Siegmund (Sigi) Nissel was born in Munich to a Jewish family from Vienna. He began playing the violin at the age of 6. His mother died when he was 9. He was taken by his father to Vienna, where his teachers included Max Weissgärber. Soon the political situation became dangerous for Jews in Austria and so, in 1938, the young Nissel was sent from Vienna to Great Britain.
When World War II started Nissel was interned on the Isle of Man. There he met the violinist Peter Schidlof and later Norbert Brainin. They played a lot of music together. Then they were set free because they were talented musicians. They studied with the famous violin teacher Max Rostal. There they met the British cellist, Martin Lovett whose wife was a pupil of Rostal. The four men played string quartets together, with Peter Schidlof now playing viola. At first they called themselves the Brainin Quartet, but then Nissel had the idea of the name Amadeus Quartet (Amadeus being one of Mozart's names).
The Amadeus Quartet (which their friends often called the Wolf Gang), gave its first concert in the Wigmore Hall, London in 1948. The hall was full and hundreds of people were turned away. After this concert they were invited to perform all over the world. They became the most famous string quartet group of their time. They made about 200 recordings. They were especially known for playing quartets by the great classical composers Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, but they also played works by 20th-century composers such as Bartók and Benjamin Britten (who wrote his third quartet for them).
Nissel was the one who organized all the business side for the group.
When Schidlof died from a heart attack in 1987, the Amadeus Quartet no longer existed. Nissel became a well-known teacher of young quartets at the Royal Academy of Music.
Although he had an operation for a brain tumour in 1960 and also a heart bypass he lived to the age of 86. He was a family man who had a wife, son, daughter and three grandchildren. He had many honours including an OBE (1970), and honorary doctorates from York University and the Royal Academy of Music.
Further reading [change]
- Muriel Nissel, Married to the Amadeus: Life with a String Quartet, [ISBN 1-900357-12-7], Giles de la Mare Publishers Limited, 1998 (a memoir of her "marriage" to the Amadeus by Nissel's wife)
Siegmund Nissel - Obituary: The Independent, 26 May 2008