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A. Fleche: Thalberg's Waltz. London, [1836?]. The lithograph, signed J. Graf, shows Thalberg at the time of his early London successes.

A. Fleche: Thalberg's Waltz. London, [1836?]. The lithograph, signed J. Graf, shows Thalberg at the time of his early London successes.

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THALBERG, Sigismond (b.Pâquis, nr Geneva, 8 Jan 1812; d.Posillipo, nr Naples, 27 April 1871)

Although little known to today's concert goers, Thalberg's is a key name in piano history. Almost exactly contemporary with Liszt, his only rival among nineteenth century virtuosi, he brought a classical poise, magisterial technique, exquisite touch and impressive intellectual rigour to performances which earned the widespread admiration of his peers. (His teachers included Hummel, Kalkbrenner and Moscheles.) If, in comparison to Liszt he was found wanting in fire and imagination, he more than compensated with a uniquely eloquent cantilena based on long and serious study of bel canto singing. Liszt himself commented on his extraordinary ability to 'play the violin on the piano'.

Widely believed to be an illegitimate son of Count Moritz Dietrichstein, Thalberg was sent to Vienna at an early age to study law but by 1826 was playing in private soirées; his Fantasy and Variations on motives from Weber's Euryanthe, Op.1 was published before his 15th birthday. He played first in London in 1830, starting a pattern of widespread touring which was to last for more than 30 years and to take him to North and South America in the 1850s.

Thalberg's compositions consist mainly of opera fantasies and character pieces - essentially vehicles for his own performance, yet, despite their formidable technical challenges, hugely successful with amateur pianists throughout the world. More ambitious pieces include a piano concerto, Op.5, the Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.56 (1844) and Piano Trio, Op.69 (1851). He also composed eight books of German lieder and two operas, Florinda (London, 1851) and Cristina di Svezia (Vienna, 1855).

After several year's residence in New York (during which he branched into opera management), Thalberg purchased a villa in Posillipo in 1858. During retirement there (from 1863) he developed a successful vineyard.

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)

Fantaisie sur des motifs favoris de l'opéra Robert le Diable de Meyerbeer, Op.6. Vienna, [1833]. Caprice Op.15. Vienna>, [1836]. Deux Nocturnes, Op.16. Vienna, [1836].

Grand Fantasia on the celebrated prayer in Rossini's opera Mosé in Egitto. Op.33 London, [1839]. Home! Sweet home! Air anglais varié, Op.72 ... Third edition. New York, [1857?]. Les Soirées de Pausilippe. 24 Pensées Musicales Op.75. Mainz, [1863].

No.1 from L'Art du Chant appliqué au piano, Op.70. London, [1853]. Célèbre Ballade ..., Op.76. Paris, [1862?]. Opere Postume. Milan, [1873].

Souvenir du Ballo in Maschera de Verdi, Op.81.  Autograph manuscript of one of Thalberg's last fantasies, Posilipo, January 1864.

Programme for a Thalberg concert in Paris, 21 March 1838. Letter in English, dated 22 March 1864, to an employee of Erard's London showrooms at 18 Great Marlborough Street. (For transcription see below).

Lithograph by C. Kreutzberger after a photograph by Nadar.  Paris, [c.1870].

Posilipo, March 22d 1864

My dear George
I had this morning a letter from old Fish enclosing 40£ which he obtained from the Railway Company for damages. I am sure he succeeded not without great exertions; therefore I wish you would hand him over a 5£ note with my best thanks. We also want some Tea, the same we always take in Marlboro' St, about ten pounds; don't you call that a quarter of a chest? To be sent by the same steamer - all the money you spend for me to be put to my account with the house in Paris.
I hope you are all well and that Charles and Mrs. George will regain all their strength with the fine season.
Ever yours truly
S. Thalberg

Love to Frederic, Schulz, Licalsi, Costa etc., etc.