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Adolf von Henselt

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Adolf von Henselt (May 12, 1814 - October 10, 1889), German composer and pianist, was born at Schwabach, in Bavaria.

At the age of three he began to learn the violin, and at five the piano under Frau von Fladt. On obtaining financial help from King Ludwig I of Bavaria he went to study under Hummel in Weimar for some months, and thence in 1832 to Vienna, where, besides studying composition under Simon Sechter (the later teacher of Anton Bruckner), he made a great success as a concert pianist.

In order to improve his health he made a prolonged tour in 1836 through the chief German towns. In 1837 he settled at Breslau, where he had married Rosalie Vogel, but in the following year he migrated to Saint Petersburg, where previous visits had made him persona grata at Court. He then became court pianist and inspector of musical studies in the Imperial Institute of Female Education, and was ennobled in 1876. He usually spent his summer holidays in his former homeland Germany. In 1852 and again in 1867 he visited England, though in the latter year he made no public appearance.

Saint Petersburg was his home practically until his death, which occurred during a stay at Warmbrunn, Germany (now in Poland), due to cardiac disease. The characteristic of Henselt’s playing was a combination of Franz Liszt’s sonority with Hummel’s smoothness. It was full of poetry, remarkable for the great use he made of extended chords, and for his perfect technique. Indeed, his cantabile playing was unequalled: even Liszt was envious, once exclaiming “I could have had velvet paws like that if I had wanted to.

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