Henryk Wieniawski in Poznań
Altogether, Henryk Wieniawski gave 18 concerts in Poznań, incl. eleven performed with his brother, Józef (a pianist). On the artist’s concert map, of all Polish towns, the capital of Wielkopolska is second only to Warsaw. One has to very strongly stress the patriotic aspect of Wieniawski’s appearances in Poznań. At the time, Wielkopolska, part of the Grand Duchy of Poznań, belonged to the Prussian State, and in Poznań itself, the German community constituted a significant part of its population. The process of Germanisation consistently pursued by the Germans, did not favour development of national culture, science and art. Repression – even for using the native tongue – affected all layers of Polish society. Thus, for Poznanians, musical events, in particular those featuring Polish artists and Polish works, became occasions to manifest their patriotism, sense of community and national bonds. These were also visits to the town by the Wieniawski brothers, and later, by Henryk alone that became true celebrations, while their compositions, which drew on Polish national dances, were received with particular affection and great warmth. Naturally, these were also German inhabitants of Poznań that applauded Wieniawski’s violin artistry, for German press, too, dwelled on his successful European concert tours.
In April 1854, when the Wieniawskis accompanied by their mother, Regina née Wolff, arrived to play concerts in Poznań, the capital of the Wielkopolska region, Henryk was nineteen, and Józef fifteen. Both highly talented and thoroughly musically educated at Paris Conservatory, since 1848 they performed an artistic duo. They were highly successful and played throughout Europe: Paris, Germany, Russia, the Baltic countries, as well as Warsaw, their native Lublin, Kalisz and Cracow. Reprinted by local papers, enthusiastic reviews of the young musicians’ performances reached Poznań.
Franz Lachner, conductor of the court orchestra in Munich, wrote:
It is not the place to discuss in detail particular aspects of Mr Wieniawski’s technique, suffice it to say that when it comes to bringing out the tone, to bowing, staccato, arpeggios, and the so-called Doppelgriffe in sixths, thirds and tenths, greater perfection is inconceivable. Also the fifteen-year-old Józef Wieniawski, the pianofortist, is an accomplished artist. Elegance, refinement and power of his strike, distinctness and roundness of his delivery already place him among the finest European artists.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the young artists’ displays were awaited in Poznań with great interest.
First concerts in Poznań – April 1854
During their first stay in the town, the Wieniawskis performed three times: on 21, 22 and 23 April 1854 at the Municipal Theatre (present-day “Arkadia” building in Wolności Square). The concert on 23 April had a particularly solemn character, for Henryk was presented with a gold medal awarded by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV Hohenzollern of Prussia “in recognition of services rendered to the artistick profession”. In line with the custom of the time, besides violin and piano works played by Henryk and Józef, the programme of the evening also featured solo songs sung by Poznań soloists, Mésdames Flintzer-Haupt and Göthe, recitation performed by Mr Czaschke, as well as dramatic pieces: The Three Heroes by Kalisch (21 April), Lifehold (22 April) by Maltitz, and The Merry One, or the Chorister on a Journey (23 April) by Schneider, delivered in German by actors of the Municipal Theatre. The Wieniawski Brothers presented an extensive programme, whose variety and difficulty of interpretation still remains impressive. Henryk played his favourite work, i.e. Violin Concerto in E minor Op. 64 by Mendelssohn, as well as virtuoso pieces, so typical of the 19th-century instrumental practice: Ernst’s Fantasie on a Theme from Rossini’s “Otello”, Paganini’s Variations on “Di tanti palpiti” from Rossini’s “Tancredi”, and Vieuxtemps’ Air-varié in D major.
Of his own compositions, the violinist performed Adagio élique and Polonaise à la gualdiera, as well as transcription of Ernst’s/Paganini’s Carnival of Venice. Józef, in turn, treated the Poznań audiences to Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt, Capriccio-brillante in A minor Op. 22 by Mendelssohn, and Piano Concerto by Weber, as well as his own pieces: Barcarole Op. 9, and Valse de Concert Op. 3. However, it was the brothers’ joint work, Grand Duo Polonaise Op. 8, that caused greatest sensation and won greatest admiration. The “Gazeta Wielkiego Księstwa Poznańskiego” [Grand Duchy of Poznań Gazette] wrote about the piece:
It is already the introduction that from afar heralds something national, something hidden, like the pattern, the design hidden in lace, which you will not guess at the first glance, yet when you look closely, you will recognise, where the masterly hand wove it. Suddenly, a shift, a chord, and already a cracovienne is gliding in front of your ears’ eyes, yet it is only hinted, and soon it so looms that only a cloudlet, a thin wisp of smoke lingers to finally disappear in a swoosh of tones, with which, as if along the gallery, you proceed to the salon, where a grave polonaise shall sound, but even this will not last, and you will have to part with it in distress, for it is so charming, so brave that you could listen to it all through the night, had not an outline to the concert been drawn; thus, all that was left for us to do was to honour the artist compatriots with a thunder of applause and ask them for more.
Second visit to Poznań – June 1854
Received so warmly by Poznań audiences, following their engagements in Königsberg, Danzig, Bromberg and Elbings, the Wieniawskis returned to Wielkopolska for a longer stay in June the same year. They stayed not only in Poznań, but also in Miłosław, at Count Seweryn Mielżyński’s estate. The venue for the first five concerts – on 9, 11, 13, 15 and 26 June 1854 was the White Hall of the Bazar Hotel, where the young virtuosi also stayed.
One has to stress that the concert on 15 June was a charity event, and proceeds went to Towarzystwo Pomocy Naukowej (Scientific Aid Society). Most of the repertoire had been performed during the brothers’ first stay in Poznań; now, it was repeated to great success. Of compositions unknown in Poznań, the artists played “La Champêtre” (Idyll) Mazurka Op. 12 written by the elder brother. It is worth noting that it was at that time that work on Wieniawski’s unquestionably fundamental work, i.e. Études-Caprices Op. 10, entitled by the composer “L’École moderne”, was completed, and it was from Poznań that Henryk sent the score to Senff’s publishing house in Leipzig.
The brothers’ subsequent appearances became an attraction of St John’s Fair, which was held annually in the capital of Wielkopolska. Henryk and Józef Wieniawski performed at the Municipal Theatre on 29 June, as well as on 2 and 4 July 1854. Music lovers had an opportunity to listen to Souvenir de Posen Op. 3, a mazurka devoted to the town that was close to Henryk’s heart, i.e. Poznań, and dedicated by him to Countess Joanna Niemojowska of Września. Critic of the “Gazeta Wielkiego Księstwa Poznańskiego” reflected on the piece:
The spirit of the mazurka to the most secret mysteries penetrated, there is not a single bar, in which the melodie should not be bound with the characteristic, mazurka-denoting quality. The Wieniawskis so glorified the mazurkas to apotheosis that many an affectionate heart touched with the power of tender melody could not resist the magical might and gave in. Two ladies were reduced to sobs and could not finish listening to the wistfulness-permeated piece. We saw them leave the Hall; only later did we learn about the reason.
Souvenir de Posen is not the only work dedicated to ladies of the Wielkopolska region. Above all, one has to mention Romanza/Chanson polonaise written by Henryk to Dionizy Minasowicz’s lyrics. This vocal-instrumental piece was composed for Ludwika Turno from Objezierze, with whom the young violinist was apparently infatuated. One must not forget about the Kouiaviak written for Michalina Czapska from Bukowiec, either.
The brothers also played other compositions previously unheard in Poznań: Souvenir de Moscou Op. 6 and Capriccio-Valse Op. 7 composed by the elder, as well as pieces written by the younger, who performed both his own compositions, incl. Pensée fugitive Op. 8, and works by other artists, such as Polonaise by Liszt, Galop de bravura by Schulhoff, or Grand Fantasia on Bellini’s “Norma” by Thalberg. The event would not be complete without the brothers’ joint creation, Grand Duo Polonaise Op. 8, which was always awaited with immense interest and received with enthusiasm.
Alongside the young virtuosi performed the Polski Theatre from Cracow. It is worth noting that the Wieniawskis donated one evening’s proceeds to its actors. And Poznanians fêted Henryk and Józef simply extraordinarily, throwing a great ball in their honour. In the light of street lamps, a cavalcade of over one hundred carriages set off for the Hunters’ Palace in the Dębina Forest. The building was lit with lanterns and decorated with draperies, garlands and flowers. According to the “Posener Zeitung”, with tables laden with food, the feast to the sound of two orchestras, and the sight of firework extravaganza went on until the morning.
Three years later, the third time in Poznań – June / July 1857
As a duo, the Wieniawski brothers parted in 1855; afterwards, it was only on rare occasions that they played together. Thus, during his next visit to Poznań, Henryk performed alone. The first two concerts, on 24 and 27 June 1857, were held at the White Hall of the Bazar hotel. On Duchess Marcelina Czartoryska’s motion, proceeds from these concerts were donated to Towarzystwo Pomocy Naukowej. Wieniawski performed one of his favourite and frequently performed pieces, Felix Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor.
Further meetings with Wieniawski’s instrumental mastery took place at the Municipal Theatre on 28 June, as well as on 2 and 3 July 1857. Just like three years before, the violinist’s show interlaced with guest performances by Polish actors from Cracow. The programme was complete with arias from Donizetti’s and Verdi’s operas performed by the local soloist, Mr Wejgelt. Henryk interpreted well-known and eagerly awaited compositions, incl. Paganini’s Di tanti palpiti, his own transcription of The Carnival of Venice, Ernst’s Fantasie on a Theme from Rossini’s “Otello”, and – an obligatory piece – Souvenir de Posen. It was also Henryk’s Kouiaviak that sounded in Poznań for the first time. One has to note that at the time, i.e. in late-1850s, Wieniawski was more and more often compared to Paganini, and ranked among the most outstanding virtuosi of the time.
Last concerts - after more than twenty years and at the end of life - 1878
For his next visit, Poznań enthusiasts of Henryk Wieniawski’s art had to wait for more than two decades. A very eventful period in the virtuoso’s life, it abounded in beautiful, but also in difficult moments. The most important and happiest event was his marriage to an Englishwoman, Isabel Hampton. It was for her, that one of the most moving love melodies, the lyrical and sweet Legende Op. 17, was composed. As head of family, Wieniawski – until then only a performing artist – took up teaching; initially, since 1860, at the Petersburg Conservatory, and later, since 1874, at the Brussels Conservatory. Teaching obligations combined with numerous performances throughout Europe and Northern America seriously undermined Henryk’s health. Soon before his arrival in Poznań in November 1878, the violinist fell ill during a concert in Berlin. The “Kurier Poznański” wrote about the incident:
Our illustrious virtuoso suffers from a chronic heart condition, which surprised him that very night. After a while, Mr Wieniawski reappeared on stage to complete – seated in a chair – the piece he had started, but had to stop playing again. The audience showed the ailing virtuoso great sympathy. Luckily, one of the listeners was the outstanding Berlin violinist Joachim, who, acting on comradeship and friendship with the performer, although unprepared, undertook to substitute him. Before the audience left the room, it was reassured as to the state of Wieniawski’s health; accompanied by Joachim, he was able to come out on stage and thank listeners for understanding and sympathy, and his friend for the demanding favour.
In Poznań, the artist gave just one concert: at the White Hall of the Bazar hotel on 23 November 1878. The event also featured the Norwegian singer Lona Gulowsen accompanied by the German pianist Helena Geisler. Wieniawski, who felt much better after treatment he received in Poznań, presented an extensive and physically very demanding programme. Yet again, could one hear Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor; works not played by Henryk to Poznań audiences before – Prelude to Bach’s Sonata in E major, as well as his own compositions, Fantasia on Themes from Gounod’s “Faust” Op. 20, and the previously mentioned Legende – were also performed.
Wieniawski’s last visit to Poznań took place less than three weeks later, when the artist arrived on invitation of the Young Merchant Association. On 10 December 1878, he gave only one concert at the Odeum Lambert Hall (in “Apollo” Passageway). Despite deteriorating health, the violinist performed an extensive and difficult programme. The listeners witnessed the Poznań premiere of his Concerto in D minor Op. 22, a composition already familiar to audiences in Europe and America, as well as Polonaise in A major Op. 21. The virtuoso enriched the programme of his performance with Bach’s Chaconne, Beethoven’s Romance, and Ernst’s Air hongroise. Due to the closed character of the event, besides the poster and press announcements, there are no critical accounts of what was to become Henryk’s farewell meeting with the capital of Wielkopolska. We know that following the Poznań concerts, Wieniawski, who did not yield to the deepening cardiac condition, still went on a number of artistic tours of Russia and Finland. He died on 31 March 1880 in Moscow. It was with profound sadness that Poznań bid farewell to the great Pole and artist. The “Dziennik Poznański” published an obituary:
(...) Henryk Wieniawski was born in 1835 in Lublin. From his earliest childhood he exhibited profound musical talent, which prompted his parents to send him in 1843 to the conservatory in Paris, where, aged only 10, he received the first grand prize for playing the violin, and soon afterwards, to great success, he played a concert at the Sava Hall. Having left Paris, he played concerts in Warsaw and Petersburg. Since 1850, with his young brother, a well-known pianofortist, he made artistic tours of Europe. Wieniawski’s play was unusually sensitive, refined and noble. In the last 30 years, he performed with great success on stages of major towns of Europe and America, and even of the East. Thus, he duly deserved the name of an European artist, for these were not only his compatriots, but also foreigners who adequately valued him and admired his play. At the same time, Wieniawski was one of the most talented professors of the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, and twelve years ago he was appointed soloist-violinist of the Russian court. Sudden death ended this life full of glory and merit, and denied the illustrious musician closing his eyes in the company of those, whom he graced.
Wieniawski’s music is still alive and permanently present in Poznań. H. Wieniawski Musical Society cultivates traditions associated with the person and work of this outstanding Polish artist. It organises international violin, violin-making competitions of his name, as well as concerts of violin music. It is a centre of research on Wieniawski’s life and work, publisher of books and records devoted to the composer.
text: Teresa Dorożała-Brodniewicz
translated by: Waldemar Łyś