The Józef Wieniawski collection is the result of a bequest made to the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles by Elisabeth Wieniawska (1892-1978), Wieniaski’s elder daughter. The collection chiefly comprises autograph scores belonging to the musician.
The two brothers Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) and Józef Wieniawski (1837-1912) were born into a cultured Polish, Jewish family, to a father who was a renowned surgeon and a mother who was a musician, and very early on in life they enjoyed an education which encouraged their artistic development.
Henryk was a child prodigy following in the footsteps of Henri Vieuxtemps, Joseph Joachim or Pablo de Sarasate, who had a brilliant career as a concert violinist, a teacher and composer, while his younger brother Józef studied with Pierre Zimmerman, Antoine-François Marmontel and Charles-Valentin Alkan at the Conservatoire de Paris, and then studied with Franz Liszt in Weimar, making his mark as a pianist. He also taught at the Russian Music Society, and later at the Moscow Conservatoire, eventually settling permanently in Brussels in 1882 where he developed a reputation as a performer – in particular of works by Chopin. He died thirty years later in Brussels, in 1912.
The compositions of Henryk have become a staple part of the violin repertoire of the nineteenth century, alongside works by Paganini, Ernst, Vieuxtemps et Sarasate, however the romantic works of Józef – who was actually a more prolific composer than his brother –today have fallen into obscurity. The musician’s elder daughter, Elisabeth Wieniawska (1892-1978), herself a violinist and cellist, bequeathed to the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles her fathers’ archives, in their complete and original state. The collection includes a set of manuscript and printed sources for piano music, chamber music and orchestral and vocal music.
The collection contains thirty-eight pieces – sketches, autograph manuscripts and copies of manuscripts – some of which have never been published, and many of them show traces which point to the work of the composer. They reveal not only the individual character of this musician but also the milieu in which he developed, as well as the tradition of virtuosic art and nineteenth century performance practice. This can be seen in his notorious Concerto for piano op. 20 dedicated to Belgian king S.M. Léopold II, which is accompanied with numerous annotations, as well as other pieces – mazurkas, marches, songs – created for figures of European high society, or for musicians such as Rossini and Saint-Saëns – or his Sonata for piano and violin op. 24 dedicated to his brother Henryk and "performed by the Author and Mr. Joseph Joachim in Berlin on 9 February 1898 in the hall of the Singakademie". In his piece Canon à écrevisse pendant que j'avais un abcès, we can also find the occasional trace of his malaise.
The collection also comprises numerous printed works with annotations (places and dates of performance and/or names of performers), such as the aforementioned op. 20, the Suite romantique op. 41, the Symphonie en ré majeur op. 49 or the dramatic overture Guillaume le Taciturne op. 43, which exist in the form of scores, piano reduction, and – for the last piece – separate orchestral scores and a version for four hands.