Siegmund Nissel: Amadeus Quartet second violin

The term "to play second fiddle" is commonly taken to indicate inferiority. There was certainly nothing inferior in the playing of Siegmund Nissel, who was second violin in the Amadeus Quartet, the celebrated string quartet founded in London just after the Second World War. Nissel was not only a very accomplished musician in his own right but he was also greatly respected as a teacher.

Siegmund (or "Siggi") Nissel was born to Jewish Viennese parents in Munich in 1922 and showed a remarkable talent for the violin at the age of six. When he was nine, the family moved back to Vienna and he had lessons with Max Weissgarber. But as the persecution of the Jews grew more sinister, in 1938 his parents decided to send their son to a safe country. Nissel was only 16 when he was put on one of the last trains leaving Austria for the UK. He once told me how agonising it was to witness the parents parting from their children, knowing they might never see them again, and also for the youngsters facing a completely unknown future. It was a memory he never forgot.

When the Second World War broke out, the refugees automatically became enemy aliens. In 1940, the British Government decreed that all enemy aliens over the age of 18 should be interned; Nissel was sent to the Isle of Man where, by a twist of fate, he met another violinist, Peter Schidlof, who was to become a close friend for life. They were later to meet up with yet another violinist, Norbert Brainin, who had been transferred from a camp in Shropshire. The three spent a good deal of time making music together, before being released under the special category of "distinguished artists" (which at the time they were not).

Brainin introduced the others to the celebrated violinist and teacher Max Rostal, and all three became his students. By a further stroke of fate, another of Rostal's students was the violinist Suzanne Rozsa, who was married to the British cellist Martin Lovett. Brainin, Nissel, Schidlof and Lovett became great friends and began playing together in their spare time, meeting in each other's houses. Although the four players were all in some form of employment, they would still manage to meet to play for the sheer pleasure of making music.

By 1946 Brainin, aged 23, had a sizeable repertoire at his disposal. He had been playing sonatas and concertos and had achieved quite a reputation as a soloist. But he decided he would prefer to play in a string quartet, and asked the others if they would like to form one. Schidlof by now had forsaken the violin in favour of the viola so they had the right ensemble. The four got along well, the chemistry between the friends working to great advantage. By the beginning of 1947 they began making plans for a Wigmore Hall recital.

It was Nissel who came up with the name Amadeus. He thought that it was appropriate that the quartet should have a "neutral" name, rather than taking the name of the leader. (The four had given a performance as the Brainin Quartet, at Dartington International Summer School in July 1947). The other members were unsure about the suitability of Amadeus, with its direct association with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but Nissel was adamant.

With the financial support of generous friends in the profession, including Imogen Holst, who gave them £100, they went ahead with the arrangements for their first professional appearance. The Wigmore Hall recital took place in January 1948 and was a sell out, with hundreds turned away at the door. Although the press reviews were mixed, as far as the audience were concerned it was an unqualified success. After the concert the quartet was visited by Mrs Emmy Tillet – representing one of the most important musical agencies in the business – saying she would like to see them the following morning. The Amadeus Quartet was born.

With the help of Ibbs and Tillet the ensemble were inundated with offers, their first engagement being with the BBC. During uninterrupted years of success they played in concerts, festivals and master classes in almost every country in the world and made hundreds of recordings, including the complete quartets of Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart. They also performed works by Tippett, Bartók and other 20th century composers and gave the first performance of Benjamin Britten's Third Quartet, written specially for them, in December 1976.

In 1983 the four members of the group were given honorary doctorates from London University presented by the Princess Royal. The following year they performed works by Haydn and Mozart at a concert in aid of the Royal College of Music Centenary Appeal at Kensington Palace in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

One of the decisions the four had made right at the beginning was that if one member left the ensemble or died, they would not continue. After Schidlof's sudden death in 1987, the group disbanded and the three remaining members concentrated on chamber music and teaching, holding posts at the Royal Academy of Music.

Nissel was known as an excellent teacher. "The prime objective for me when working with an ensemble is to lead the group to a fuller understanding and feeling for what the music is saying.

Then, and only then, can I begin to suggest how to communicate the music to an audience. To succeed in this I try to inspire, promote, cajole, argue for, enthuse, persuade, yes even occasionally throw in the full weight of my 40 years' experience with the Amadeus Quartet. In this exciting endeavour I allow myself any means at my disposal; demonstrating with or without my violin; singing; gestures; conducting and moving or dancing about.

I feel that I have succeeded in teaching a reasonably gifted ensemble only if it is capable of learning a new work or if it has become independent of its teacher and is no longer dependent on continual outside instruction. It is a tremendous thrill to feel and see the smile of recognition of a group or an individual when it has truly understood the significance of a particular point or moment.

Nissel was the practical operator in the Amadeus group. It was he who sorted out the business problems and took care of contracts and the like. But there was considerable anxiety when, in his late forties, he developed a brain tumour. However, it was successfully removed in 1960, and he survived, only to then undergo a heart bypass.

As a man Siggi Nissel was kind and courteous, but he was also an excellent judge of human nature. Well liked by his fellow musicians and his pupils, he was above all a family man, proud of his wife, son and daughter and three grandchildren. He was appointed OBE in 1970, and received honorary doctorates from York University and the Royal Academy of Music.

Margaret Campbell

Siegmund Walter Nissel, violinist: born Munich 3 January 1922; OBE 1970; married 1957 Muriel Griffiths (one son, one daughter); died London 21 May 2008.

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsAll just to promote a new casino
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java, AI)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-Office D...

C#.NET Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, WPF, WCF, ASP.NET, Prism...

Day In a Page

Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband