The son of a music teacher, Avé-Lallemant studied music (French horn, organ, and piano) from the age of nine, in Greifswald and Lübeck, before settling in Hamburg in 1828. Here he worked as a music teacher until 1874 and came to play a leading role in the Hanseatic city's music life. Thus, in 1838 he was appointed to the board of directors of the Philharmonic Society (Philharmonie), eventually becoming its chairman and director of concerts. In 1841, he organized the third North German Music Festival in Hamburg, the largest event of its kind in Germany, and in 1847 he was one of the founders of the "Hamburger Tonkünstlerverein" (Musicians' Association).
Avé-Lallemant married, in 1840, Wilhelmina H. F. Jauch, the daughter of a wealthy Hamburg merchant. They had six children, and the godfathers of two of their sons were Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Avé-Lallemant was also on friendly terms with other notable musicians, including Clara Schumann, Josef Joachim, and Julius Stockhausen.
Tchaikovsky and Avé-Lallemant
Tchaikovsky was introduced to Avé-Lallemant in January 1888 when the Russian composer arrived in Hamburg to conduct a concert of his own music at the Philharmonie. The concert, which featured the Serenade for String Orchestra, the Piano Concerto No. 1 (soloist Vasily Sapelnikov), and the Theme and Variations from the Suite No. 3, took place on 8/20 January, and two days later Tchaikovsky, accompanied by his German publisher Daniel Rahter, called on Avé-Lallemant and spent a few hours at his house. The entry which he made in his diary that evening reflects something of the cordial atmosphere in which those hours were spent: "After dinner visit to Avé-Lallemant. The old man touched me by his invitation nach Deutschland zu übersiedeln [to emigrate to Germany]" , and Tchaikovsky would describe their conversation in more detail in the account of his concert tour which he wrote up a few months later in his Autobiographical Account of a Tour Abroad in the Year 1888 (Chapter XI):
First of all I should mention the chief director of the Philharmonic Society, the aged Herr Avé-Lallemant. This most venerable old man of over eighty paid me great attention and treated me with paternal affection. In spite of his age and frailness, as well as the long distance from his house, he attended my two rehearsals, the concert, and even Dr Bernuth's reception [after the concert]. In his extraordinary kindness he went so far as to request some photographs of me, which were to be taken by the best photographer in Hamburg. He even called on me to ask about this and arranged an appointment when I could pose for the photographer, as well as deciding on my behalf what size and format the photographs should be produced in. When I then visited this kindly old gentleman, who passionately loves music and who, as should be obvious to the reader, is quite free from that aversion which many old people have against everything that has been written in recent times, I had a very lengthy and interesting conversation with him.
Herr Avé-Lallemant openly confessed that there was a lot in those works of mine which had been performed in Hamburg that wasn't to his liking; that he could not stand my noisy instrumentation; that he hated some of the orchestral effects which I resorted to (especially with regard to the percussion), but that all the same he saw in me the makings of a good, truly German composer. Almost with tears in his eyes he exhorted me to leave Russia and to settle permanently in Germany, where the classical traditions and the general atmosphere of a higher culture would not fail to correct me and rid me of those deficiencies which he felt were easily accountable by the fact that I was born and grew up in a country which was still so unenlightened and backward when compared to Germany as regards progress.
Evidently, Herr Avé-Lallemant harbours a deep prejudice against Russia, and I tried as far as I could to mitigate his hostile feelings towards our country, which, incidentally, this venerable Russophobe did not actually express openly, but merely allowed to shine through in his words. We parted as great friends.
Tchaikovsky did not forget this meeting, and he decided to dedicate his next major work, the Symphony No. 5, which he embarked on and completed that summer, to Avé-Lallemant. He asked his German publisher, Rahter, to find out whether Avé-Lallemant would accept such a dedication, and this is what Rahter reported in a letter to the composer on 23 July/4 August 1888: "I have seen Herr Avé-Lallemant here [in Hamburg]; he told me that he had written to you saying that he considers himself too insignificant to accept the intended distinction. However, he will be very glad about it, so just go ahead with your plan" . In another letter two weeks later, Rahter informed Tchaikovsky of how the dedicatee wished his name to be written on the title-page of the score of the Fifth Symphony: "Herrn Theodor Avé-Lallement in Hamburg" [To Herr Theodor Avé-Lallemant in Hamburg] . A few months later, however, Tchaikovsky briefly considered dedicating his new work to the Royal Philharmonic Society in London instead — evidently for pragmatic reasons, since negotiations were underway for him to visit London during his next concert tour to Western Europe in the spring of 1889 and he seems to have intended to conduct his new symphony in the British capital. Rahter wrote to Tchaikovsky on 22 September/4 October 1888 that, in his view, Avé-Lallemant would not be offended by this, since he too would understand that it was a necessary gesture to secure the invitation from the Royal Philharmonic Society. Rahter added that Tchaikovsky could always dedicate some other work to Avé-Lallemant later on . This change of plan was but fleeting, though, and the original dedication of the Fifth Symphony to Avé-Lallemant remained in place: it was with this dedication that the full score was published by Jurgenson in Moscow later that year.
Unfortunately, ill health prevented the dedicatee from hearing Tchaikovsky conduct the new work at the Hamburg Philharmonie on 3/15 March 1889 . He wrote to the composer on the morning of the concert: "Dear and esteemed Sir and friend! My cold has unfortunately got so worse that I shall have to keep to my room, and perhaps even to my bed, for several days, which means that I can also not attend the concert! How cruel this is for me, since you have become very dear to me not just as a composer, but also as the splendid person you are. I must therefore call out to you a written Grüß Gott, and, if He grants it, Auf Wiedersehen [Till we meet!]" . The Fifth Symphony was received very warmly at Tchaikovsky's concert in Hamburg, dispelling his earlier doubts about this work . However, as Modest Tchaikovsky observed in his biography of the composer: "The agreeable impression of that evening was slightly clouded by the fact that Avé-Lallemant, to whom the symphony is dedicated, was unable to attend the concert due to ill health. For Pyotr Ilyich had set such store on his being there, he had been so keen to know his opinion! Before the concert the old man sent a letter with many blessings and wishing him success, but he did not get to hear the symphony itself" . It seems very likely that Tchaikovsky did not meet Avé-Lallemant at all during his brief stay in Hamburg on that occasion (already on 4/16 March, the day after the concert, he left for Hannover), but he did keep his promise of providing Avé-Lallemant's wife with a portrait photograph of himself — it was in fact one of the prints made, at Avé-Lallemant's instigation, by the Hamburg photographer E. Bieber during Tchaikovsky's previous visit to the city .
Theodor Avé-Lallemant died on 9 November 1890 [N.S.] after having devoted more than fifty years of his life to promoting the work of the Hamburg Philharmonic Society. Rahter reported this sad loss to Tchaikovsky in a letter two days later: "Good Herr Avé-Lallemant has died. The most distinguishing event in his life was in any case that which put his name on your 5th Symphony. He accorded you his full sympathy" .
Correspondence with Tchaikovsky
One letter from Tchaikovsky to Theodor Avé-Lallemant has survived, dating from 1889, and has been translated into English on this website:
One letter from Avé-Lallemant to the composer, dating from 2/15 March 1889, is preserved in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin (a4, No. 2035).
Notes and References
- Diary entry for 10/22 January 1888. Here quoted from (1973), p. 225.
- Letter from Daniel Rahter to Tchaikovsky, 23 July/4 August 1888. First published in (2001), p. 69. Also quoted in (2006), p. 87-88. The letter which Avé-Lallemant apparently wrote to Tchaikovsky has not come to light.
- Letter from Daniel Rahter to Tchaikovsky, 7/19 August 1888. First published in (2001), p. 70f. Also quoted in (2006), p. 88. Rahter here spelt the dedicatee's surname as "Avé-Lallement", as did many of the latter's friends and colleagues. Avé-Lallemant himself, however, and his family always spelt the surname with an "a", and that is in fact how it was spelt on the title-page of Rahter's edition of the full score (with orchestral parts) of the Fifth Symphony (published in 1888). A facsimile of this title-page is included in (2006), p. 255.
- Letter from Daniel Rahter to Tchaikovsky, 22 September/4 October 1888. First published in (2001), p. 72. Also quoted in (2006), p. 88.
- This was the second performance of the symphony outside Russia, since Tchaikovsky had also conducted it at a concert in Prague on 18/30 November 1888.
- Letter from Theodor Avé-Lallemant to Tchaikovsky, 3/15 March 1889. In the original German the above excerpt reads: "Lieber verehrter Herr und Freund! Leider hat meine Erkältung so zugenommen, dasz ich für mehrere Tage das Zimmer, vielleicht sogar das Bett werde hüten müssen und also das Concert nicht besuchen darf! Wie hart für mich, da Sie mir nicht nur als Componist, sondern auch als ein so prächtiger Mensch ans Herz gewachsen sind. So musz ich Ihnen also schriftlich ein 'Grüsz Gott' und, so er es will — auf Wiedersehen zurufen!" Quoted here from Klin. (2006), p. 89. The letter is also included in (1970), p. 42. (Russian translation), p. 196. (original German). The autograph of the letter is believed to be in the archives of the Tchaikovsky House-Museum at
- See Letter 3814 to Vladimir Davydov, and Letter 3818 to Modest Tchaikovsky, both written on 5/17 March 1889.
- (1997), p. 269.
- The portrait was taken by the Hamburg photographer E. Bieber on 6/18 January 1888 and is listed as no. 60 in our Catalogue of Photographs. Tchaikovsky gave prints of this particular photograph to many friends and admirers, including to Anton Chekhov.
- Letter from Daniel Rahter to Tchaikovsky, 30 October/11 November 1890. First published in (2001), p. 99. Also quoted in (2006), p. 90.