Henri Vieuxtemps

1820 1881

Henri Vieuxtemps



Henri Vieuxtemps was a famous 19th-century Belgian violinist, teacher and composer. All his works—orchestra, chamber and solo—include a prominent violin part. As a teacher, he greatly developed the Russian violin school in addition to influencing violin technique and performance across Europe.

Henri Joseph François Vieuxtemps was born in Verviers, Belgium in 1820. He had two brothers, both of whom also possessed musical talent. One of his brothers was a pianist while his other brother, Jules Joseph Ernest Vieuxtemps, 12 years his junior, became an accomplished cellist, playing in theConcertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam before being appointed principal cellist of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester in 1858.

Henri received his first violin lesson at the age of four from his father, an enthusiastic amateur violinist, violin-maker and weaver by trade. He went on to study with Lecloux-Dejonc, eventually making a public debut with the performance of concerto by Pierre Rode at the age of six. Within just a few short years, at the age of eight, Vieuxtemps embarked on his first concert tour, travelling to cities including Liège and Brussels. His performances caught the attention of violinist Charles de Bériot, who took the young boy under his wing and introduced him to the appreciative Parisian public in 1829.  

Due to both personal circumstances and his busy concert career, Bériot was no longer able to teach Vieuxtemps from 1831 on. Vieuxtemps instead went Brussels to work with Bériot’s sister-in-law Pauline Garcia, with whom he performed many duets. In 1833, accompanied by his father, Henri Vieuxtemps went on a concert tour of Germany and Austria. He decided to settle in Vienna after having performedBeethoven’s Violin Concerto, taking composition lessons from Simon Sechter. Before leaving to study composition further in Paris with Antonin Reicha, Vieuxtemps made his London debut in 1834, where he met and heard the famous violinistPaganini and not only was Vieuxtemps impressed by Paganini, but Paganini was, in turn, greatly impressed by Vieuxtemps.

After composing his first violin concerto in 1836, which was later published as Violin Concerto no. 2 in F-sharp, Vieuxtemps departed on another concert tour to Russia in 1837. After suffering a temporarily debilitating illness, Vieuxtemps returned to Russia in 1840 for another concert tour, during which he composed his critically acclaimed Second Violin Concerto, which was also enthusiastically received in Paris.

Vieuxtemps toured the United States between 1843 and 1844, meeting and marrying Viennese pianist, Josephine Eder, along the way. Settling down for a brief period, Vieuxtemps accepted a position as court violinist in St. Petersburg. While there, he composed his Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor, op. 31, which has become his most popular work.

After leaving St. Petersburg in 1851, Vieuxtemps continued his career as a concert violinist, embarking on a second year-long tour of the United States in 1857. Again, he was met with praise by both the public and critics. In 1855, he and his wife settled in Frankfurt, where he composed his Violin Concerto no. 5 (1861). Political instability led the couple to move to Paris in 1866. After her sudden and unexpected death in 1868, Vieuxtemps began touring again before settling on a teaching position at the Brussels Conservatory in 1871; his students there included Eugène Ysaÿe.

Just a mere two years later, Vieuxtemps suffered a stroke, leaving him with a paralyzed hand—a terrible fate for a concert violinist. This marked the end of his solo concert career and his position at the conservatory, though he was eventually able to regain a portion of his ability and he began to perform chamber music in private concert settings. His inability to continue playing at a high level greatly frustrated him. During his final years, Vieuxtemps was, however, able to compose a number of works. In 1879, Vieuxtemps left Europe, moving to Algeria where his daughter resided. He died in Mustapha-lez-Alger, Algeria in 1881.

Vieuxtemps was considered one of the greatest violinists during his lifetime, combining virtuoso technique with a luscious tone quality. The violin on which he played, the “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu, has been exclusively used by violinistAnne Akiko Meyers since 2013. The violin is considered “the Mona Lisa of violins” and is one of the most impressive violins ever made.

His compositions included many pieces for the violin along with seven violin concertos, a violin sonata, three string quartets and cadenzas for Beethoven concertos. He also composed several pieces for the viola, including the Viola Sonata in B-flat major, op. 36,Capriccio for solo viola, op. 55 and Elegie in F minor, all of which have been recorded by French viola player Anton Tamestit . Many violin virtuosos have recorded Vieuxtemps’ compositions includingJascha Heifetz, Reto Kuppel, Francesco Parrino, Leonid Kogan and Natasha Korsakova.