After Paganini, Ernst and Vieuxtemps, HENRYK WIENIAWSKI continued the brilliant performing artistry of the romantic school and composed music which reflected his uniqueness as a violinist. In most cases, however, very few of his works can be said to rise above the level of pure virtuosity.
Wieniawski’s compositional output is modest – it numbers around fifty works, mostly miniatures, of which about 30 have been published, a few survive in manuscripts and the rest are destroyed.
Like many other great artists, Wieniawski also had his personal dramatic moments which interfered with his professional aura. He grew up as a child-prodigy and at the tender age of eight was offered patronage by Lambert-Joseph Massart, a professor at the Paris Conservatory. At eleven he was awarded a gold medal by the Conservatory, and as he completed his education, he received a medal and a Guarneri violin as a gift from the Russian Emperor Nicholas I.
From that moment Wieniawski started his numerous tours around Europe and Russia.
An important turning point in his life was the assignment he received to the position of soloist of the Imperial Theatres in Russia in 1860. In the same year, he married Isabella Hampton, the daughter of Lord Thomas Hampton, at a ceremony attended by Berlioz and Rossini.
This marriage entailed a tremendous financial and emotional burden for the musician – on the demand of his wife’s parents, he made a 200 thousand francs life insurance, which he had difficulty paying and which is often cited as the cause for his health problems. At twenty
-seven he began to go deaf, at thirty-two he could no longer stand upright at his
concerts because of swellings and rheumatism and had to play seated. His life course ended when he was just forty- five.
Wieniavski’s career as lecturer had two important highlights: the first one in 1862, when he became the first violin and chamber music professor at the newly established Sankt-Peterburg Conservatory, with Leopold Auer taking up his post as a lecturer upon his resignation; the second important moment dates between 1875 and 1877, when his brightest pupil Eugène Ysaÿe studied in his class at the Brussels Conservatoire.
In 1874, Henryk Wieniawski made an extensive tour with Anton Rubinstein in the United States – they gave 215 concerts for 244 days, which inevitably incurred him exhaustion and stress. The American press did not make even one reference of Wieniawski’s nationality during the time of his tour. He was referred to as “Herr Wieniawski” or “Mr. Wieniawski”, whereas not just his Polish nationality but also his French education and influence were never mentioned.
In order to pay off his unfortunate insurance, Wieniawski embarked on another series of tours in Russia, where he was afflicted by health problems. The insurance policy was redeemed with funds collected at a benevolent concert on his behalf. A month later Wieniawski passed away in the home of Nadezhda von Meck.
Like most violin virtuosi of the epoch, Wieniawski demonstrably excelled in the small forms – it is in them he appears an incomparable melodist, distinctly expressive, poetic and brilliant.
If Chopin used the mazurkas and polonaises to declare his identity and took political stand in defence of Polish national identity, Wieniawski intended no such demonstrations. He considered the structure of the mazurka and polonaise particularly conducive to music composition, but did not strictly adhere to their stylistics.
The Concert polonaise for violin and piano Op. 4 in D Major (completed 1852, published 1853), drew inspiration from Karol Lipinski, to whom it was dedicated. In the autumn of 1848, while he was thirteen, Wieniawski came with his parents to Dresden. There he made the acquaintance of Lipinski, who was at the time the concertmaster of the Opera. For a while, Lipinski gave lessons to the young talent, especially in Baroque and Classical stylistics, as well as in the interpretation of Paganini. This and other early works reveal his artistic character, not just in terms of mentality as manifested in their brilliance, elegance, warmth or melancholy, but also in terms of the level of his technical skills.