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Carte de visite photograph. Photographer unknown, [c.1855].

Franz ABT (1819-1885)

December 2019

Abt, Franz Wilhelm (b.Eilenburg, 22 December 1819; d.Wiesbaden, 31 March 1885)

Franz Abt, the bicentenary of whose birth falls this month, was arguably the most successful German lieder composer of the mid-19th century.  His earliest publications were salon pieces for piano, but from about 1840 those which dominated his prolific work-list – it eventually ran to 622 opus numbers – were sets of songs and partsongs.  Many of these achieved worldwide popularity in their time, and in Germany more than a handful reached ‘national song’ status.

The son of a clergyman, Abt studied at the Thomasschule in Leipzig and read theology and music at university.  Having gained some conducting experience during his student years, he was offered several Kapellmeister posts from 1841 – notably in Zurich, where he stayed for eleven years, moving to Brunswick as Hofkapellmeister in 1852.  Outstandingly successful as a choral conductor and composer – his male-voice quartets in particular were thought to rival Mendelssohn’s – he toured internationally, including a major season in the USA in 1872.  A late development in his output was a series of children’s cantatas, often on fairy-tale themes.  These also became very popular, and an English edition of one of them is shown in the present display.

Abt retired on a pension in 1882 and spent his last few years in Wiesbaden. Monuments were erected to him in Brunswick in 1891 and Eilenburg in 1913.