Harp Guitar Player of the Month

The goal of this column is to highlight individual players from time to time, focusing for the most part on modern players within all musical styles. The esteemed John Doan has volunteered to head this page and author his first feature later this year. In the interim, I thought I would take this opportunity to do a quick short feature on an obscure historical harp guitarist previously unknown to me:


Heinrich Albert and the World's First Harp Guitar Quartet

by Gregg Miner, July, 2004

During the course of preparing and creating Harpguitars.net, I came across one of my old bookmarks, which I had neglected to pursue at the time and had completely forgotten about. Published on Orphee.com, it is a well-researched, important (and increasingly relevant) article by scholar Allan Morris on the history of the classical guitar quartet. Despite my frequent and thorough enjoyment of my local heroes, The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, this is not my particular area of interest - so why had I bookmarked it? Oh yes - that fascinating picture, containing 1, 2, 3 - wait a minute - FOUR harp guitars?! This blew my mind. Though Allan titled his dissertation "Heinrich Albert and the First Guitar Quartet," the group was, in fact, the world's first, and possibly only, harp guitar quartet!

The Munich Guitar Quartet, 1912.  Heinrich Albert, Fritz Buek, Hermann Rensch, Karl Kern.

Much of the initial information in this article came from Allan Morris' original article, and he has graciously allowed me to use excerpts and paraphrase his work. Critical information and corrections were provided by Andreas Stevens (today's leading proponent of Heinrich Albert), Hermann Hauser III (who both owns one of the instruments in the above photo, and whose famous grandfather built instruments used by the group), Perry Perreiter (Hauser Guitars editorial staff) and Klaus Wildner, who owns two Hauser harp-guitars. Words in quotes are those of Allan Morris, or Andreas Stevens where noted. If not in quotes, the words are my own, and thus, my interpretations and  opinions of the information provided by these gentlemen.
  This unique ensemble can be seen in the attached photo, in 1912. A "key point in the formation of the Munich Guitar Quartet was that they took the range and instrumental disposition of the string quartet as a model." If true, this helps explain the reason for the harp guitars with sub-bass strings, and also the inclusion of two Terz versions, tuned a minor third higher than a standard guitar. Whereas virtually all other guitar quartets use four standard 6-string classical guitars, tuned the same pitch, Albert's group had the benefit of slightly higher pitches and timbres in the Terz harp guitars, alongside much lower pitches and, presumably, resonance, provided by extra bass strings on all four guitars. One of the guitars (second from right) is referred to as a "Quintbassogitarre (tuned a fifth lower than a normal guitar) with an extra, unfretted bass string." 
The history of the Munich Guitar Quartet is a bit sketchy, due apparently to conflicting accounts by two key members. Heinrich Albert was then "the most famous concert guitarist in Bavaria," and the only professional in  the group. Fritz Buek was an amateur whose only apparent success was with the Quartet. Reading between the lines, I sense a re-writing of the history by Buek, a jealous amateur, perhaps in conjunction with animosity from Albert, the exasperated professional. Buek's history is reflected in Allan Morris' article, which attributes the creation of the group to Buek, who "sought to bypass the available repertory of 19th century duos and trios." After all, "the string quartet was the most important combination of chamber instruments, and Buek sought to emulate its prestige and repertory with a quartet of guitars." Allan lists the original members as Buek, Hans Ritter, Dr. Hermann Rensch, and Karl Kern ("all keen amateur guitarists"), with Albert joining in 1909.   
  A very different history is presented by Andreas Stevens from his research into Heinrich Albert's career (including new information provided by Albert's own granddaughter). Andreas maintains that Ritter was never in the group, and that Albert, in fact founded the group. Note 1   This would have been sometime before March, 1906, as that is when the first known performance occurred. According to Stevens, the Quartet went through several phases before arriving at the configuration in the 1912 photo, though I don't believe it's known whether harp guitars were present at all times. They started as a "double duo" - meaning, four players played guitar duo music and doubled the parts. Next, they became a true quartet, playing four Primgitarren ("prime" or standard-tuned guitars), as most of today's groups do. They next utilized two Terz guitars in combination with two standard guitars, and finally, they replaced one of the Prim with the Quintbasso. If true, then this shows that they gradually evolved into a group with  the " range and disposition of the string quartet" as quoted above. Note 2 
The quartet performed "numerous times in Munich and toured throughout Bavaria, mostly appearing at guitar society meetings." They also appeared "regularly with other artists, such as the guitarist Luigi Mozzani in 1910. Critical reaction to these recitals seems to have been entirely positive, as glowing reviews regularly appeared in the journal Der Gitarrefreund." The influence of the Munich Guitar Quartet was "far-reaching throughout Germany and Austria, as many more ensembles inspired by them appeared after the war." Their ensemble of varied harp guitars apparently inspired later quartets, as there is mention of a "guitar quartet active in Berlin after 1925 that played on instruments 'after the Munich model'."  
  In 1920, Albert left the quartet, and "they carried on through the 1920s with his position on first terz guitar filled by Hermann Hauser (1882-1952)." Hauser was the most famous and respected classical guitar builder outside of Spain, and also made several harp guitars of the "Schrammel" type. All agree that the group played on Hauser guitars at some point, but it's not clear what the instruments were, or if they were introduced before or after Hauser's joining in 1920. 

The Instruments

At the top, I said how this was going to be a "quick, short feature" (basically, a paraphrase of Allan's article). Wrong!

Harp guitar collector and historian that I am, I soon became obsessed with learning more about these particular instruments (and I've still a ways to go!). Allan Morris led me to Andreas Stevens and Hermann Hauser III /Hauser Guitars, and eventually (through our German<>English filter) Andreas identified and kindly provided details on all four instruments.

One interesting observation I had was that, just like many of today's harp guitarists playing "vintage" instruments (like Dyers, Knutsens and Gibsons), the Munich Guitar Quartet circa 1910 were also playing "vintage instruments"! At least two, possibly three, were built decades earlier.

Most amazing (besides just being able to find specifics about them at all) was the discovery that Buek's instrument is currently hanging in the Hauser family museum (which I had contacted about information on  the quintbasso)!

Heinrich Albert:
Schenck,  c. 1848
Fritz Buek:
Schenck "lyra" form, 1839
4 sub-bass
Hermann Rensch:
Halbmeyer Quint bass, c. 1910?
Karl Kern:
Scherzer Wappenform,
c. ?, ? sub-bass
Hauser Quint bass, 1922
| copyright 2004 | Wildner AG

Andreas informed me that "Albert's guitar is a Schenk Bogengitarre from 1848 (this date is found in Albert's diary - sometimes one has to be careful with his datings). The scale length is unknown but it was played as a Terzgitarre (tuned a minor third higher than standard). The instrument belonged to Dr. Rensch and you can see it in the Mozzani book above in the middle." Fantastic! With Giovanni Intelisano's Mozzani book in hand, we are able to see the exact instrument that Albert played in the Quartet. "Bogen" translates as "bow," apparently referring to the arching hollow bass arm. I'm not sure if this is just a specific term for this Schenck style, which continues all the way around to include the hollow headstock (Because if it refers in general to the bass arm extension, then guess what? Right - all of our Dyer and Knutsen harp guitars would now be known as "bowed guitars"!). 

The 1839 Schenck terz "lyra"- guitar seen second from the left  is now in the Hauser family museum in Reisbach. Andreas states that although Albert's gives a date of 1858 (in his first method book in 1912), this is incorrect, and  that the guitar "was built and seen in the world exhibition in Wien in 1839, was later repaired by Franz Halbmair (Halbmeyer) and got a new neck made by Mozzani. This is probably what Hermann Hauser III was referring to when he told me that "Fritz Buek made some changes of very complicated construction by the fingerboard to the guitar during the time he used it." Andreas adds that "Buek knew Schenck's instruments very well, as he was born in St. Petersburg and had  guitar lessons with  Johann Decker-Schenk, an Austrian guitar virtuoso living there, and the son of the instrument builder (Friedrich Schenck)."

The Quintbassgitarre, according to Andreas, was built by Franz Halbmeyer in 1911. "They first tried a (normal) Schrammel guitar with a removable neck. This was exchanged with a new one with a string length of 70 centimeters (~27-1/2"). After it worked they ordered a new guitar from Halbmeyer." Its tuning is A1- D-G-c- e- a, a perfect fifth below standard guitar pitch. The 7th, floating "harp" string pitch is not known. Note 3 

The final instrument (again, per Andreas) is a theorboed "Wappengitarre by Johann Gottfried Scherzer with a string length of 59 centimeters (~23-1/4")." Wappenform guitars or harp guitars have a body roughly in the shape of a "shield," or coat-of-arms. The string length would make it seem that this instrument is closer to a terz scale, but it was tuned to standard pitch. 

I included a fifth instrument relevant to this study. It is a pristine condition 1922 Hauser I quintbasso guitar owned by Klaus Wildner of Munich (who owns a second similar instrument). It is very similar to the pre-1912 Halbmeyer in the Quartet photo. Klaus gives the scale length of this instrument at 74.5 cm (~29-3/8") - almost 2" longer than the Quartet's Halbmeyer. He gives the tuning (high to low) as B- F#- D- A- E- B -  thus it is tuned a fourth lower than standard, not a fifth as in the Quartet's Halbmeyer. The 7th floating "harp" string is not tuned below the 6th string, but to C, just above. This suggests to me that the Quartet's lowest available note was probably their quint's A. As mentioned previously, Hauser replaced Albert in the quartet in 1920, and subsequently provided them with his instruments. It is believed that all four members eventually played Hausers, but it is not known if they were again all harp guitars. Either way, the Hauser quint bass above would be a perfect candidate. Note 4

Heinrich Albert's Compositions and Life

According to Andreas Stevens, "Albert was deeply influenced in his playing technique and repertoire by Luigi Mozzani. In early photos you can see Albert playing with a thumbpick, as another Mozzani pupil, Mario Maccaferri, did, and of course, Mozzani himself. Albert also played a Mozzani guitar from 1910 - 1914." Albert’s compositions for guitar date from 1895, and include "many solos, duos, trios, songs, and chamber works employing various combinations of instruments with guitar." He also published three guitar methods and several original works for guitar quartet, the first of their kind. Allan Morris' article further discusses these pre-World War I quartet compositions, and Albert's transcriptions and arrangements. The latter illustrate why Albert is less well-known than Tarrega and the later Spaniards - for the quartet, he arranged and adapted guitar music, whereas the Spaniards arranged piano works of the best composers. Note 5

  I'll close this feature with a biographical paragraph by Allan Morris, and add the following observation. While some may feel it unjust that Heinrich Albert's guitar playing and first compositions and arrangements for a guitar quartet have been neglected, I find it even more astounding that his (and the quartet's) use of a full quartet of unusual harp guitars is not a constant source of amazement to all classical guitarists today.

"The success of the Munich Guitar Quartet, and the inspiration for quartet activities that followed, owed much to the musical guidance of Heinrich Albert. Unfortunately, most guitarists today know little of his work and career. Albert was born in Würzburg in 1870, and as a teenager studied piano, violin, and horn. Before the age of 24, he had traveled as an orchestral musician to Switzerland, Sweden, and Russia. In 1894, upon entering a music shop in Trieste and overhearing Silvio Negri practicing the guitar, he was immediately inspired to take lessons on the instrument. He took to it naturally, and by 1895 was frequently working as a chamber music guitarist in Munich. In 1900, Albert was appointed guitarist of the Royal Theater, and in 1909 the ruling dynasty of Munich honored him with the title "Court Chamber Virtuoso." As a brilliant performer, he achieved fame throughout Germany and Austria, displaying astonishing skill and a rich, colorful sound. Louise Walker later recalled Albert as a handsome, soft-spoken man with steel-blue eyes set against a fair complexion and white-streaked hair. After 1920, his fame and influence began to fade, however, as most German guitarists, along with much of Europe, turned to the mentoring influence of Tarrega, and adopted the techniques and repertory of the Spanish School. Even though he remained active as a soloist, accompanist, and chamber musician into the 1940s, Albert was practically forgotten by the time of his death in 1950. Some feel it was the technical and musical efforts of both Tarrega and Albert that initiated a twentieth-century renaissance of the guitar, and that the pioneering genius of Albert has been misunderstood, neglected, and unjustly overshadowed by the accomplishments of Tarrega." Note 6


Note 1. According to Andreas Stevens, Albert and Buek became enemies after 1920, so all of the information given by Buek after that time was presented to put Albert in a bad light (Andreas has studied the matter in earnest, and mentions Albert's journal, tutors and other independent sources with evidence for this claim). Allan Morris' research (much of it second-hand references to Buek's own Gitarrefreund publication) reflects Buek's claim that he was the founder of the Quartet, rather than Albert. In Albert's own words (from his diary), Buek was "the weakest player of the ensemble. Especially noticeable were his weak rhythm and his harsh tone."

Regarding Hans Ritter, who was not, apparently, in the Quartet, Andreas states that: "Hans Ritter founded the Münchner Kammertrio in 1925 with Hans Ritter - Terzgitarre, Fritz Wörsching - Primgitarre and Joseph Eitele - Quintbassgitarre. They were quite popular and even made recordings. In 1928 Ritter left and Albert came in."

Note 2. In an interesting portent of things to come, Albert had previously used in his Mandolin Club a guitar tuned a sixth below a standard guitar (an octave below terz, and a step below the quintbasso).

Note 3. Andreas Stevens diligently tracked down the information on the Halbmeyer quint bass: "In 1960, after the death of Dr.Hermann Rensch, his son Hermann Rensch offered 6 guitars from his father's collection in "Der Gitarrefreund" Nr.5/6 and 7, 1960. Our object of desire is #4) Quintbaß-Gitarre, gebaut von Halbmeyer 1911, ovales Schallloch, 6 Saiten eine freischwingende Saite (built by Halbmeyer 1911 ,oval soundhole, 6 strings one free-floating string)."

 Note 4. It is worth repeating Klaus Wildner's comments about the two Hauser quintbasso guitars he is fortunate to own.
" There are probably only 3 to 5 Hermann Hauser quint bass guitars worldwide. As for me, I own two of these wonderful instruments. One of these quint bass guitars was built in 1922, the other one in 1924. The two instruments are very different: while the 1922 one sounds like a big guitar - with a lot of bass, the 1924 one sounds more like an acoustic bass guitar. Both instruments were manufactured from gorgeous maple and fir wood. Hermann Hauser must have manufactured them with great passion. It's absolutely unexplainable to me why not all compositions, e.g. of Johann Sebastian Bach, are played on quint bass guitars, because a common prime guitar does not have the slightest chance compared to these instruments. I've decided to supply evidence that there is no instrument more suitable for Bach interpretations than a quint bass guitar in the near future. A CD will follow. These instruments can be rediscovered! We should make music with these instruments and enthuse and inspire ourselves and our audience."
I included Klaus' last statement because it reminded me so much of myself with my Knutsen harp guitars and other instruments of the Museum, and also of the harp guitar movement in general.  I, for one, look forward to the CD, Klaus!

October, 2005 UPDATE: Christian Gruber and Peter Maklar record and perform on the Hauser quint bass guitars!

Note 5. This Addendum, and call for information from any readers comes from Andreas Stevens: "In September 1947, there was an Albert Guitar Quartet founded in New Jersey by Henry Schilling, who also founded a society with that name. The other members were Fernando Schilling, Andrew Restivo and Michael Denice. They played 2 Terzgitarren and 2 Primgitarren. Albert composed a special work for them and dedicated it to them." Can anyone help with this?

Update! 3/20/05: Nice how the Internet works! A fellow named Stanton Braden emailed me in answer to the above question. He shared this information:

"After the 2nd World War, the Schillings (nephew and uncle) contacted Albert to find out how conditions were back in Germany.  Albert was trying to get things together and made a deal with the Schillings to receive compositions written by Albert in exchange for food or money.  Apparently, Albert  wrote a number of pieces for the Schillings.  I spoke with Andrew Restivo about this recently. By the way, according to Restivo, the Schillings were in contact with Albert because prior to the War, Albert  advertised his music for sale.  Apparently the Schillings were customers before the War."

Mr. Braden put me in contact with Andrew Restivo, with whom I spoke on March 20, 2005. Amidst many colorful, extremely specific and detailed stories and observations from the 87-year-old Dr. Restivo, he related the following information: Restivo was the last one to join, as the fourth quartet member. There was much music by Heinrich Albert, consisting of charming but relatively easy compositions. Restivo was with the group from the beginning (he thought about 1946, but likely the 1947 date given above), but only stayed for about two years before he went back to college. His place was taken by Julio Prol, whom Restivo later worked a lot with in a duo. The Albert Guitar Quartet utilized two terz guitars and two prim (standard) classical guitars as stated above, and none were harp guitars. Restivo went out to build guitars himself, and had very passionate opinions on the state of lutherie (now and then)! As Restivo had quickly lost contact with the other quartet members (both Henry Schilling and his older uncle have long since passed away), he has no knowledge if any of the music survives. However, in 2003, when a brief article about Restivo appeared in a local New Jersey paper, he was immediately contacted by the other living member of the group, Mike Denice, who was living in the same adult retirement community all this time! Unfortunately, when Restivo thought to get in touch with Denice about any surviving music, he couldn't find a listing for his old ex-partner. And there this story seems to come to an end....

News article about Andrew Restivo.

Note 6. Andreas Stevens has a slightly different point of view about Albert's state in 1950, saying, "Don't forget that the general interest in the guitar in Germany was zero at that time."

Full article by Allan Morris HERE.
Andreas Stevens' Heinrich Albert page

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