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Wilhelm Fitzenhagen

born: 15 September 1848
died: 14 February 1890
country: Germany

Wilhelm Fitzenhagen was born in 1848 in Seesen, a small town situated between Göttingen and Braunschweig in Lower Saxony where, in 1836, Heinrich Steinweg (later Henry Steinway) had built his first piano. Fitzenhagen’s father worked as a court musician for the Duke of Braunschweig, and saw to it that his son received a serious musical training from an early age. By the time he was five years old, Fitzenhagen was receiving lessons on the piano, then the violin and cello, and apparently he was called on to play several different wind instruments in the Duke’s band when the need arose. In his early teens, Fitzenhagen chose the cello as his principal instrument. At the age of fourteen he started lessons with Theodor Müller (1803–1875, one of four brothers who formed a string quartet greatly admired by Berlioz), before the Duke of Braunschweig released him from military service and helped to support his studies in Dresden with Friedrich Grützmacher (1832–1903)—coincidentally another cellist whose father had been a member of a Ducal band. Grützmacher was a greatly respected virtuoso who achieved later notoriety for his assembly (from several works) of what became known as ‘Boccherini’s Cello Concerto’. Fitzenhagen was one of his most gifted pupils, but Grützmacher never abandoned his solo career (in 1898 he played the solo cello part in the first performance of Strauss’s Don Quixote). Fitzenhagen, still only twenty years old, joined the Dresden Hofkapelle (now Staatskapelle) and embarked on a solo career. He soon made a name for himself. In 1870 he was invited to play at the Beethoven Festival organized by Liszt in Weimar. Liszt tried to persuade Fitzenhagen to join the orchestra in Weimar, but he had already accepted a post as professor of cello at the Imperial Conservatoire in Moscow. At the same time, Fitzenhagen also embarked on a career as a composer, though he seems to have been largely self-taught. In 1870 the Leipzig publisher Kahnt issued a Romanze for cello and piano that Fitzenhagen designated his Op 1. In 1872–3 several cello pieces were published by Breitkopf & Härtel, including the Tarantelle, Op 5, Notturno, Op 6, as well as the original version of Resignation, Op 8.

from notes by Nigel Simeone © 2015


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