Henri Vieuxtemps, classical music composer

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Henri Vieuxtemps


Though not as common a name as those of the great masters of the late 19th century, Henri Vieuxtemps was nonetheless an influential composer and performer. His work as a performer and teacher greatly influenced violin performance during the latter part of the century, and his advocacy of the concertos of Beethoven and Mendelssohn helped to raise the expectations of the violin above the technically brilliant showpieces that riddled the instrument's repertoire.

The son of a weaver and amateur violinist, Vieuxtemps was born in Verviers, Belgium on February 17, 1820. He received his first lessons on the violin from his father at the age of four, and further studied with Lecioux-Dejonc, a local musician. At the age of six, Vieuxtemps made his concert debut playing a concerto by Pierre Rode. Vieuxtemps excelled quickly on his instrument and was soon concertizing in nearby cities, including Liege and Brussels. In Brussels, he drew the attention of Charles Auguste de Bériot with whom he soon began studying.

In 1829, Bériot took Vieuxtemps to Paris, where the young lad impressed audiences with another performance of a Rode concerto. His time in the French capital, however, was brief. The unsettling time of the July Revolution, Bériot's marriage to Maria Malibran and his extensive concert schedule, forced Béroit to discontinue his private lessons with Vieuxtemps. Thus, Vieuxtemps returned to Brussels, where he continued to develop his technique and developed further as a musician with the help of Malibran's younger sister, Pauline Viardot.

A tour of Germany in 1833, accompanied by his father, led to introductions with Louis Spohr and Robert Schumann, who praised Vieuxtemps as being comparable to the famous Niccolò Paganini. While in Vienna to perform Beethoven's violin concerto, he decided to stay in the city to pursue his dream of also becoming a composer by studying with the notable Simon Sechter. In 1834 at his London debut, he met Paganini and the two had a mutual respect for each other. The following year, he returned to Paris where he further studied composition with Anton Reicha. During this time, he composed his first violin concerto (which was later published as Concerto No. 2).

Vieuxtemps soon embarked on a concert tour of Russia in 1837, and another tour followed in 1840. He composed his second concerto for the violin, which received critical acclaim. With Sigismond Thalberg, he embarked on his first concert tour of the United States in 1843-44. Following his return and marriage to the Viennese pianist Josephine Eder, Vieuxtemps accepted a position at the court of Tsar Nicholas I. He remained in Russia until 1851 and during that time was influential in establishing the "Russian School" of violin playing at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He also composed his most popular concerto, his Fourth in D minor, while in Russia.

In 1851, he returned to concertizing. He left Europe for his second American tour in 1857 where he continued to garner praise from critics and audiences. In 1871, he returned to his native Belgium by accepting a teaching post at the Brussels Conservatory, where his most notable student was the virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe. His tenure there, however, was brief. Two years after accepting the position, Vieuxtemps suffered from a stroke that left his right arm paralyzed. Though he regained enough function of his arm to perform in private settings, another stroke 1879 ended his career as a performer for good.

Vieuxtemps spent his last years in Mustapha Supérieur, Algeria, where his daughter and her husband had settled. He continued to compose, though his inability to perform and his distance from the musical centers of Europe were a constant frustration for him. Vieuxtemps passed away on June 6, 1881.

Composer Title Date Action
Henri Vieuxtemps Capriccio for Solo Viola 01/14/2009 Play Add to playlist
Henri Vieuxtemps Rondino 03/18/2009 Play Add to playlist
Henri Vieuxtemps Sonata in B-flat Major for Viola and Piano 10/16/2009 Play Add to playlist
Henri Vieuxtemps Capriccio per viola sola 01/24/2011 Play Add to playlist
Henri Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Minor, Op. 37, 1st movement 02/11/2018 Play Add to playlist