Wieniawski, Henryk

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Wieniawski, Henryk

Wieniawski, Henryk (also known as Henri), famous Polish violinist, teacher, and composer, brother of Jozef Wieniawski and uncle of Adam Tadeusz Wieniawski; b. Lublin, July 10, 1835; d. Moscow, March 31, 1880. His mother, Regina Wolff-Wieniawska, was a talented pianist. He began training with Jan Hornziel and Stanislaw Serwaczynski in Warsaw; upon the advice of his mother’s brother, Edouard Wolff, who lived in France, she took Henryk to Paris, where he entered the Cons. at the age of 8, first in Clavel’s class and, the following year, in the advanced class of Massart. At the age of 11 he graduated with first prize in violin, an unprecedented event in the annals of the Paris Cons. After further private studies with Massart (1846-48), he made his Paris debut on Jan. 30, 1848, in a concert accompanied by his brother at the piano. He gave his first concert in St. Petersburg on March 31, 1848, and played 4 more concerts there. He then played in Finland and the Baltic provinces; after several successful appearances in Warsaw, he returned in 1849 to Paris, where he studied composition with Hippolyte Collet at the Cons., graduating with an “accessit” prize in 1850. From 1851 to 1853 he gave about 200 concerts in Russia with his brother. He also devoted much time to composition, and by age 18 had composed and publ. his virtuoso 1st Violin Concerto, which he played with extraordinary success in Leipzig that same year. In 1858 he appeared with Anton Rubinstein in Paris and in 1859 in the Beethoven Quartet Society concerts in London, where he appeared as a violisi as well as a violinist. In 1860 he went to St. Petersburg and was named solo violinist to the Czar, and also concertmaster of the orch. and 1st violinist of the string quartet of the Russian Musical Soc; likewise, he served as prof, of violin at the newly founded Cons. (1862-68). He continued to compose and introduced his greatly esteemed 2nd Violin Concerto in St. Petersburg on Nov. 27, 1862, with Rubinstein conducting. In 1872 he went on a tour of the U.S. with Rubinstein; one of the featured works was Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, which they performed about 70 times. When Rubinstein returned to Europe, Wieniawski continued his American tour, which included Calif. He returned to Europe in 1874, gave several concerts with Rubinstein in Paris and, in the same year, succeeded Vieuxtemps as prof, of violin at the Brussels Cons., resigning in 1877 owing to an increasingly grave heart condition. He suffered an attack during a concert in Berlin on Nov. 11, 1878, but still agreed to play several concerts in Russia; he made his farewell appearance in Odessa in April 1879. His last months were spent in Moscow, where he was taken to the home of Madame von Meek, Tchaikovsky’s patroness, in Feb. 1880. He was married to Isobel Hampton, an Englishwoman; their youngest daughter, Irene, wrote music under the pen name Poldowski. Wieniawski was undoubtedly one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century; he possessed a virtuoso technique and an extraordinary range of dynamics. He was equally distinguished as a chamber music player. As a composer,he remains best known today for his 2 violin concertos and an outstanding set of études. He also composed numerous other orch. works as well as pieces for solo or 2 violins. A complete ed. of his works commenced publication in Krakow in 1962.


A. Desfossez, Henri W.: Esquisse (The Hague, 1856); J. Reiss, Henryk W.(Warsaw, 1931; 2nd ed., 1970); I. Yampolsky, G. Vinyavsky (Moscow, 1955); V. Grigoriev, G. Vinyavsky (Moscow, 1966); W. Duleba, Henryk W.(Krakow, 1967); W. Grigoriew, Henryk W.: Zycie i twórczosc (Warsaw, 1986); E. Grabkowski, H. W.: Anegdoty i ciekawostki (Krakow, 1991).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire