Wilhelm Cramer (1746-1799), the namesake of The Cramer Quartet, continues to be regarded as one of the foremost violinists of the Classical era. Born in 1746 into a family of renowned Mannheim musicians, he began his studies at an early age; his teachers included Johann Stamitz and Christian Cannabich, among others. By 1752 he joined the famous Mannheim orchestra (following in the footsteps of his father, the violinist Jakob Cramer), where he earned a reputation as one of the top violinists of the day. He eventually left Mannheim for Stuttgart to work for the Duke of Württemberg, who gave him the opportunity to travel to London and Paris. During his travels Cramer frequented the Concert Spirituel in Paris, finding his way to London in 1772.

London’s audiences greeted Cramer with open arms, encouraging him to settle in city. Over the next twenty years, Cramer enjoyed a prolific career as London’s leading violinist. He was praised not only for his solo playing, but also for his skill as an orchestral leader. Cramer led the Bach-Abel Concerts beginning in 1773, as well as “The Professional Concert” concert series at the Hanover Square Rooms. He led at the Italian Opera from 1777 to 1796, and received many invitations to perform chamber music at court through his connections with J.C. Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel; these favorable opportunities eventually led to an appointment as leader of the Queen’s Chamber Band. Cramer maintained an active career as a concerto soloist, as well as London’s first major string quartet leader. As chamber musician to King George III, he directed all concerts at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, and also led the Handel Commemoration Concerts at Westminster Abbey from 1784-1791.

Cramer was known for his signature bowing style, which featured an off-the-string articulation, unlike the ubiquitous on-the-string technique of the time. Cramer’s new technique led to a model of Classical bow bearing his name. The “Cramer” style bow, pictured below, features a blunt, square tip as opposed to the swan tip of other transitional bow models.  

 
David D. Boyden, History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761 and its Relationship to the Violin and Violin Music (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 263.

David D. Boyden, History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761 and its Relationship to the Violin and Violin Music (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 263.

 
Portrait of Wilhelm Cramer (1746-1799) attributed to Karl Anton Hickel (1745-1798), from the Royal College of Music, London.

Portrait of Wilhelm Cramer (1746-1799) attributed to Karl Anton Hickel (1745-1798), from the Royal College of Music, London.