment strings of most zithers today begin with ab [Translater's note: This is no longer true today.], which makes it possible to play in additional keys and increases the modulation capabilities; an example of its use appears in the second volume. ... The question of bass or contrabass Darr solves by using the normal basses in the first section and the contra E and F in the second. Although these contras produce more of an effect, the normal basses provide a complete chromatic scale, which is of inestimable harmonic value. The decision must be made according to individual taste.... On the other hand, we prefer the lower f# in the accompaniment strings; it sounds nicer and allows many modulations.

While this edition seems to have been reasonably close to the original, the 1940 Leipzig version edited by A.Wilhelm altered or removed everything but the three-section structure and added two volumes of exercises and pieces with an occasional few words of instruction. The page total had grown to 150, with one page (the last) devoted to bass-clef notation. A publisher's note indicates that "A.Wilhelm's edition of the manual by the old master Darr" had reached a total printing of 100,000 copies, and that it was therefore unnecessary to make any changes from the Jubilee Edition "except for a few supplements". Wilhelm praised the Darr manual in his own foreword and went on to mention a few highlights of zither history. Stating his precept that only the most vitally necessary changes should be made, he assures us that the "greatest and most valuable part of Darr's material" is still present, that "only the superfluous and inappropriate has been rejected and replaced with well-known melodies". The edition itself belies this, however, in that he not only removes, replaces, and supplements but even makes minor changes in wording, thus clearly supporting Fritz Stang's point in the present article.




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