Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1812–65) was one of the leading musicians of his day: a friend of Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt and Mendelssohn, and for Joseph Joachim ‘the greatest violinist I ever heard’. Born in a middle-class Jewish family from Brünn in the Austrian Empire (now Brno in the Czech Republic), he studied at the Vienna Conservatory and quickly made a name for himself as a virtuoso, astounding even Paganini with his skill and later becoming his most significant rival.
He began to compose when a debilitating illness – most likely porphyria – started to affect his playing, and he spent his last years desperately seeking a cure, in increasing poverty and supported by public benefit concerts given for him by Brahms, Joachim, Wieniawski and others of his friends.
His output includes numerous popular encore pieces that he played in his concerts around Europe. But these represent only a fraction of his work. This series of six CDs presents his complete violin works for the first time, revealing one of the instrument’s most accomplished and memorable composers.
This first disc shows him in a range of moods, from the mystery and grandeur of the Prophet Fantasy and the Chopinesque poetry of the Two Nocturnes to the bizarre whimsy of The Carnival of Venice and infectious high spirits of the Rondo Papageno – the nineteenth-century virtuoso violin both in introspective melancholy and at its most dazzlingly flamboyant.
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