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August Wilhelmj (Arranger)

Born: September 21, 1845 - Usingen, Duchy of Nassau, Germany
Died: January 22, 1908 - London, England

August Daniel Ferdinand Victor Wilhelmj was a famous violinist and teacher. His father, who was a doctor of laws and for some time Attorney-General of Prussia, owned considerable property in vineyards at Hattenheim. Wilhelmj's mother, née Charlotte Petry, was an excellent pianist, a pupil of André, Offenbach and Frédéric Chopin. Wilhelmj's earliest instruction in violin-playing was given him in 1849, by Konrad Fischer, who was then the Duke of Nassau's Kapellmeister, at Wiesbaden. He developed into an able violinist at an early age, indeed his talent was so preoocious that when Henriette Sontag heard him in 1852 she embraced the seven-year-old child warmly, exclaiming: 'You will be the German Paganini.' Her prediction was destined to bear fruit speedily, for on January 8, 1854, Wilhemj made his first public appearance at a charity concert given at Lumbourg-on-the-Lahn, when he created a great impression; later his playing at the Court Theatre, Wiesbaden, is said to have 'astounded his audience.' Prince Emil von Wittgenstein sent Wilhelmj to Franz Liszt, who was so enchanted with the child's playing of Spohr's 8th concerto and Ernst's Airs hongroises, that he sent him to Ferdinand David at Leipzig with the words: 'Let me present to you the future Paganini! Look well to him!' Wilhelmj studied with at the Leipzig Conservatory from 1861 to 1863. In 1862 he played Ernst's Concerto pathétique at a Conservatorium Concert, and on November 24 of the same year he played Joachim's Hungarian concerto at a Gewandhaus concert with conspicuous and admitted success. He remained at the Conservatorium for three years, having Moritz Hauptmann and Ernst Friedrich Eduard Richter to teach him harmony and composition. Then (in 1864) he went to Frankfurt for further study with Joachim Raff.

The following year (1865) saw August Wilhelmj begin the wandering life of a virtuoso. He first went to Switzerland; then in 1866 to Holland, and in the summer-through Jeimy Lind's influence - came to London, making his debut, on Septtember 17, at one of Alfred Mellon's Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden, and receiving a rapturous ovation. He was equally successful in his first appearance at a Monday Popular Concert on November 26 following, and likewise in his debut at the Crystal Palace on December 1, 867 Wilhelmj was in France and Italy. In Paris - through Joachim's introduction - he was first heard at Pasdeloup's concert, given at the Cirque Napoleon on January 20. Then, in the autumn, he went to Florence, where he made his debut on December 15, 1867, at the Società del Quartetto. At the fourth concert of the Society, on December 29, Wilhelmj was elected Protettore della Società. January 27, 1868 saw the violinist's first appearance in St. Petersburg, whither, with Hector Berlioz, he had been invited by the Grand Duchess Helena Paulovna. The year 1869 was spent in revisitin France, Switzerland and Belgium; the following year in touring through England, Scotland and Ireland, with Santley. From the British Isles Wilhelmj went - in 1871 - for a tour that extended through Holland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. During these travels he was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Stockholm: made a knight of the order of Gustavus Vasa, and decorated with the grand medal of Arts and Sciences - also at Stockholm. His first appearance before a Berlin audience was on October 22, 1872, at a Singakademie concert, and on March 22, 1873, he made his first appearance in Vienna.

In 1875 August Wilhelmj was in England again. He played at the Philharmonic Society's concert in memory of Sterndale Bennett, and occupied himself during the year in propagating the cult of Wagner in England. In 1876 Wilhelmj led the orchestra at Bayreuth, when the first performance of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen took place, coming to England again in 1877. In the same year he induced Wagner to journey to London and conduct the famous festival at the Albert Hall. Wilheunj led the violins, and organised two extra concerts on a less lavish scale on May 28 and 20. After this, Wilhelmj suffered a serious illness. In 1878 he started on a tour round the world, which lasted until 1882, when he passed through London on his way to Germany, home to his villa at Mosbach-Biberich on the Rhine, after which he practically retired from public life for some time.

During his stay at Biberich, August Wilhelmj founded a violin school in conjunction with R. Niemann, in the neighbouring Wiesbaden. In 1885 he was travelling again, and it was in this year that - at the invitation of the Sultan of Turkey - he had the unique experience of playing before the ladies of the Seraglio. Probably Wilhelmj was the only violinist to whom such a compliment had, until then, been paid. The Sultan decorated him with the order of the Medjidie of the second class, and also presented him with some fine diamonds. Blasewitz, near Dresden, became Wilhelmj'c home from 1886 to 1893, in which year he installed himself in London. In 1894 he was appointed principal violin professor at the Guildhall School of Music. He also taught privately. Among his pupils was American violinist Nahan Franko and the multi-talented Canadian musician Donald Heins. Although he never appeared at London concerts during the latter years of his life, Wilhelmj's massive, dignified figure, with its flowing grey hair, crowned with a wide-brimmed soft felt hat, was familiar to concert-goers as a member of the audience. He died after a short illness at his residence, 54 Priory Road, West Hampstead.

August Wilhelmj was twice married; (1) to the Baroness Liphardt - a niece of Ferdinand David - on May 29, 1866; (2) to Miss Mariella Mausch-Jerret, a distinguished Dresden pianist, in 1895. His son Adolf (b March 31, 1872) was appointed violin professor to the' Belfast Conservatoire in 1895.

The qualities that combined to make August Wilhelmj one of the greatest violinists of his day may be summed up in the force of his personality, the great certainty of his technique, his rich tone, cultured rendering and splendid poise. He stood for dignity and breadth. He believed that people wanted intellectual renderings, and he aimed at an exact balance of intellect and imagination, conveying a suggestion of reserve force that was essentially majestic.

In his later years August Wilhelmj e took an active interest; in the technique of violin-making, and was a fervent patron and champion of more than one continental maker of the present day. He was convinced that the 'secret of the Cremona makers' lay in varnishing their violins whilst the backs and bellies were fixed only to the top and bottom blocks of the instruments, the final gluing taking place after the varnish was dry. His house in Avenue Road was (in 1894) a museum of modem-made violins, and he was for ever encouraging amateur violin-makers to devote themselves to the art.

August Wilhelmj composed several pieces for the violin, and was very successful in arranging Wagner's Preislied and other notable themes for the violin. He also wrote a Modern Violin School with James Brown, which was published by Novello & Co., in six parts. His most famous work is his arrangement of the Air from J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, which became known as the “Air on the G String.”

Source: Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition; Author: E. Heron-Allen, Esq.); Britannica Online Encyclopedia Website; Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (July 2010)

August Wilhemj: Short Biography | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Site

August Wilhelmj - German violinist (Britannica Online Encyclopedia)

August Wilhelmj (Wikipedia)
August Wilhemj (


Violin Times, February 1894
Musical Times, June 1901
To-day, Vol. i. No. 5, September 1883
Times, January 5, 1908
Lathee: Famous Violinists
Cenni storici intorno alla Società del Quartetto in Firenze

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