Sunday, April 28, 2013

Antonin Bennewitz

Antonin Bennewitz (Antonin Benevic) was a Czech violinist, teacher, and conductor born (in Privrat, Bohemia) on March 26, 1833.  Johannes Brahms was born the same year, about a month later.  Bennewitz is one of those violinists who, despite significant achievements and the advantages that accrue to a very long life, somehow manage to get overlooked by historians.  He is mostly mentioned in connection with three or four famous pupils he had.  The most famous of these are probably Otakar Sevcik, Josef Suk, and Karl Halir.  From the age of 12, from 1846 to 1852, he studied at the Prague Conservatory with another obscure violinist, Moritz Mildner (teacher also – at about the same time - of Ferdinand Laub, one of Tchaikovsky’s favorite violinists.)  In 1852, he became concertmaster of the Estates Theatre orchestra.  He was 19 years old.  He stayed for nine years.  The Estates Theatre was a very important concert venue in Europe.  As part (since 1920) of the present-day Czech National Theatre, it still is.  Mozart’s Don Giovanni had its world premiere there in 1787.  Paganini gave concerts there.  Gustav Mahler and Karl Goldmark also conducted concerts there.  Bennewitz undertook short concert tours during his years at the Estates Theatre and subsequently played in orchestras in Stuttgart and Salzburg.  He participated in various premieres of chamber music and orchestral works by Czech composers, as violinist or conductor – Bedrich Smetana was one of them.  In 1866, he became violin teacher at the Prague Conservatory.  He was 33 years old.  He became first violinist of the Bennewitz String Quartet in 1876.  In 1882, he was made Director of the Prague Conservatory.  He remained for nineteen years – Antonin Dvorak took over in November of 1901.  After 1901, Bennewitz seems to have disappeared.  He died on May 29, 1926, at age 93.  Brahms was long dead by then and Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy, Jean Sibelius, Richard Strauss, and Igor Stravinsky had already revolutionized the musical landscape.  I am sure Bennewitz played a superlative violin, though I could not find a single source which mentioned any specific instrument.  The Bennewitz Quartet is alive and well, having been resurrected in 1998.  

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