Monday, September 21, 2009

August Wilhelmj

August Wilhelmj (August Emil Daniel Ferdinand Viktor Wilhelmj) was a German violinist, composer, and teacher born on September 21, 1845 (Brahms was 12 years old.) Today, he is remembered for his arrangement (for violin and piano) of J.S. Bach’s Air from the second movement of his third orchestral suite. He has also been called the German Paganini. He gave his first concert at the age of eight in Wiesbaden and, after Liszt recommended him, he studied with Ferdinand David (concertmaster of the Gewandhaus Orchestra) at the Leipzig Conservatory from 1861 to 1863. For another year, he studied with Joachim Raff in Frankfurt (1864.) In 1865, at age 20, he began his concert career, making a number of world tours. He was the concertmaster at the Bayreuth Festival in 1876 when the first performance of Richard Wagner’s Ring took place. He first played in the U.S. on September 26, 1878, at Steinway Hall on 14th Street (New York.) That concert was a resounding success. From 1886 to 1894 he taught in Dresden, and then he was appointed professor of music at the Guildhall School of Music in London in 1894. It has been said that he possessed a broad, powerful, rich tone and that is probably true since he was over six feet tall - an unusual height for a violinist.* Wilhelmj was also said to play in a very expressive and sensitive style. He played on many different violins but his favorite was one by Stradivari dated 1725, which he acquired in 1866 and which now bears his name. When he retired, he sold that violin to one of his pupils. One of his American pupils was Nahan Franko, concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for many years (1883-1907) and the first American to conduct at the Met (1904.) Wilhelmj’s compositions range from chamber music – which nobody bothers to play anymore - to arrangements of other composers’ well-known pieces, to cadenzas for violin concertos. Wilhelmj died on January 22, 1908, at age 62 (Heifetz was 7 years old.) 

*Arnold Steinhardt, Erick Friedman, Karl Halir, and Arthur Judson are/were also very tall. 

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