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Composer & Violinist Henri Vieuxtemps Died in 1881

A protege of Charles de Bériot, he is remembered as one of the most celebrated violinist-composers of the 19th Century


Belgian composer and violin virtuoso Henri Vieuxtemps died on this day in 1881, aged 61.

Henry Vieuxtemps enjoyed a high-profile solo career, appearing all across Europe and the United States. He taught at the Brussels Conservatoire in 1871 and is credited in developing the Franco-Belgian violin school alongside his teacher, Charles de Bériot.

A child prodigy, Vieuxtemps was born in Verviers, Belgium, on February 17, 1820, the son of a weaver and luthier. Beginning violin studies at age four with his father, he ultimately embarked on an over 40-year professional career.

With support from a local aristocrat, Vieuxtemps studied with violinist Joseph Lecloux-Dejonc and made his public solo debut at age six playing the fifth Rode Concert and a Fontaine Melody with an orchestra.

On a tour of Europe with his father at age seven, Vieuxtemps was noticed by de Bériot, who took over his violin, piano, singing, and composition studies. After de Bériot left Belgium to follow singer and future wife Maria Malibran, Vieuxtemps began teaching himself at age 11 and also became an accomplished viola player.

He continued on a tour of Germany, impressing Louis Spohr and Robert Schumann, who compared him to Niccolò Paganini. In 1834, at age 14, Vieuxtemps was the first to play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto after the composer’s death and composed two cadenzas to the concerto.

“With Henri, one can safely close one’s eyes,” wrote Schumann on hearing the 14-year old Vieuxtemps play. “His playing is like a flower, at once both fragrant and bright.”

Vieuxtemps owned and played what is now the “Ex-Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesù made in 1741. It is currently played exclusively by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.

Briefly taking composition lessons from Anton Reicha, Vieuxtemps composed seven violin concertos (the eighth was unfinished), two cello concertos, four viola works, three string quartets, and over 50 other works including vocal pieces, chamber works, plus transcriptions and arrangements.

A highly successful solo artist, he toured America three times across three decades. Additionally, from 1846 to 1851, he was a court musician to Russia’s Tsar Nicholas I and a soloist in the Imperial Theatre. In Russia, he also premiered his well-known Concerto No. 4 in D minor and was offered professor of violin at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

Vieuxtemps left his home near Frankfurt in 1866 and settled in Paris due to political conflicts.

While in France in 1873 for a charity concert supporting casualties of the Franco-Prussian War, he suffered a stroke, causing him to lose control of his right arm. This affected his ability to teach and while he continued playing, he did very little publicly. He died in 1880 in a sanatorium in Algeria.





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