The cellist David Popper was born in Prague in 1843, the son of the Prague Cantor. He studied the cello there under the Hamburg cellist Julius Goltermann, who had taken up an appointment at the Prague Conservatory in 1850. It was through Liszt’s then son-in-law, the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, that Popper was recommended in 1863 to a position as Chamber Virtuoso at the court of the Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Konstantin von Hohenzollern, who had had a new residence with a concert hall built at Löwenberg. The musical establishment there was disbanded, however, in 1869, on the death of the Prince.
In 1867 Popper made his début in Vienna and the following year was appointed principal cellist at the Court Opera, serving also for a time as cellist in the Hellmesberger Quartet. In 1872 he married Liszt’s pupil Sophie Menter, described by her teacher as his only legitimate daughter as a pianist and the greatest woman pianist of the age, later to join the staff of the St Petersburg Conservatory. The following year they left Vienna to embark on a series of concert tours throughout Europe, and in 1882 he undertook a tour of Spain and Portugal with the French violinist Emil Sauret. His marriage was dissolved in 1886, the year Liszt died during a reluctant stay in Bayreuth. Sophie Menter and her friends visited him there as his life drew to a close.
In 1896 Popper settled in Budapest to teach at the Conservatory that Liszt had established there, serving for a time as cellist in the quartet led by Jenö Hubay, the son of the first head of the Conservatory string department, who had inherited his father’s position as professor of violin in 1886. In the same year Popper joined Hubay and Brahms in a performance in Budapest of the latter’s Piano Trio in C minor, continuing an earlier connection with the composer. Popper died at Baden, near Vienna, in 1913.
As a composer Popper is remembered for his compositions for cello. These include four concertos, now seldom heard in the concert hall, and, better known, a number of salon pieces. His studies remain well enough known to aspirant cellists, while his other works include compositions that give an opportunity for virtuosic display.
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