Emil Kreuz and the Advancement of the Viola in Nineteenth-Century Britain | David Bynog

Emil Kreuz, c. 1900 (photo courtesy of the author)

The advent of Lionel Tertis as a concert soloist at the beginning of the twentieth century radically altered the perception of the viola and violists. Tertis not only elevated the stature of the instrument itself, but he persuaded composers (primarily British) to write a diverse array of music for the instrument.1 Consequently, Great Britain can lay claim to a robust heritage for the viola.

However, given Britain’s pre-twentieth-century role as a political and social powerhouse (and London’s status as a leading musical center), it is only to be expected that violists prior to Tertis would have been renown as soloists. František Kocžwara and Benjamin Blake were two prominent violists in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century,2 while Henry Hill and Charles Baetens were the two most well-regarded violists during the middle of the nineteenth century.3 The end of the nineteenth-century saw two rising viola stars: Alfred Hobday4 and Emil Kreuz, both of whom graduated from the Royal College of Music (RCM) with a specialty on the viola. While Hobday went on to a lengthy career as a violist, Kreuz’s career was rather short-lived owing to his abrupt change of profession to conducting beginning in 1903. Still, for a roughly fifteen-year period, he made valuable contributions as a performer, composer, and arranger, which greatly advanced the standing of the viola in Britain.

Kreuz as Violist

Emil Kreuz was born in 1867 at Elberfeld, Germany, and started his musical education early; by the age of ten, he was studying violin with Georg Joseph Japha in Cologne.5 At the age of sixteen, he was a winner of the first round of open scholarships at the newly established Royal College of Music. Initially studying violin with Henry Holmes, he switched from violin to viola, performing as a viola soloist while a student. His performance of selections from Schumann’s Märchenbilder in 1886 earned him a label as “a promising young viola performer.”6 The following year he appeared as a violist on many concerts, playing Brahms’s Two Songs, op. 91, Schumann’s  Märchenerzählungen, and Vieuxtemps’s  arrangement of Félicien David’s La Nuit, the last as part of an RCM concert at the June 15, 1887, Royal Society of Art’s Conversazione.7 At the RCM  December 21, 1887, orchestral concert, he performed Harold in Italy “in a manner which deserves to be described as masterly.”8 Kreuz earned a certificate in theory and viola in 1888, becoming the RCM’s first graduate on the viola.

Wasting no time after graduation, Kreuz became immersed in musical life, frequently performing in chamber groups, most famously as violist in a quartet led by Richard Gompertz. Appearing at Cambridge University (See Figure 1) , Gompertz’s quartet premiered Charles Stanford’s first two string quartets. The quartet performed frequently elsewhere and was considered “a quartet which not only technically but artistically has no superior among metropolitan quartets.”9 Kreuz also performed chamber music with many other prominent musicians, including Joseph Joachim, Fritz Kreisler, and Lady Hallé.

Figure 1. Program from a February 15, 1890, Cambridge concert where Kreuz performed the first three movements of Schumann’s Märchenbilder

In addition to chamber music, Kreuz often performed solo recitals to much acclaim: “The rendering of a solo for the viola by Mr. Emil Kreuz may be set down as one of the most artistic items of the evening…. Mr. Kreuz promises to be one of our finest players on the viola.”10 He performed Harold in Italy on December 11, 1888, at one of George Henschel’s London Symphony Concerts, where the Daily News proclaimed, “the success he achieved was unmistakable, and it was amply merited by the possession of rare artistic gifts, carefully developed by sound training.”11 Kreuz remained involved with the Royal College of Music, performing on chamber recitals as well as once again appearing as soloist with the RCM Orchestra at a December 10, 1890, performance of Harold in Italy.


Later in 1890, Kreuz performed a new sonata expressly written for him by Algernon Ashton, a professor of composition at the RCM (See Figure 2). Violists in the nineteenth century—particularly in Britain—had difficulty in attracting new compositions, thus this incidence speaks highly of Kreuz’s burgeoning achievements as a solo violist. In later years, Tertis would capitalize on this symbiotic relationship between violist and composer. The viola was in need of repertoire and British composers were in need of outlets for their music. Ashton’s sonata is grand in scope and a valuable, though overlooked, contribution to the British sonata repertoire. A review of the concert, however, characterizes the works shortcomings:

‘[Ashton’s] treatment of his instruments seems to lack experience; he is, as it were, always at high pressure; and the viola is seldom allowed to display itself without being quickly overpowered by the piano. But the writing is sound, and indeed even tending to over-elaboration; and interesting passages every now and then make one wish that they had been left to exhibit their attractiveness in more simple fashion. Mr. Emil Kreuz did his best (which is saying much) for the viola part.’1

Figure 2. Cover page for Algernon Ashton’s Viola Sonata, dedicated to Kreuz

Kreuz as Composer

Whilst Kreuz was actively promoting the viola as a soloist and chamber musician, he was making considerable contributions to the instrument as a composer and arranger. Kreuz clearly recognized the dearth of suitable educational material available for violists in Britain. He edited both Bruni’s Méthode  pour l’Alto (25 Études) and Campagnoli’s 41 Caprices for Augener and produced a number of other pedagogical editions including scales and arpeggios and select studies from prominent Étude books. He also arranged sixty-five pieces by diverse composers (Mendelssohn, Schumann, Bach, Meyerbeer, Chopin, etc.) in a progressive order, intending these to serve as teaching pieces as well as attractive works for performance.

Not content with merely arranging works for educational purposes, Kreuz also composed original viola music. His Op. 13, The Violist: A Series of Progressive Pieces for Viola and Piano, is a set of six volumes including increasingly complex works, culminating with his Viola Sonata in A Minor. His Op. 40 set, Progressive Studies for the Viola, with Accompaniment of a Second Viola, likewise aims to allow for steady advancement. These works were widely praised upon publication: “Were we to affix as many adjectives to the pieces as they deserve (only laudatory ones are appropriate), we should not only exhaust our own stock, but even find it difficult to get a sufficient supply from the biggest dictionary within our reach.”13

The breadth of skill levels that his pedagogical works addresses, from works for beginners to those clearly for advanced students (Bruni and Campagnoli), highlights Kreuz’s understanding that education at all levels was key to the advancement of the viola. Of particular note is his manner of composing for amateurs, writing at a technical level and in a musical style that would have wide appeal: “Mr. Kreuz has already done a great deal to further the interest of the viola player, and these Studies will not fail to further so good a cause and entice more amateurs to take up the viola.”14 Kreuz’s pedagogical works went through multiple printings, and in addition to the Augener editions, some titles were also published by Schott.

Pedagogical works make up only a portion of Kreuz’s original compositions for the viola. Concert works include the Liebesbilder, op. 5; his Viola Concerto, op. 20; Suite de pièces, for viola and piano, op. 45; the Viola Sonata that forms part of his Op. 13 set; as well as chamber works featuring the viola in various combinations. The concerto and sonata are particularly important compositions, given the scarcity of nineteenth-century works in these genres. Since the sonata forms part of his Op. 13 set, the technical demands are easier than many other nineteenth-century viola sonatas. Kreuz’s Viola Concerto, on the other hand, is quite virtuosic and can be seen as a precursor to the contributions of British composers in the early twentieth century, including concertos by John Blackwood McEwen, Cecil Forsyth, and York Bowen.

“The great composers have not favoured the viola as a solo instrument . . .  Mr. Emil Kreuz . . . had, therefore, a comparatively clear field. His concerto . . . is extremely vigorous, with much brilliant and florid writing for the principal executant. On paper the second movement, a Barcarole in A flat, appears the most pleasing section of the work.”15

The Barcarolle was indeed the most successful portion of the concerto, subsequently being published independently from the other movements and receiving several performances by itself. Kreuz’s concerto is firmly rooted in the Romantic tradition, and the technical skills required of the viola are ample (ex.1).

Example 1. Emil Kreuz, Viola Concerto, movt. I, six measures before letter K.

Kreuz’s compositions were not limited to the viola: he wrote and published a variety of chamber and vocal works that received multiple performances during his lifetime. While Kreuz performed his own viola compositions at various venues, the wide publication of his viola music suggests that both amateurs and students had access to and performed his music. Alfred Hobday performed Kreuz’s Liebesbilder on a March 4, 1891, concert;16 Simon Speelman performed the Barcarolle from Kreuz’s Viola Concerto on a November 25, 1903, recital (with Kreuz at the piano);17 and T. M. Abbott also performed the Barcarolle on a May 13, 1905, recital.18

Kreuz after the Viola

Throughout the 1890s, Kreuz pursued a career in conducting, and in 1903 he became musical assistant at Covent Garden. That same year he joined the Hallé Orchestra as a violist in order to study conducting with Hans Richter.19 Grove’s reported shortly afterward that Kreuz’s “present intention is to give up viola playing and composition, in order to devote his time to conducting and training vocalists.”20 Kreuz was active as a conductor for the next decade, even conducting a small orchestra that bore his name, The Kreuz Orchestra, and serving as conductor of the orchestra at Trinity College of Music.

Though Kreuz became a British Subject in 1904, he likely encountered the anti-German sentiment that preceded World War I. Kreuz is reported to have left Britain before the war.21 His presence in England, however, is known during 1915; he is listed in the telephone book under the alternate name of E[mil] Thornfield,22 and he conducted concerts and published a book that same year under this pseudonym. By 1916, he had settled in Copenhagen, where he and his wife held teaching positions.23 Details beyond 1916 are murky: in 1923, he is quoted in an ad for rosin published in the Strad, lending credence to the reports that he returned to England after the war.24 Emil Kreuz died December 3, 1932, but sources conflict regarding whether he died in London or Brussels.25 Given Kreuz’s strong promotion of the viola in Britain, the obscure details surrounding his death are particularly disheartening.

Kreuz’s Legacy

Kreuz’s viola compositions and arrangements have been his most enduring contributions to the viola. Within the span of a decade, Kreuz created a miniature repertoire with suitable music for a violists of any level. The pedagogical works, in particular, were immediately taken up and were used for many years in Britain. The RCM and Royal Academy of Music included his works in their 1898 list of local examinations in music, and his music was routinely suggested to violists in publications over the next several decades:

It becomes dull for the student if he keeps for too long to only one book, so I advise that the tutor be laid aside occasionally and that various books of studies should be explored for fresh material. Of those most likely to be obtained at the moment, I can recommend the “Select Studies” [Augener 7657a–7657e] in five books by Emil Kreuz. . . .

Nothing, however, pleases the student more than to play a piece—something intended for recreation and enjoyment only. . . . Here is real music making!. . . . Augener publish[es] Emil Kreuz “The Violist,” Op. 13, ranging through five books from very easy to moderately difficult.26

Kreuz studied composition with Charles Stanford while at the RCM, and his compositions “reflect the prevalent taste of his time.”27  That is, they exhibit the romantic—and often overly sentimental writing—popular at the end of the nineteenth century (ex. 2). This compositional style went out of vogue with the rise of mid-twentieth-century modernism, and with the great increase in new compositions and educational materials available for violists Kreuz’s music fell out of favor. Tuneful, well-written music has since returned to popularity in the twenty-first century, making Kreuz’s melodic compositions with their intelligently designed progressive writing once again ripe for attention by violists. Many of his compositions are currently available, either in new editions or via the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library website at http://imslp.org/ (see the appendix for a complete listing).

Example 2. Emil Kreuz, The Violist, op. 13, Book II, “Lamentation,” (viola part).

Of his concert works, the Viola Sonata, op. 13 and Liebesbilder, op. 5 are particularly worthy of attention. The sonata is of a moderate degree of difficulty and would make an excellent first sonata for any young violist. Liebesbilder is a serious set of three concert pieces in the vein of Joachim’s Hebrew Melodies, op. 9. The first movement, allegro moderato, is the most successful; lush and dramatic, and suitable for performance by itself. The second and third movements are a bit thin in their development of the musical ideas, though they are both attractively evocative of the “love” theme. A recording of the work is available with Laurent Rochat, viola, and Miaomiao Li, piano, on the CD Liebesbilder (Doron Music, DRC 5028, 2008).

If the importance of Kreuz’s contributions to the viola literature has gone relatively unheralded, this pales in comparison to the disregard of his contributions as a performer on viola. He became a well-known and well-respected viola specialist in England at a time when the viola was still widely denigrated. The brief references to his appearances as a soloist and chamber musician previously mentioned in this article only hint at the scope of his performing activities. He was most celebrated in his role as violist of the Gompertz Quartet, but he performed widely (and successfully) in other settings. In addition to solo appearances, he performed small chamber works featuring the viola including Mozart’s violin and viola duets and the “Kegelstatt” Trio, and gave many performances of Brahms’s Op. 91 songs. The Strad adequately summed up the sentiment in 1905 when he gave up playing the viola publicly:  “The many admirers of Mr. Emil Kreuz, one of the best viola players in the country, will perhaps rather regret the advice given to him by Dr. Hans Richter to abandon viola playing for conducting.”28

Ultimately Kreuz’s contributions remain underappreciated. The nature of his legacy is one that does not always endure: he gained acceptance for the viola in Britain through timely and “of the moment” efforts that targeted the broad populace. By creating accessible works for amateurs to perform, he filled a void in the published viola repertoire, attracting a new group of individuals who had hitherto shown little interest in the instrument. And with his superior musical and technical performances on the viola, he gained the admiration of concert audiences and critics at a pivotal time. In the short span from his graduation until 1903, he built a solid foundation in Britain for the viola from which Émile Férir, Alfred Hobday, Lionel Tertis, Siegfried Wertheim, and many others would soon expand.


 Kreuz’s Music Published by Augener Featuring the Viola

 A. Works for Viola with an Opus Number

Op. 5: Liebesbilder, for Viola and Piano (Augener 7627).

New Edition: Winterthur: Amadeus, 1995. BP 2292.

IMSLP: An incomplete piano score and the complete viola part are available.

Op. 9b: Frühlingsgedanken: Spring Fancies, 3 Pieces for Violin and Piano, arranged for viola and piano (Augener 7628).

Op. 13: The Violist: A Series of Progressive Pieces for Viola and Piano (Augener 7636a–7636f).

Book I: 12 very easy pieces, commencing with the open strings, and gradually

introducing the notes of C major in the first position.

Book II: Progressive and easy pieces on the notes of C major .

Book III: Progressive melodies in the first position, and in the different major and minor

keys. Nos. 1–10.

Book IV: Progressive melodies in the first position, and in the different major and minor

keys. Nos. 11–20.

Book V: Three easy sketches in the first three positions.

Book VI: Sonata in A minor for viola and piano.

New Edition: Sonata in A minor (Book VI): Winterthur: Amadeus, 1987. BP 2645.

IMSLP: Incomplete piano scores for books I, II, and IV are available; an incomplete viola part for book III is available; a complete viola part for book IV is available, and a complete piano score and part for book VI is available.

Op. 20: Concerto in C for Viola and Orchestra (Piano Reduction) (Augener 5571).

IMSLP: Piano reduction and viola part are available.

Op. 21: Trio for Violin, Viola, and Piano (Augener 5271).

IMSLP: Score and parts are available.

Op. 32: Trio facile in C, for violin, viola, and piano (Augener 5272).

New Edition: Winterthur: Amadeus, 1989. BP 694.

IMSLP: Score and parts are available.

Op. 39: Four Duos for Violin and Viola (Augener 5594a–5594b).

Book I: 2 Duos, in F and D.

Book II: 2 Duos, in G and C.

New Edition: Winterthur: Amadeus, 1991. BP 471.

Op. 40: Progressive Studies for the Viola, with Accompaniment of a Second Viola (Augener 7653a–7653d).

Book I: Commencing with exercises on the open strings, and gradually introducing the

notes of C major in the first position.

Book II: Studies in the first position in the flat keys, major and minor.

Book III: Studies in the first position in the sharp keys, major and minor.

Book IV: Introduction of the second and third positions, and studies in the first three positions.

Op. 45: Suite de Pièces, for viola and piano (Augener 5572).

IMSLP: An incomplete piano score is available.

Op. 49: Quintet in E-flat Major for Horn (or Viola) and String Quartet, “Prize Quintet” (Augener 7165).

New Edition: Winterthur: Amadeus, 2003. BP 1089.

IMSLP: Score and parts are available.

B. Works for Viola without an Opus Number

 Bruni, A. B. Tenor Method. Edited, with fingerings, bowings, and marks of expression by E. Kreuz (Augener 7659).

Campagnoli, B. 41 Caprices (Augener 7651).

Scales and Arpeggios for the Viola, through All Major and Minor Keys (Augener 7658a–7658b).

Book I: Through one and two octaves .

Book II: Through two and three octaves.

Select Pieces for Viola and Pianoforte, in Progressive Order. [Each piece published separately.] For a complete list of individual titles, see http://imslp.org/wiki/List_of_works_by_Emil_Kreuz.

First Series: 25 pieces (nos. 1–25).

Second Series: 20 pieces (nos. 26–45).

Third Series: 20 pieces in higher positions (nos. 46–65).

IMSLP: Score and part are available for no 6: Air and Unbekümmert, by C. Reinecke.

Select Studies for the Viola (Augener 7657a–7657e).

Book I: 30 elementary studies in the first position, with accompaniment of a second viola,  by Campagnoli and Mazas.

Book II: 30 studies in the first position by Corelli, Campagnoli, Kreutzer, and Spohr.

Book III: 20 studies in the first three positions by Corelli, Campagnoli, Kreutzer, Fiorillo, Spohr, Wenzel Pichl, and Mazas.

Book IV: 20 studies in the higher positions.

Book V: 20 studies in the higher positions.

New Edition: Books I–IV are available from Stainer & Bell (7657A–7657D).


1Tertis also attracted the attention of composers whom he did not approach directly for works. William Walton’s Viola Concerto and Joseph Jongen’s Suite, op. 48 are two notable examples of works written for him without his prompting.

2 Originally from Bohemia, Kocžwara was also active as a violist in Ireland.

3 For biographical information about Hill, see John White, ed., An Anthology of British Viola Players(Colne, UK: Comus Edition, 1997), 122. For biographical information on Baetens, see David M. Bynog, “Charles Baetens: Portrait of a Nineteenth-Century Violist,” American String Teacher 59, no. 4 (November 2009): 46–49.

4 For biographical information about Hobday, see White, 122–24 and David M. Bynog, “Alfred Hobday: 1870–1942,” English Viola Society Newsletter, no. 1 (October 2008): 15–18.

5 Janet M. Green, comp., Musical Biographies, ed. W. L. Hubbard, The American History and Encyclopedia of Music (Toledo: Irving Squire, 1908), 1:450.

6 “Royal College of Music,” Musical Times and Singing Class Circular 27, no. 522 (August 1, 1886): 468.

7 “Proceedings of the Society,” Journal of the Society of Arts 35, no. 1804 (June 17, 1887): 756.

8 “Royal College of Music,” Musical World (December 31, 1887): 1036.

9 “Violinists at Home,” Strad 5, no. 56 (December 1894): 229.

10 “The Musical Guild,” Era (London), May 25, 1889.

11 “London Symphony Concerts,” Daily News (London), December 12, 1888.

12 “Concerts,” Musical World (December 13, 1890): 997.

13 Review of The Violist, Book II, by Emil Kreuz, Monthly Musical Record (March 1, 1891): 63.

14 “New Musical Publications,” New Quarterly Musical Review 2 (November 1894): 153.

15 “New Instrumental Concerted Music,” Athenæum, no. 3415 (April 8, 1893): 450.

16 “Royal College of Music,” Musical Times and Singing Class Circular 32, no. 578 (April 1, 1891): 217–18.

17 “The Ladies’ Concerts,” Manchester Guardian, November 26, 1903.

18 “Music in Birmingham,” Musical Times 46, no. 748 (June 1, 1905): 405.

19 “The Hallé Concerts,” Manchester Guardian, October 30, 1903.

20 “Emil Kreuz,” in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. J. A. Fuller Maitland (London: Macmillan, 1906), 2:603. Several other publications reported similar sentiments: “Mr. Emil Kreuz, the well-known viola player, who gave up his London work two years ago and joined the Hallé Orchestra for the sole purpose of studying under Dr. Richter, has now decided to give up his instrument and to devote his time entirely to conducting.”  See [E. Polonaski], “Current Events and Concert Notes: Home,” Violin Times 12, no. 138 (May 1905): 66.

21 “Emil Kreuz,” in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Eric Bloom, 5th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1954), 4:852. Bernhard Päuler reports that “before 1914 he left England for a while on extensive concert and study tours.” See Introduction to Sonate in a-moll für Viola und Klavier, op. 13/6, by Emil Kreuz (Winterthur, Switzerland: Amadeus, 1987), [3].

22 Kreuz married the singer Emily Thornfield (née Emilie Anna Thorenfeld) in 1909. His wife was also active during 1915, performing at an April 29 recital devoted to Delius. See Rachel Lowe-Dugmore, “Documenting Delius,” Delius Society Journal 65 (October 1979): 13.

23 “The Royal Collegian Abroad,” RCM Magazine 12, no. 2 (1916): 61.

24 Mr. Emil Kreuz, violist, is quoted as saying: “I have given your Resin a lengthy trial, and think it very excellent,”  Imperial Publishing, “Every Violinist and ‘Cellist should at Once Try the New Velvo Resin,” advertisement, Strad 33, no. 395 (March 1923): 486.

25 The only traced source that mentions Brussels is Carlo Schmidl, ed., Dizionario universale dei musicisti. Supplemento: appendice, aggiunte e rettifiche (Milan: Sonzogno, 1938), 446. To date, the author has been unable to locate any obituaries or death notices for Kreuz. If Kreuz did die in London, the lack of any such notices in English sources seems odd given his prominent career there.

26 Watson Forbes, “For Viola Players: 1. First Steps in Viola Playing,” Strad 57, no. 679 (November 1946): 206.

27 B[ernhard] Päuler, “Emil Kreuz,” in An Anthology of British Viola Players, ed. John White, 147.

28 “Violinists at Home and Abroad,” Strad 16, no. 181 (May 1905): 5.