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German Violin Virtuoso August Wilhelmj Died On This Day in 1908

He was regarded as one of the most celebrated violin virtuosi of the 19th Century – often billed as the ‘German Paganini’


Born on September 21, 1845, August Wilhelmj was a renowned German violinist and educator.

Hailing from Usingen, Wilhelmj displayed extraordinary talent as a child prodigy. Notably, when Henriette Sontag (the German operatic soprano) heard him perform at age seven, she predicted, "You will be the German Paganini." In 1861, Franz Liszt was also deeply impressed by Wilhelmj's skills- he sent Wilhelmj to Ferdinand David with a letter proclaiming him as the "future Paganini."

Wilhelmj studied violin with Ferdinand David at the Leipzig Conservatory, Moritz Hauptmann for music theory and composition, and Joachim Raff for composition.

A close friend of Wagner, Wilhelmj led the violins at the premiere of Der Ring des Nibelungen in Bayreuth in 1876.

He toured Australia in 1881, performing in Sydney's old Freemasons' Hall- financial success eluded him due to insufficient attendance. It wasn't until Jenny Lind ("The Swedish Nightingale") introduced him to London audiences in 1886 that Wilhelmj gained widespread recognition.

Wilhelmj achieved further fame for his late nineteenth-century arrangement of the second movement of J. S. Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 for violin and piano, known as "Air on the G String," as well as his re-orchestration of the first movement of Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major Op. 6 (1883/1884).

In 1894, he was appointed Professor of Violin at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Notable pupils include Jessie and Harold Grimson, American violinist Nahan Franko, Canadian musician Donald Heins, and Australian conductor Aylmer Buesst.

Wilhelmj possessed a 1725 Stradivarius violin from 1866 until his retirement- it later became known by his name. Another notable violin in his collection was crafted by Giovanni Francesco Pressenda in 1843 (Ex Wilhelmj) — and his 1785 Guadagnini, later owned as "ex-Wilhelmj," is now played by British-German violinist Jack Liebeck.

Wilhelmj passed away in London on January 22, 1908, aged 62.




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