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Wieniawski's music at the Proms 1895-1994

The annual Promenade Concerts (the Proms) have been held in London during the summer months since 1895 when the first concert took place on 10 August of that year in the newly built Queen's Hall with an audience capacity of 2,500 people. It became the capital's principal concert hall. The impresario and manager of the hall, Robert Newman, had the idea of organising orchestral concerts in an informal atmosphere where the audience could "promenade", eat, drink and even smoke while listening to a wider range of music than hitherto and at low ticket prices. The first conductor to be appointed was the versatile Henry Wood who was known as an organist, accompanist, composer and conductor of choirs and orchestras. In a few years he introduced to the Proms works by composers such as Richard Strauss, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Vaughan Williams. Grieg and Saint-Saens conducted performances of their works during one season. 

The BBC took over the running of the Proms in 1930 and have done so ever since. When the Queen's Hall was destroyed in 1941 during the Second World War concerts transferred to the larger Royal Albert Hall where they are still held to this day. Orchestral performances were given by the Queen's Hall Orchestra under Henry Wood from 1895 to 1914 when the name was changed to the New Queen's Hall Orchestra and from 1930 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra also under Sir Henry Wood. 

The early concerts consisted of short works. 22 different pieces of music were performed on the first night, ranging from Wagner's Rienzi overture, orchestral arrangements of Chopin's Polonaise Op.40 and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies to works by composers little known today. On 31 August 1895 in a progamme of 18 works including Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite no.1 and a selection from Bizet's Carmen the proms premiere of Henryk Wieniawski's Legende Op.17 was played by the violinist William Frye Parker accompanied by the pianist Henry Lane-Wilson, well known to concert goers of that time. In September Henry Lane-Wilson accompanied another violinist, John Dunn, in a proms premiere of Wieniawski's Scherzo-tarantelle Op.16. Dunn had studied in Leipzig and had composed a number of works and written a manual on violin playing. Two more works were to follow that month, the Souvenir de Moscou Op.6 performed by Ethel Barnes  and again by another violinist Edie Reynolds, and the Obertass from Mazurkas Op.19 played by Ethel Barnes, all accompanied by Henry Lane-Wilson. Ethel Barnes, violinist, pianist and composer had studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. One of her compositions, La Chasse for violin and piano, was recorded on a Naxos disc of British Women Composers in 2008.

During the 1896 season three of Wieniawski's works were performed. John Dunn played the Souvenir de Moscou Op.6 accompanied by Percy Pitt who in addition to being an accompanist, organist and composer was later producer at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Wieniawski's daughter Irene (pseudonym Poldowski) studied piano and composition under him. Valse Caprice Op.7 was performed by the Dutch violinist Johannes Wolff accompanied by Percy Pitt and on 29 September a proms premiere performance of the Concerto for Violin No.2 Op.22 was given by the English violinist Ferdinand Weist-Hill. As a fifteen year old pupil of Ysaye at the Brussels Conservatoire in 1889 Weist-Hill had been awarded the grand prix and was now a professor at the Guildhall School of Music in London.

In October 1897 Johannes Wolff performed the Souvenir de Moscou Op.6, then later that month, accompanied by Percy Pitt, he played the Valse Caprice Op.7. The following year he and Percy Pitt again played the Valse Caprice followed three days later by another performance of the same work with Percy Pitt accompanying the violinist H Lyell-Tayler. 

Four of Wieniawski's works were performed in September 1900. The American violinist and poet Leonora von Stosch  accompanied by Percy Pitt played the Souvenir de Moscou Op.6. At the age of sixteen she had studied at the Brussels Conservatoire, where she won the first prize, and also in Paris and Leipzig. Percy Frostick performed the Concerto for Violin No.2, the ever popular Souvenir de Moscou Op.6 was played by C. Barre Squire with Percy Pitt and then Percy Pitt accompanied the Austrian violinist Hans Wessely in a performance of Fantaisie brillante Op.20. In addition to being a violinist Wessely wrote a number of books on violin playing.

The next season of the proms in 1901 saw two performances of the Concerto for Violin No.2 Op.22, first by the French violinist Inez Jolivet, then a few weeks later by the Belgian violinist and conductor Henri Verbrugghen. Inez Jolivet had a distinguished career as a soloist touring throughout Europe until her marriage in 1906 when she devoted herself to co-operating with her husband in his business enterprises. His drowning in June 1915 when the liner "Lusitania" was torpedoed with the loss of 1198 lives caused her to end her own life a month later. With Joseph Wieniawski's persuasion the young Verbrugghen became a pupil of Jeno Hubay and Eugene Ysaye at the Brussels Conservatoire where he won several prizes. He gave the first performance in London of Sibelius's Violin Concerto in 1907 and had a distiguished career in Australia, where he was the first director of the Sydney Conservatorium, and then in America as conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Percy Pitt with the violinist A V Belinski played Polonaise Brillante Op.21, he later accompanied Leonora von Stosch in Souvenir de Moscou Op.6. She also played the Polonaise No.1 Op.4. with Henry Wood conducting the Queen's Hall Orchestra. 

There were no performances of Wieniawski's works in 1902, but two performances of Polonaise Brilliante Op.21 were given in the 1903 proms. The first was by Henri Verbrugghen, the second by Maurice Alexander, both accompanied by Percy Pitt. Henri Verbrugghen also played Legende Op.1, Chanson polonaise from the Two Mazurkas Op.12, and Souvenir de Moscou Op.6 at three more concerts that year and was again accompanied by Percy Pitt.

In 1904 the American violinist Francis Macmillan with the Queen's Hall Orchestra conducted this time by H.H. Lyell-Tayler played Polonaise No.1 Op.4. Henri Verbrugghen and B Magrath played Nos.2 and 4 from the Etudes-caprices Op.18 for two violins. The French violinist Renee Chemet played Souvenir de Moscou Op.6. Renee Chemet performed widely as a soloist under such conductors as Nikisch in Berlin and Mahler in Vienna and in China and Japan.She was the first to record Lalo's Symphony Espagnol and Saint-Saen's Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Percy Pitt and the violinist Maurice Sax gave a proms premiere in 1905 of an arrangement for piano and violin of the second movement Romance Andante non troppo from the Concerto for Violin No.2 Op.22. They followed this with a  performance of two Spanish dances by Sarasate. A few days later Percy Pitt accompanied the German violinist Erik von Myhr in another proms premiere, this time of Chanson Polonaise from the Deux Mazourkas de Salon Op.12. A newcomer to the proms, Erik von Myhr had studied at the Stuttgart Conservatoire and was first violin in the Dortmund Philharmonic orchestra.

The proms season of 1905 saw the performance of a piano work by Wieniawski's brother, Jozef. The Swedish pianist Tosta di Benici performed his Valse de Concert No.2 Op.30 at a concert where she also played Liszt's Piano Concerto No.1 and Sinding's 6 Pieces Op.32. In his autobiography "My Life of Music" the conductor Henry Wood wrote admiringly of her playing and thought she had great promise. A performance of her playing Chopin's Etude Op.10 is on a Naxos disc of Welte-Mignon Piano Rolls for 1905-15 Vol.2.

Two performances of the Concerto for Violin No.2 Op.22 were given in the season for 1906, the first was by the Belgian violinist Serge de Barincourt and the second by Hugo Hundt. The Polonaise No.1 Op.4 was played by the violinist S Abas in a concert where he also performed Beethoven's Romance Op.50 and Louis Spohr's Concerto for Violin No.9 Op.55. Frederick Kiddle accompanied the violinist Marian Jay in the Polonaise No.2 Op.21. 

Only one work by Wieniawski was performed in the 1907 season; a mazurka played by Henri Verbrugghen accompanied by Frederick Kiddle.

In the next few years the Concerto for Violin No.2 Op.22 was to have several performances. Joyce Brown played it in the 1912 season, and in 1918 it was Arthur Beckwith, leader of the Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden, who performed it. The Australian violinist Daisy Kennedy in 1922 was followed in 1926 by Marie Wilson, a member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Some years later in 1934 this same orchestra under Henry Wood performed it with Henri Temianka. Born in Scotland of Polish parents Temianka participated in the first International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in 1935 where he performed the Polonaise No.2 Op.21 and won third prize after Ginette Neveu and David Oistrach. That year he recorded the Polonaise and the Scherzo-Tarantelle Op.16 on Parlophone which were reissued in 1992 in the "Archives Performances" series on Biddulph Recordings. At the 100th Proms season in 1994 it was the American Gil Shaham with the BBC Concert Orchestra under its conductor Barry Wordsworth who gave a performance of the Concerto. Shaham has recorded both of Wieniawski's concertos with the London Symphony Orchertra conducted by Lawrence Foster on a Deutsche Grammophon disc in 1991.

Peter Rennie