Ernst, Heinrich Wilhelm

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Ernst, Heinrich Wilhelm

Ernst, Heinrich Wilhelm, famous Moravian violinist and composer, father of Alfred Ernst; b. Briinn, May 6, 1814; d. Nice, Oct. 8, 1865. He made his first public appearance at age 9. He became a student of Bohm at the Vienna Cons. (1825), and also studied composition with Seyfried; later continued his training with Mayseder. After Paganini visited Vienna in 1828, Ernst decided to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Italian virtuoso. He launched his career in 1829. He made his Paris debut in 1831, and then toured throughout Europe with enormous success. On July 18, 1843, he made his London debut, and thereafter made regular visits to the British capital before settling there in 1855. He subsequently participated in a series of celebrated quartet performances with Joachim, Wieniawski, and Piatti. Ernst was also a distinguished violist, and played Berlioz’s Harold in Italy under the composer’s direction in Brussels (1842), St. Petersburg (1847), and London (1855). Stricken with tuberculosis, he was compelled to abandon his brilliant career in 1859. He spent his last years in Nice. After the death of Paganini in 1840, Ernst was duly acknowledged as the greatest violin virtuoso of his time. Unlike Paganini, he did not restrict himself to virtuoso showpieces. He was also a composer of brilliant works for the violin. Among his approximately 30 compositions are the celebrated Èlégie, op. 10 (Vienna, 1840), the Othello Fantasy on themes of Rossini, op. 11, Le Carnaval de Venise (Leipzig, 1844), and the Concerto pathétique in F-sharp minor (1st perf. by Ernst in Vienna, 1846; publ. in Leipzig, 1851). He also wrote 6 Polyphonic Studies for Solo Violin, as well as a transcription of Schubert’s Erlkönig, pieces of fiendish difficulty for even the most gifted executant.


A. Heller, H. W. E. im Urteile seiner Zeitgenossen (Brünn, 1904; Eng. tr., 1986, as H. W. E. as Seen by His Contemporaries).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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