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Thalberg, Sigismund

1812-1871

 

Brilliant piano virtuoso; born at Geneva, Switzerland. He was the natural son of Prince Dietrichstein and the Baroness Wetzlar, a woman of fine education, who carefully superintended her son's early studies under the governess, Madame Denver. When he was ten years old he was taken to Prince Dietrichstein's palace in Vienna, and immediately won his father's heart. The Prince gave up an appointment as ambassador and devoted all his attention to educating his son for a diplomat. There are many conflicting statements as to who Thalberg's teachers were, but we know that he took lessons of Mittag and studied counterpoint with Sechter. His first successful appearance occurred when he was about fourteen years oldj but it was not until 1830 that he made his first concert tour through Germany, winning immediate popularity and forming the basis of his future wide reputation. In 1834 he was appointed pianist at the court at Vienna. The following year he went to Paris and took that city by storm. His marvelous technique, his charming manners and aristocratic and dignified bearing made him the idol of the Parisian public. When he left that city to go on an extended concert tour through Belgium, England, Holland and Russia, which lasted until 1839, his success was phenomenal and he was everywhere greeted with an ovation. During this tour he played at two Philharmonic concerts in London in 1836. In 1843 he married Madame Boucher, widow of a well-known painter, and daughter of Luigi Lablache. In 1845 he went to Spain. His opera, Florinda, brought out in London, was an absolute failure. Another opera, Cristina di Suezia, also failed in Vienna. This was Thalberg's last attempt at dramatic composition. In 1855 he went to Brazil, and the following year to the United States, and in 1857 he returned to m Europe and retired to Posilipo  his beautiful country home overlooking the Bay of Naples, where he led the life of a wealthy landowner and wine-grower. In 1862 he went to Paris, and the following year to London and attained the same popularity as before. After this he went back to Posilipo and remained there until his death in 1871. He holds a very high place among piano virtuosos on account of the perfection and finish of his performance and the singing quality of his tone. He was celebrated for his invention of numberless difficult and ingenious fingerpositions which enabled him to produce startling and brilliant effects. His use .of his thumbs are entirely different from that of all the musicians who had preceded him. The primary object of his style was to produce effect, to fill his audience with wonder at the intricacy of his technique. He played only his own compositions in public, and made the most of his ability to compose sparkling showy pieces apparently far more difficult than they really were. His performance was lacking in depth of expression and power to appeal to the emotions, and his compositions are also lacking in these qualities and are used now only to show off a skilful technique. As a man he was unfailingly industrious and persevering, and possessed great charm of manner and kindness of heart. Some of the more important of his compositions are fantasies on themes from Don Juan; Les Huguenots; Robert le Diable; Moise and La Donna del Lago; Don Giovanni; Lucrezia Borgia; II Barbiere di Siviglia; God Save the Queen; Rule Britannia; Zampa; Don Pasquale; La Traviata; La Fille du regiment and II Trovatore; fantasies and variations on a Scotch theme; Euryanthe; Norma; Don Giovanni; Capuletti ed i Montecchi; impromptus; divertissements; caprices; the operas, Florinda, and Cristina di Suezia; two Russian airs, and the Art of Singing applied to the Pianoforte, which has been republished in this country by Oliver Ditson Co., of Boston.