Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski (1822–1887)

Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski (cf. W.J. von W., Aus siebzig Jahren – Lebenserinnerungen, 1897)

Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski was taught the violin by his father in Danzig [now Gdańsk] from an early age. At the end of March 1843, Wasielewski went to Leipzig to study for three years at the Leipzig Conservatoire, newly founded by Felix Mendelssohn. There, he met Robert Schumann who became his teacher of composition. In October 1843, Wasielewski took part as the violist in a string quartet rehearsal of Paradise and the Peri, Op. 50, at the house of the Schumanns, and, especially in the Düsseldorf period, was a frequent and welcome guest of the Schumanns. Robert Schumann was impressed by Wasielewski’s violin skills and from 1850 secured Wasielewski the position of deputy concert master of the subscription concerts in Düsseldorf. In 1852, Schumann dedicated his Fairy Tale Pictures for piano and viola (violin ad libitum), Op. 113, to him and wrote on Wasielewski’s personal copy: “[Dear Wasielewski, may this booklet remind you of quite a few hours spent together, which made your art unforgettable to me as well. Düsseldorf, 10th July 1852. Robert Schumann.]”. The premiere, with Wasielewski, took place at the “Zum goldenen Stern” Inn in Bonn on 12th November 1853 at a soirée of Clara Schumann. In 1853, Schumann also dedicated his Album Leaves, Op. 124, to Wasielewski’s wife, the pianist Alma, née Beyer (1827-1871), a former pupil of Friedrich Wieck.

In addition, Wasielewski was also a violinist with the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Theatre Orchestra (1846-1850), choral conductor of the male choral society “Concordia” and Municipal Director of Music in Bonn (from 1852), a freelance violinist with various orchestras in Dresden (from 1855), and also Municipal Conductor and Director of Music in Bonn (from 1869) and a teacher of the history of music at the Princely Conservatoire in Sondershausen (from 1885). Wasielewski wrote several treatises on the history of music, such as “Die Violine im 17. Jahrhundert und die Anfänge der Instrumentalkomposition [The Violin in the 17th Century and the Beginnings of Instrumental Composition]” (Bonn, 1874) and “Das Violoncell und seine Geschichte [The Cello and its History]” (Leipzig, 1889).

In 1858, Wasielewski published the first biography of Robert Schumann, with preliminary work begun as early as 1853; at that time, Wasielewski had access to Schumann’s list of compositions and his project book. Only a few months after Robert Schumann’s death, he asked Clara Schumann to send him further material but she refused to do so. Publication of a biography seemed still too early to her, and she was concerned that the biography might look incomplete and eclectic; also, the biographical material was not yet sorted. Wasielewski, however, also approached other persons amongst his circle of friends and former friends of Robert Schumann, and so he managed to publish his Schumann biography in 1858; as to Clara Schumann, she actually never read it.

Cf. Fabian Kolb: Article “Wasielewski, Wilhelm Joseph von”, in: Ludwig Finscher (ed.), Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Persons, Vol. 17, Kassel et al., 2007, cols. 490–491.

Cf. Wolfgang Seibold: Familie, Freunde, Zeitgenossen. Die Widmungsträger der Schumannschen Werke (= Schumann-Studien 5), Sinzig, 2008, pp. 313 f., 315–318.

Cf. Thomas Synofzik: Sonderausstellung: Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski (1822–1896). 150 Jahre Schumann-Biographik, Robert-Schumann-Haus Zwickau 13. Januar 2008 bis 13. April 2008, catalogue and concept: Thomas Synofzik, 2008. Online at: https://www.schumann-zwickau.de/ [05.09.2020].

Robert Schumann. Eine Biographie von Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski, Dresden, 1858 [2nd edition, Dresden, 1869; 3rd, substantially reduced edition, Bonn 1880; 4th, reworked and significantly reduced edition, Leipzig, 1906].

(Theresa Schlegel, 2020, translated by Thomas Henninger)

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