The beginnings of the 12
Seven years earlier, another master of the instrument had already prepared the way with a preliminary work in the realm of chamber music. In 1920, Julius Klengel, the cello virtuoso, teacher and composer, wrote his 'Hymn' for twelve cellos; together with eleven of his chosen students, he is said to have presented it to his friend Arthur Nikisch (principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from 1895 to 1922) as a serenade for the latter's 65th birthday. Two years later, the work had its first - and for a long time last - performance: the solemn movement with its bold opening was played at Nikisch's funeral in late January of 1922. But fifty years later, this curiosity of the Leipzig virtuoso and composer made possible an historical event. With the rediscovery of Klengel's work began the history of the Twelve Cellists, a history now encompassing 25 years.
It came about like this: certain well-informed and resourceful Salzburg producers had uncovered this music-historical singularity in an archive. They asked the most important festival orchestra of their city, the Berlin Philharmonic, whether its cello section would be available for a public radio broadcast recording of the dedication hymn. The musicians agreed. The undertaking was a resounding success, and it called for a continuation. But two important preconditions still had to be fulfilled: pieces for a repertoire, and a manager for concert appearances.