Before Twitter, Name-Dropping Self-Promotion

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IN 1801 a composer and cellist named Andreas Romberg decided to dedicate a set of string quartets to Haydn. “This dedication will surely not be unappreciated by you,” Romberg wrote excitedly to his publisher, “as it will doubtless promote the sale of the work. Now tell me if we don’t understand our public — or rather, the world!”

The poor sap. Today Romberg’s quartets are performed less often than Boccherini’s. Is it just that he was a sellout? Mozart, we might be tempted to think, would never have tailored his dedications to appeal to the public.

If Romberg’s remarks appear cynical it is because we assume that dedications, particularly those between composers, are not sources of pecuniary profit but “expressions of respect.” The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, in fact, uses those words to promote its fall festival, Dedications, inviting listeners to consider works dedicated by Mozart to Haydn and by Schumann to Mendelssohn.

Two ensembles will present thoughtful programs at Alice Tully Hall, billed as demonstrations of “creative synergy between legendary composers.” On Friday the Orion String Quartet will pair two Mozart quartets with two of Haydn’s, and next Sunday the Escher String Quartet will offer two Schumann quartets alongside works by Mendelssohn....

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