While having regard to the fact that "a hen is only an egg's way of making another egg" (Samuel Butler), let us here remember some significant birthdays.
The future Head-Professor of violin-playing at the Guildhall School of Music, August Emil Daniel Ferdinand Viktor Wilhelmj, was born this day a hundred and sixty-six years ago (which is to say 1845), at Usingen, in the Duchy of Nassau, a small place just north of Francfort on the Maine. Wilhelmj developed into an able violinist at an early age; indeed his talent was so precocious that when Henriette Sontag heard him in 1852 she embraced the seven-year-old child warmly, exclaiming: "You will be the German Paganini." This was echoed in 1861 when Prince Emil von Wittgenstein sent Wilhelmj to Liszt, who was so enchanted with the child's playing of Spohr's Eighth Concerto and Ernst's "Airs Hongroises," that he sent him to David at Leibsic with the words: "Let me present to you the future Paganini! Keep an eye on him!"
In 1865 Wilhelmj began the wandering life of a virtuoso, which led him to carry his art into more countries than almost any other artist, save, perhaps, Reményi. He first went to Switzer-land; then in 1866 to Holland, and in the summer came to London, making his début on September the seventeenth, at one of Mr. Alfred Mellon's Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden, and receiving a rapturous ovation. He was equally successful in his first appearance at a Monday Popular Concert on November the twenty-sixth following, and likewise in his début at the Crystal Palace on December the first.
In 1875 Wilhelmj was in England again. He played at the Philharmonic Society's concert in memory of Sterndale Bennett, and occupied himself during the year in propagating the cult of Wagner in England, playing his music on all occasions, and leading orchestral performances of the German master's works. In 1876 Wilhelmj led the orchestra at Bayreuth, coming to England again in 1877. In the same year he induced Wagner to journey to London and conduct the famous festival at the Albert Hall. Wilhelmj led the violins, and organised two extra concerts on a less lavish scale on May the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth.
In 1885 he was travelling again, and it was in this year that - at the invitation of the Sultan of Turkey - he had the unique experience of playing before the ladies of the Seraglio. Probably Wilhelmj was the only violinist to whom such a compliment had, until then, been paid. The Sultan decorated him with the order of the Medjidie, of the second class, and also presented him with some fine diamonds.
Blasewitz, near Dresden, became Wilhelmj's home from 1886 until 1893, in which year he installed himself in London. In 1894 he was, as already noted, appointed principal violin professor at the Guildhall School of Music. He also taught privately, and although he never appeared at London concerts during the latter years of his life, Wilhelmj's massive, dignified figure, with its flowing grey hair, crowned with a wide-brimmed soft felt hat, was familiar to concert-goers as a member of the audience. He expired after a short illness at his residence, 54 Priory Road, West Hampstead, on January the twenty-second, 1908.
The qualities that combined to make Wilhelmj one of the greatest violinists of his day may be summed up in the force of his personality, the great certainty of his technique, his rich tone, cultured rendering and splendid poise. He stood for dignity and breadth. He believed that people wanted intellectual renderings, and he aimed at an exact balance of intellect and imagination, conveying a suggestion of reserve force that was essentially majestic.
In his later years he took an active interest in the technique of violin-making, and was a fervent patron and champion of more than one continental maker of his day. He was convinced that the secret of the Cremona makers lay in varnishing their violins whilst the backs and bellies were fixed only to the top and bottom blocks of the instruments, the final gluing taking place after the varnish was dry. His house in Avenue Road was (in 1894) a museum of modern-made violins, and he was for ever encouraging amateur violin-makers to devote themselves to the art.