Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

06 March 2023

Recording of the week: August Wilhelmj performing Paganini's Concerto No. 1, Op. 6

This week’s post comes from Tom Miles, Metadata Coordinator for Europeana Sounds.

August Wilhelmj (1845-1908) was a violinist and teacher. He was born in Usingen, Germany. Referred to by Liszt as ‘the future Paganini’, he gained a reputation as a child prodigy and was at the height of his career in the second half of the 19th century. He was a friend of Wagner and led the violins at the première of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in Bayreuth, 1876. Later, in 1894, he became Professor of Violin at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He died in London in 1908.

Photograph of the violinist August Wilhelmj in 1870

Image credit: Wien Museum, via Europeana / CC0.

This week’s recording is of Wilhelmj performing Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 6 (arranged for violin and piano) (British Library reference: C1210/1-4). The recording is from a series of brown wax cylinders privately made in the 1890s or early 1900s. The first cylinder is missing, but the remaining four contain most of the first movement of the work, beginning part-way through. The concerto is in D major, but there are some substantial pitch fluctuations in playback:

Listen to Paganini's Concerto No. 1 Op. 6 mov. 1 part 1

Listen to Paganini's Concerto No. 1 Op. 6 mov. 1 part 2

Listen to Paganini's Concerto No. 1 Op. 6 mov. 1 part 3

Listen to Paganini's Concerto No. 1 Op. 6 mov. 1 part 4

Although there is no mention of Wilhelmj on the cylinders themselves, all the evidence points to the violinist being him. The cylinders were in the possession of Charles Volkert, director of the London branch of Schott, which was Wilhelmj’s publisher, and Wilhelmj would have been working in London at the time. Volkert died in 1934. During an office clear-out in the 1960s, the cylinders – labelled ‘thought to be by Wilhelmj’ – were rescued and later donated to the British Library.

Europeana has more material about August Wilhelmj from other cultural heritage institutions, including this letter from Wilhelmj in 1889, stating that the addressee's wish is his command and Miss Wiborg will sing in his concert:

Letter from Wilhelmj in 1889 to unknown addressee

Image credit: Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig, via Europeana / CC BY-NC-SA.

Wilhelmj played a 1725 Stradivarius violin throughout his working life. This violin, the ‘Wilhelmj’, is now owned by the Nippon Music Foundation, on loan to the violinist Baiba Skride. You can see it and read more about it here: https://www.nmf.or.jp/english/instruments/post_287.html.

.