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Henryk Wieniawski

Polish Born 10 Jul 1835 Died 31 Mar 1880

Born in Lublin, Poland, in 1835 Wieniawksi was to be the most celebrated member of a musical family. His mother was Regina Wieniawska (née Wolff), a professionally trained pianist and the sister of the pianist and composer Edouard Wolff. His younger brother, Józef, and nephew, Adam Tadeusz Wieniawski, were to go on to be composers themselves.

Early lessons with Jan Hornziel revealed Henryk's exceptional talent for the violin, and when he performed in Warsaw the Czech violinist Panofka is said to have predicted that he would 'make a name for himself.' In 1843 Wieniawski successfully auditioned for the Paris Conservatoire, wherapon he was admitted to Clavel's class. A year later he was transferred to Lambert Massart's master class, under whose tutelage he was awarded first prize for violin (1846), and with whom he continued to study both in the Conservatoire and as a private pupil until 1848. In the January of that year he gave a concert in Paris, accompanied by his brother Józef at the piano. Following this he went on to perform in St. Petersburg (earning praise from the solo violinist at court, Vieuxtemps ), Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Dresden and the then Breslav, now called Wrocław. On his return to Poland at the end of the year Wieniawski struck up a friendship with Stanisław Moniuszko. In 1849, beginning to compose and feeling the need for further tutelage he began studies of harmony with Collet at the Paris Conservatoire, during which time he was made an honorary member of the Societé Philharmonique and attained the Cercle-des-Arts.

Between 1851 and 1853 Wieniawski travelled in Russia with his brother who was becoming an accomplished pianist, giving around 200 concerts. During this period he continued to compose, and he published around 14 works, including the Souvenir de Moscou (op.6) and L’école moderne. The performance of his Violin Concerto no.1 in F# minor at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in Germany, in 1853, was critically acclaimed, and led to his increasing fame, as he went on to give further concerts in throughout western Europe, including an extensive tour of the British Isles. It was during this time, in 1860, that he met and married Isabella Hampton, the niece of George Osborne.

Urged on by Anton Rubinstein, with whom he had performed in Paris in 1858, Wieniawski moved to St. Petersburg in an attempt to improve the position of music in Russia. For the next twelve years (1860-72) his extremely active role took in his appointment as solo violinist to the Tsar, leader of the orchestra and the string quartet of the Russian Musical Society, professor of the violin at the newly established St. Petersburg Conservatoire (1862-68) and a strong involvement in the growth of the Russian violin school. In these years he continued to compose, producing some of his finest work, including the Etudes-caprices (op.18), the Polonaise brillante (op.21).Wieniawski's compositions show a combination of the technical advances of Paganini with Romantic imagination and a strong influence from his Polish upbringing. His two violin concertos are regarded as the most important of his works. Whilst his first concerto had proved extremely popular,his performance of his Second Violin Concerto in D minor (dedicated to the violinist and composer Sarasate ) on 27th November 1862 caused even the stern critic Cui to write that two days later he still hadn't 'recovered from the impact of that first Allegro.'

In 1872 Wienawski and Rubinstein began a long, exhausting tour of North America, after a year of which Rubinstein left Henryk to continue without him. Wieniawski continued for another year, earning a fortune, but severely endangering his health in the process. On returning to Europe he was appointed as successor to Vieuxtemps at the Brussels Conservatoire where he taught from 1875 to 1877. At the same time he continued his concert tours despite his deteriorating health due to a severe heart condition. On 11th November 1878 he broke down during a performance of his Second Concerto and had to be carried off the stage. His colleague Joachim, watching in the audience, stepped into the breach, announcing 'Although I cannot play my friend’s wonderful concerto, I shall play Bach ’s Chaconne’. He earned an embrace from the extremely weak Wieniawski when his performance came to an end.

Despite his rapidly failing health, resulting in interupted performances and a spell in a hospital in Odessa, Wienawski continued to tour Russia, apparently in need of the income. In November 1879 his health finally completely failed him and he was admitted to the Mariinsky Hospital in Moscow, later being moved to the palatial home of Madame von Meck, Tchaikovsky's patroness. On 31st March 1880 he died, two months before the birth of Irene, his youngest daughter.

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