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Elegy, Op.10. London, [1844].

Heinrich Wilhelm ERNST (1814-1865)

October 2014

(b.Brno, 6 May 1814; d.Nice, 8 Oct 1865)

Ernst was one of the nineteenth century’s greatest violinists, celebrated as much for his soulful cantilena as for his dazzling technique.  This year’s bicentenary of his birth has suggested the following display of some of his most popular works in their first, or first London, editions.

A pupil at the Vienna Conservatory from the age of 11 (his composition teacher being Beethoven’s friend Ignaz von Seyfried), Ernst’s life was changed by hearing and playing to Paganini.  He shadowed the legendary Italian around Germany, closely studying and imitating his astonishing technical feats, and eventually came to be regarded by peers such as Schumann, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt and Berlioz as Paganini’s successor and in some respects superior.  Early success in Paris was followed by widespread European touring and in 1843 by a debut in London, where he established a further career as a fine chamber-music player. He eventually settled here in 1855 but was compelled by chronic ill-health to retire two years later.

Always of delicate appearance and pale or sallow complexion, Ernst was sometimes called ‘the Chopin of the violin’ – the epitome of violin malinconia. His Concerto pathétique, described by Berlioz as “a magisterial work”, is now seen as a probable influence on the Sibelius Concerto. However even more emotive to contemporary audiences was the Elégie, Opus 10. Later subtitled chant sur la mort d’un object chéri, this is said to commemorate the tragic death some years earlier of Ernst’s first fiancée.   (The piece plays a key role in Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata).