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Wagner Society of Dallas

"Richard Wagner and
the Ritter Viola"


Nomeda Kazlaus, Soprano
Nathan De'Shon Myers - Baritone
Margaurite Mathis-Clark and Jing Ling Tam
Wagner's Birthday Party
The Living Opera of Dallas
Carl Smith and the Ritter Viola
Joe Illick and Friends
Comini - In Passionate Pursuit

Wagner Society of Dallas
Invites you to a
"Richard Wagner and the Ritter Viola"

Ritterbratsche, the Ritter Viola - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005

Saturday, March 26, 2005, 2:30 pm
4808 Drexel Drive - Dorothea Kelley "Concert Hall"

Bella Gutshtein, Piano and Carl Smith, Ritter Viola - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005

Carl Smith - Ritter Viola & Bella Gutshtein - Piano

Richard Wagner Rienzi's Prayer
Album Leaf

Carl Smith and Ritter Viola - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005

Franz Liszt Romance oubliee
Consolation D-flat Major
Hermann Ritter Concert-Phantasie Nr. 2
Op. 35, 1st Movement
Fleix Draeseke Sonata in c-minor, WoO21
for Viola alta and piano

Carl Smith was born in Binghamton, NY, where he began violin studies at the age of 5. As a student, he took part in international chamber music tours. In 1976, he studied with Nadia Boulanger at Fontainbleau, France, and thereafter with Scott Nickrenz in Boston. Since 1978, he has been a member of the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Natal Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban, South Africa. In 2001, he transferred to the Ritter Viola, and has been touring as a soloist on the "Ritter Viola".

Bella Gutshtein was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her piano studies were at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. She is a faculty member of the AIMS Summer Music program in Graz, Austria. She is founder of the Russian Cultural Society in Naples, Florida, where she lives.

You may contact Carl Smith directly at the address below.

Carl Smith
Bergmanngasse 15
A-8010 Graz
Tel:Fax: +43-316-817683

WSD President Roger Carroll - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
WSD President
Roger Carroll Makes Announcements
Virginia Abdo - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Virginia Abdo Presents Program Notes about
the Ritter Viola
Varol Smith, Ritter Viola and Bella Gutshtein, Piano - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Carl Smith and the Ritter Viola, with Bella Gutshtein at the Piano
Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Bella Takes a Solo Bow
Greg McConeghy - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
WSD Treasurer
Greg McConeghy
Ron Hudson - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Ron Hudson
Concert Sponsor
Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
A Good-Sized Audience Assembles after Intermission
Carl Smith and the Ritter Viola - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Greeting Audience
Carl Smith and the Ritter Viola - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Interested Questioners
Carl Smith and the Ritter Viola - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Carl Smith Explains
Bella Gutschtein - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Bella Gutshtein
Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
An Interesting Gift
David Morgan and Kyle Kerr - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
David Morgan
and Kyle Kerr
Bella Gutschtein - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005 Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005 Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Light Refreshments after the music

Photos for WSD by Ed Flaspoehler - Click on Images for Enlarged View

Richard Wagner
and the Ritter Viola

The term, "Ritter viola", refers to the violist and music author Hermann Ritter. Ritter was born on September 16, 1849 in Wismar, Germany, and died on January 25, 1926. In 1865, Ritter began violin studies at the "Neuen Akademie der Tonkunst" (New Academy of Tonal Art) in Berlin. He studied there until 1870, giving lessons to finance his education. He studied there for a short time with Joseph Joachim. In 1870, he became a member of the Court Ensemble in Schwerin for two years, followed by the position as conductor of the Heidelberg City Orchestra. He retired shortly from this position to study music and art history and philosophy in Heidelberg University. During these studies, he turned to the viola, with the aim to equal its tone to that of the violin and cello. In his study of the development of stringed instruments, he stumbled across the manuscript "Geometric Principles of Violin Making" by Antonio Bagatella, printed 1782 in Padua, Italy. According to these principles, he commissioned the Wurtzburg violinmaker, Karl Adam Hoerlein (1824-1902), to build him a "Viola alta", as he termed it. Most likely from a recommendation of Professor Ludwig Nohi, with whom Ritter had studied music history, he was invited to Bayreuth.

Ritter meets Richard Wagner

Wagner Receives Liszt at Villa Wahnfried - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005
Wagner receives Liszt in the Villa Wahnfried
Hermann Ritter present

Richard Wagner was constantly in search of new tonal colors, especially in the mid-register. Therefore, the viola developed by Hermann Ritter was highly welcomed by him.

Wagner's special interest in strong mid-register instruments is well known. In 1875, he prescribed in his works in place of the English born an "Alt-Hoboe", which was constructed by the instrument maker Stengel, according to Wagner's instructions. This instrument had a larger bore size than the English horn. Its sound bell had the shape of a pear, in contrast to the normal English horn. Cosima Wagner remarked in her diary, February 9, 1876: "Mr. Ritter, from Heidelberg, is bringing a new type of viola, which Richard finds excellent and wishes to introduce into his orchestra".

Ritter described his meeting with Wagner in his work, "Richard Wagner and the Inventor of the Viola alta", with the following dialogue: "The guests arrived and he announced that I would present and perform on a better tone-developed viola. I should play 'something, which you can demonstrate all the strings'. He said further, 'Fischer will accompany you on the piano'.

"I chose Wolfram's Fantasy from Tannhauser and was accompanied by the now famous Court Conductor, Franz Fischer. As I finished, the Maestro tapped me on the shoulder and said: ‘Your instrument sings wonderfully! It's a shame I wasn't familiar earlier with it. What all I could have written in the orchestra for it! Incidentally, you are not a candidate for philosophy, but rather a true musician. Remain with your art and let the doctor title go! What need does a musician have for a doctorate?'

"Pointing to my Viola alta, Wagner stated, 'The correct alto voice! I know several beautiful pieces for your instrument from the sonatas for violin and harpsichord by Bach which lay heavily in the mid-register. Could six such Altviolins of your construction be included in the Festival Orchestra?' I answered, 'Surely, Maestro, if persons can be found, thatwould play them.' - 'I will speak with Thoms in Munich.'

"Later, as Wagner spoke in my presence with this violist from the Munich Court Theatre Orchestra, he asked, 'Why can't we have more Ritter Altviolins?' Answered Thoms, ' Yes, Maestro, it's difficult. It could be done but we'd have to learn!' "

Later, Wagner wrote Ritter a tong letter with the following script and engaged him as solo violist for the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra:

Respected Sir! I am truly sorry still not to have sufficient time to deal with your Altviolin at the length I feel noteworthy and to lend my support in giving this instrument it's earned respect. I am convinced that the general introduction of the Altviolin in our orchestras is not only the intentions of composers, who, up to now, intending the voice of the true Altviolin sound but having to make do with the normal voila, which can now be put into rightful perspective and which will also bring about a meaningful and advantageous change of the whole treatment of the stringed instrument quartet, The free A-string of this no-longer thin and nasal sounding, but rather bright and good-sounding instrument, will replace the reserved middle four string of the violin with an energetic voice, as the violin has been limited so much in its energetic projection of sound in this register, that Weber here, for example, very often had to add a wind instrument (clarinet or oboe) for support. The Altviolin makes this no longer necessary and the composer doesn't have to make use of mixed colors where the pure string character was the intention. Now it is hoped for, that this greatly improved instrument be immediately distributed among the best orchestras and the best violists be quickly urged to give it serious treatment. We must be prepared here for great resistance, as unfortunately the majority of most of the orchestra violists are not at the height of string instrumentalists.

A hearty initiative will attract followers, whose example will quicken conductors and administrators. I regret you have brought this affair to me so late and that,, especially at this time, being so busy, I have not been able to do as much as possible in this short time, I request to be informed regarding the attention of your instrument by the respected court musician Thoms in Munich. My friend, Fleischhauer (concertmaster in Meiningen), has already stated his willingness to recommend the Altviolin for the upcoming festival in Bayreuth. Having the possibility to have at least two of these instruments played in my orchestra, I regret not being able to already have six of them. It appears to be impossible.

I request exact information about what success has been attained and that you make unrestricted use of me and my recommendation in your cause.

I thank you for your most interesting and informative treatise and remain respectfully at your service

Richard Wagner.
Bayreuth, March 28,1876

Wagner did, in fact, eventually have six Ritter violas in his orchestra.

Berlioz was also not pleased with the sound of the viola in his day, which is documented by his following statement:

Here it must be said that most of the violas at present in our French orchestras have not the necessary dimensions. They have neither the size, nor as a natural consequence the tone power, of a real viola; they are mostly violins strung with viola strings. These Musical Directors should absolutely forbid the use of these bastard instruments, whose tone deprives one of the most interesting parts in an orchestra of its proper color, robbing it of all its power, especially in the lower registers.

In the following years, Hermann Ritter had great concert success, and the Ritter viola, as it was commonly referred to, began to break through.

When the violinmaker, Hoerleln, died, Philip Keller acquired the moulds in 1902. He was authorized by Prof. Ritter to build this viola and also developed the 5-string Ritter viola. The Ritter viola in the instrument collection of the Munich City Museum bears the label:

"Viola alta (Altgeige)
nach Modell Prof Hermann Ritter
Autorisierter Verfertiger: Phil. Keller Atelier fdr Geigenbau und Bogen
1906 Wurtzburg, gegr. 1832 Nr. 95 ".

The Ritter Viola - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005

Following Ritter's Death,
The Instrument was Forgotten

Following the death of Hermann Ritter in 1926 it became quiet regarding the Ritter viola. In 1929, when the viola society put out the question, asking "Who still plays the Ritter viola?", only one former student of Ritter, the concertmaster from Elberfeld, Karl Paasch, replied, "I am a former student of Professor Ritter and I gladly play the Ritter viola as a solo instrument. I also play it in the orchestra when its character deems proper, specifically for particular solos with great tone, such as: Harold symphony - Kaminski Magnificat - Tristan solos in Bayreuth - H. Wolf. Italian Serenade, etc. Occasionally, I arrange to have a normal and a Ritter viola in the orchestra and switch between them both."

The Royal Saxon Chamber Virtuoso, Alfred Spitzner, replied similarly in his authored title, "The Viola in Word and Picture": "Ritter rightfully states that it is completely false to produce a nasal tone from the viola in normal fashion. He attempted to help this situation with his improvement of the Viola alta. There are, in fact, a few good old violas that are not nasal. Unfortunately, the dimensions of the Ritter viola are so disadvantageous, that they are very strenuous for a player that does not have long arms and fingers, especially in the case of our present-day composers. To ease these dimensions, Ritter newly added an additional 5th E string."

Carl Smith Thanks The International Draesesk Society, the Berlin State Archives, Ronald Hudson, and Virginia Abdo - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005

In fact, the size of the Ritter viola does not make it easy to play. While normal violas have a body length of 37-42 cm, measured across the top plate, the above-mentioned Ritter viola in the museum has one of 45.3 cm with a complete length of 73.9 cm. The vibrating string length is 40.6 cm.

The 5-string Viola alta, which also was built by Philipp Keller in Wurtzburg, was more advantageous to violists. A 5-string Ritter viola in the City Museum has a 2.7 cm shorter length of 71.2 cm, with a body length of 43 cm. The vibrating string length of this instrument is also 40.6 cm.

Herrmann Ritter imagined this 5-string viola for his idea of a string quartet, comprised of a normal violin, the 5-string viola, a tenor violin an octave lower than the violin and a cello. The composer, Felix Weingartner, authored in 1905 a well-wishing article in the magazine, "Die Musik". He made specific mention of the tone characteristics of the mid-register instruments developed by Ritter: "In the tonal function I noticed the penetrating character of the 2nd violin voice, due to that it was played on a viola seated across from the violin, while the tenor violin's voice was more pronounced to that of the cello and higher voices. More tonal independency of the 'middle registers was, therefore, the opinion of my observation. This is explained in that, while the normal quartet being represented by three individualities, the violin, viola and cello, we have here four completely separate ones, in the true meaning of a quartet. A great tone production goes hand in hand with a much darker tone color, having a wonderful effect in certain passages, which is nevertheless certainly not the overall intention of the composers."

Richard Strauss (I 864-1949) also made mention of the 5-string Ritter viola in a footnote of his 1904 expanded and revised instrumentation treatise by Hector Berlioz:

Prof Hermann Ritter from Wurtzburg built a 'Viola alta" which has an additional higher-tuned 5th string in addition to the normal four. The instrument portrays a much more pronounced tone volume, due to its size and has, on the other hand, a very usable higher pitch, due to the added fifth.

Its use today is unfortunately still very limited, which is due to the fact, that the manual facilitation of the Ritter viola requires a lot of physical strength; Players with short arms and fingers should consider exchanging it for the more comfortable normal viola.

Richard Strauss was practical enough to foresee the playing difficulties of this large instrument. Ulrich von Wrochem from Milano impressively demonstrated the characteristics of this viola in a concert in the Munich City Museum.

It is suspected and remains to be explained whether the viola/violin part of the solo violist in Strauss' opera, "Elektra", was, in fact, actually intended for this 5-string Ritter viola. - C. Smith

Dr. Gunther Joppig

Felix Draeseke

Felis Draeseke - Wagner Society of Dallas, March 26, 2005Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) viewed Felix Draeseke (1835-1913), along with Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), as his main rival in the symphonic and religious field of composition. At first this may surprise us, but this reaction ends quickly when one listens to the third symphony, bearing the title, "Symphonia tragica". Draeseke certainly did not have to hide behind his famous contemporaries, even though he never received wide pubic acclaim. In the field of experts this was not so. It was not only Brahms who respected Draeseke. Personalities such as Hans von Bulow, Arthur Nikisch, Fritz Reiner, Hans Pfitzner or Karl Boehm also quickly recognized Draeseke's compositional qualities. Nevertheless, this recognition did not gain wide-spread acceptance of his music.

Revolutionary new ideas in the beginning of the 20" century left Draeseke quickly behind and forgotten. When one opens a common program guide, usually no more than a couple lines of information about Felix Draeseke can be found. For example: "Felix Draeseke (1835-1913), in light of Schumann, Brahms and Liszt, stands at the gate of late romanticism. Occasionally one hears his attractive Serenade D major, op.49 (1988) or (from 4 Symphonies) the Tragica, c minor, op.40 (1886). His brilliant piano concerto (1886) and the violin concerto (1881) are forgotten." (Reclams Konzertfuhrer, 15.Auflage 1994, S.924)

Dmeseke had a preference for the music of Richard Wagner, as he himself gladly composed melodically and was not afraid to use dramatic expression or effects. As a critic, he supported the north German attitude, meaning, he sided with Wagner and Liszt. This did not bring him the affection of Johannes Brahms. Nevertheless, Brahms respected Draeseke as a great composer. Otherwise, he would not have considered him as a rival.

Draeseke met both Wagner and Liszt. Liszt's symphonic poetry had as deep an effect on him as did Wagner's music. Personally, however, he felt closer to Wagner, to whom he attributed great closeness to the common man. It is this affection for Wagner which has also led to the neglect of his works up to today. Unfortunately, the National Socialists in Germany used Draeseke, as well as Wagner, for their purposes. The closeness to the people, dramatic characteristics, and influential gestures were all too well suited for them to label Draeseke as a "Germanic" composer. And so it came that Draeseke's biography in two volumes appeared during the Third Reich under the title "The Life and Passion of a German Master", by Erich Roeder.

From 1862-1876, Draeseke resided in Switzerland. Later, he also traveled distantly. For example, in 1869, he traveled from France to Spain, to North Africa and, lastly, to Italy. On this trip, he composed the first of his four symphonies (op. 12), which was premiered in Dresden on January 31, 1873, under the direction of Julius Rietz. In it, Draeseke combined "The Music of the Future " with "classical forms". His perception goes toward the future as well as looking to the past. His critics gladly overlooked this fact. His reported total admiration for Richard Wagner is also only a half-truth. Draeseke said, "Of the new composers, Wagner remains for me the most influential." But he also said, "It took a long time until I could come to terms with the maestro's (Wagner) late development, and I have to admit I am still not sympathetic with certain peculiarities of his later style, and do not like to see them copied or become standard."

As stated, Wagner and Liszt played a large influence on Draeseke. Now that he had composed three symphonies, it was he who influenced younger composers. For example, Richard Strauss (1864-1949), received ideas from Draeseke's symphonies. The "Tragica" was premiered on January 13, 1888, under the direction of Ernst von Schuch. In this period, Draeseke experienced his greatest success, not only with his symphonies, but also with his other works, such as, "Das Leben ein Traum" (Calderon) or "Penthesilea" (Kleist).

After Draeseke's death, Arthur Nikisch promoted his works further, especially the third symphony. Nonetheless, even he could not hinder the waning interest of his works, which eventually became all but forgotten. There were too many events and musical developments occurring at the time.

One only has to consider such composers as Stravinsky (,,Sacre du printemps", 1913) or Schoenberg. Only now, at the beginning of the 21st century, does time appear again to be ripe to open itself to Draeseke’s music, which has suffered neglect under the wheels of so-called development.

Frau Brigitte Draeseke, great grandniece of Felix Draeseke,
with Karin and Carl Smith at her arrival in Graz, Austria,
for a Ritter Viola Concert

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Welcome to The Wagner Society of Dallas. You know, as Texans, we're bound to strive for being the biggest and best of all the Wagner groups in the world over.

My hope, in addition, is that we ensure your attendance and participation by offering an interesting, stimulating, and enjoyable array of meetings, recitals, and travel. Let us know if you have suggestions for future activities, and do make an effort to join in during the coming months with your membership, attendance, and above all joy of being with fellow Wagner aficionados.

Roger Carroll
President of the Wagner Society of Dallas

The Wagner Society of Dallas - Virginia R. Abdo and Dr. James T. Wheeler,

The Wagner Society of Dallas is devoted to furthering the enjoyment and appreciation of the music of Richard Wagner. The Dallas group is one of many Wagner Societies all over the world. It is a non-profit organization open to anyone who enjoys the works of Richard Wagner and who would like to participate in the Society’s activities.

The Wagner Society of Dallas has monthly meetings and programs which feature recitals, lectures, video screenings, receptions for opera singers and personalities, and trips to Wagner performances in other cities. We welcome music lovers who are already familiar with Wagner’s works as well as those who may want to become more knowledgeable about Wagner’s music.

Member Benefits include attendance at programs, our newsletter, discount on books and CD’s, advance notice of events and selected ticket services, receipt of the Membership Directory, ticket allotments to Bayreuth, and an active link with fellow Wagnerians throughout the world.


The Wagner Society of Dallas

PO Box 25201
Dallas, TX 75225-0201
(214) 363-6070

Virginia R. Abdo and
Dr. James T. Wheeler

email: WSD@

Digital Photos on this website, unless otherwise noted,
copyright Edward P. Flaspoehler, JR

Home ] Up ] Nomeda Kazlaus, Soprano ] Nathan De'Shon Myers - Baritone ] Margaurite Mathis-Clark and Jing Ling Tam ] Wagner's Birthday Party ] The Living Opera of Dallas ] [ Carl Smith and the Ritter Viola ] Joe Illick and Friends ] Comini - In Passionate Pursuit ]


Many Wagner Society of Dallas members fondly remember Sheila Jones Harms, who was an active member of the organization, and who presented many interesting programs and recitals over the years.

Now, WSD member Ed Flaspoehler has completed his biography of Sheila, called The Cold War Soprano: Memoirs of a Singer-Spy.

If you are interested in opera and fine singing, Sheila's biography will surely be of interest to you. Not only will you get an inside glimpse of what it takes to become an opera singer, and learn about the world of opera in Post- WWII Vienna, but, because Sheila and her husband Werner, were also CIA agents, you will get a look at the Cold War from a personal point of view.

You can get a copy of Ed's book on the internet at

The Wagner Society of Dallas
is a Member of
The International Association of Wagner Societies

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