Ernst Rudorff (1840–1916)

Ernst Rudorff received his first piano lessons in Berlin from his godmother, Marie Lichtenstein, a friend of Clara Schumann. When his teacher married and moved to the Harz Mountains, Ernst was taught by his mother. On the recommendation of Mariane Bargiel, Ernst Rudorff’s parents sent him to Woldemar Bargiel for piano and composition lessons between 1850 and 1857. Bargiel acquainted him with the works of Robert Schumann and in 1854 also introduced the pupil to his half-sister Clara Schumann.

Four years later, Rudorff took a few lessons with the admired artist in Berlin and in 1860 he presented his first compositions to Clara. He dedicated his Opus 1, Variations for two pianos, “[To Dr Clara Schumann, with deepest admiration].” The dedicatee promoted its printing by publisher Breitkopf & Härtel and played the Variations in 1866 in Vienna, together with Julie von Asten. Clara Schumann supported Rudorff wherever she could, gave him advice on questions of composition and also acquainted him with the works of other composers, especially those of Brahms.

In December 1863, Rudorff became an assistant to Julius Stockhausen in Hamburg and two years later, he took on Bargiel’s position at the Cologne Conservatoire. From 1869, Rudorff taught at the University of Berlin, where Bargiel was also appointed in 1874; both were Members of the Senate of the Royal Academy of Arts in Berlin and also contributors to the Chopin Complete Edition. In 1880, they both applied for the succession of Max Bruch to direct the Stern Choral Society, which was eventually transferred to Rudorff - a painful situation for Bargiel because Rudorff was younger and had been his pupil. At the University of Berlin, Rudorff became Head of the piano and organ classes from July 1882. He and Clara Schumann also had common pupils. Clara valued Rudorff’s teaching skills so highly that she entrusted him with the training of her daughter Eugenie.

The contact between Clara Schumann and Ernst Rudorff must have been quite close; for instance, as early as 1862, Clara asked her younger friend to assist her daughter Elise in finding piano pupils, on one occasion Rudorff’s parents temporarily accommodated the youngest Schumann child Felix at their house, or Clara once requested concert tickets for Ferdinand’s daughter Julie. Rudorff contributed not only to the Chopin Complete Edition but also to the revision of Carl Maria von Weber’s operas and was involved in the Mozart Complete Edition of the Royal Academy of Arts.

However, when requested by Clara Schumann to participate in the complete edition of Robert Schumann’s works, he gratefully declined due to his work overload. In later years, Clara Schumann often regretted that she so rarely saw her friend but the contact was maintained through the exchange of letters until Clara Schumann’s death. Rudorff, for his part, deeply admired Clara Schumann.

(J.M.N., translated by Th. H.)

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