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Herz, Henri (1803-1888)

Henri Herz

born: 6 January 1803
died: 5 January 1888
country: Austria

Heinrich (Henri) Herz was born in Vienna on 6 January 1803. A child prodigy who had his first lessons from his father, he was giving concerts by the age of eight, among which was an appearance in Coblenz when he played Hummel’s Variations on an ‘oberländische Melodie’ Op 8. After studies with Daniel Hünten, the organist father of the more famous Franz, Herz won admission to the Paris Conservatoire in April 1816. His first compositions—Air Tyrolien varié Op 1 and Rondo alla Cosacca Op 2—appeared two years later.

During the 1820s and ’30s he established himself as one of the most brilliant pianists and sought-after teachers of the day. His music was ubiquitous, outselling all his peers, Liszt and Chopin included; he built a 500-seat concert hall, Salle Henri Herz, in the Rue de la Victoire (long since vanished), and went into partnership with a piano manufacturer named Klepfa producing about 400 instruments a year. This last venture proved a costly failure. In order to obtain more capital and recoup his losses Herz headed for America, becoming the first important European pianist to tour the country, recording his travels in an entertaining memoir eventually published in 1866 as Mes voyages en Amérique. He remained there until 1851, returning home, like many pianists after him, an extremely wealthy man.

By the early 1850s, however, musical tastes had changed. The public had heard more of Liszt and Chopin, virtuosos like Clara Schumann had dropped bravura display pieces from their programmes in favour of Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schumann. Herz’s heyday was over and, though he continued to compose, his energies were directed to his (now successful) piano business and teaching at the Paris Conservatory. Among his pupils were Adolphe Fétis, Berthe Goldschmidt, Henri Rosellen, Marie Jaëll, Charles Salaman and Maria Roger-Miclos (1860–1950), the latter being the only Herz pupil to have made any recordings. In 1874 Herz relinquished the post he had held since 1842 as professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire. He died in 1888.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas ©

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