Born at Eilenburg, Prussia. His father was a clergyman, and the son was intended for the same profession. He was sent to the Thomasschule and the University of Leipsic, to study theology, but was allowed to take up music at the same time and received a thorough musical education. After his father's death he gave up theology entirely. He was appointed musical director of the Court Theatre at Bernburg in 1841 and later on held the same position at the Aktien Theatre at Zurich. In 1852, he went to the Hof-Theatre, Brunswick, as Court conductor, where he stayed until his retirement in 1882, after which he lived at Wiesbaden. He visited the United States in 1872, as the guest of several singing societies and conducted at the Gilmore Jubilee the same year. Abt's piano pieces, which were of a light character, are almost forgotten, but he was a most prolific song-writer, his compositions consisting of between four and five hundred works, almost entirely songs. These consist of solos, duets, trios and choruses and of part-songs for men's voices, which were particularly popular and successful. Some of these pieces have become really German folk-songs, among them, Gute Nacht du Mein Herziges Kind, and his popular and familiar, When the Swallows Homeward Fly. He also wrote a number of successful cantatas for female voices, the most popular being Red Riding Hood; Little Snowdrop; and Cinderella.