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Henryk Wieniawski and his Second Violin Concerto

Henryk Wieniawski (July 10, 1835 –March 31, 1880) was a Polish violinist and composer who was born in Lublin, Poland, then a part of the Russian Empire. His father, Tobiasz Pietruszka, also known as Wolf Helman), was the son of a Jewish barber named Herschel Meyer Helman, from the Jewish neighborhood of Wieniawa, back in the days when barbers were also doctors. Wolf Helman changed his name to Tadeusz Wieniawski, taking on the name of his neighborhood to better blend in with his Polish environment. Prior to obtaining his medical degree, he had converted to Catholicism. He married Regina Wolff, the daughter of a noted Jewish physician from Warsaw.

Henryk’s talent for playing the violin was recognized early, and in 1843 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where special exceptions were made to admit this non-French, nine-year-old student. After graduation, Wieniawski toured extensively and gave many recitals, where he was often accompanied by his brother Józef on piano. In 1847, Wieniawski published his first opus, a Grand Caprice Fantastique, the start of a modest but important catalog of 24 opus numbers. From 1851 to 1853 he was touring Roussia with his brother and wrote his Violin Concerto No. 1 in F♯ minor, Op. 14.

When Wieniawski’s engagement to Isabella Hampton was opposed by her parents, he wrote his Légende, Op. 17. This work helped the parents change their mind, and the couple married in 1860. At the invitation of Anton Rubinstein, Wieniawski moved to St. Petersburg, where he lived from 1860 to 1872, taught many violin students, led the Russian Musical Society’s orchestra and string quartet, and wrote his Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22, un 1862. From 1872 to 1874, Wieniawski toured the United States with Rubinstein. Wieniawski then replaced Henri Vieuxtemps as violin professor at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles in 1875.

During his residence in Brussels, Wieniawski’s health declined, and he often had to stop in the middle of concerts. He started a tour of Russia in 1879 but was unable to complete it. He was taken to a hospital in Odessa after a concert. On February 14, 1880, Tchaikovsky’s patroness Nadezhda von Meck took him into her home and provided him with medical attention. His friends also arranged a benefit concert to help provide for his family. He died in Moscow a few weeks later from a heart attack.

Henryk Wieniawski was considered a violinist of genius and wrote some of the most important works in the violin repertoire, including his two extremely difficult violin concertos. Apparently he wrote a third concerto which he premiered in Russia in before his death, but it was never published and seems to have been lost. My collection includes the following works of his:

Fantaisie Brillante on Themes from Gounod’s Faust for Violin and Orchestra, op. 20.
Legende in gm, op. 17.
Violin Concerto No. 1 in f#m, op. 14.
Violin Concerto No. 2 in dm, op. 22.


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