Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (born January 1814 in Brünn (Moravia); died October 8, 1865 in Nice) was a Moravian-Jewish violinist and composer. Ernst was widely seen as the outstanding violinist of his time and Paganini's greatest successor.
At the age of nine, Ernst began to study the violin. Ernst was a child prodigy, educated at the Conservatorium of Vienna, studying the violin under Joseph Böhm, and composition under Ignaz von Seyfried. In 1828, Ernst heard Paganini and became deeply impressed by his violin playing and adopted Paganini's virtuosic style. Later, Ernst challenged Paganini by playing the latter's Nel cor pěu non mi sento with an accuracy that stunned both the audience and Paganini himself. Like Paganini, Ernst composed his own set of variations on the theme Carnaval de Venise which he often played at the end of his concert. This piece was most popular among Ernst's audience everywhere where he played, and it became his signum. All his professional life, he was on tour around Europe playing concerts and also composed many violin pieces and formed his own style. In the end of Ernst's life, his health broke down owing to long-continued neuralgia of a most severe kind that made him unable to play. The last seven years of his life were spent in retirement, chiefly at Nice, where he spent time composing, e. g. the Polyphonic Studies. Ernst died in Nice on the 8th of October 1865.
Though Ernst was a highly esteemed artist in his days, he is today half-forgotten. Ernst was widely seen as the superior violinist of his time and Paganini's greatest successor. Not only did he develop the polyphonic playing, but he also discovered new idiomatic ways to compose polyphonically conceived violin music to a degree that is unprecedented to this day.
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