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Sigismund Thalberg was born in Pâquis (Geneva) on 8th January 1812, recorded as the child of a Joseph Thalberg and a Fortunè Stein, but his nationality was Austrian since he was probably the natural son of Prince Franz Josef Johann Dietrichstein and Baroness von Wetzlar.
At the age of ten Thalberg was sent to Vienna to prepare for a career in the diplomatic service, but he studied music at the same time with A. Mittag (bassoonist of Opera) S. Secter and J.N. Hummel.
At the age of 14 he appeared with great success in Vienna, and two years later his first works were published.
He continued his studies with Moscheles in London in 1826, performed his Piano concerto in F minor op 5 during a concert tour of Germany in 1830, and made his great début in Paris in November 1835 where he performed at a private soirée given by Count Apponyi. His truly international recognition began at this point in his career
From a composition point of view, the winning shot of Thalberg were the Fantasias on favourite opera arias, where he introduced a series of innovative and revolutionary technical formulas that made his pianism, during the first half of the nineteenth century, the only one capable to set itself against the supremacy of Franz Liszt.
As a matter of fact a great rivalry grew between the two pianists, or better yet among their supporters and this was the start of an animated controversy between Berlioz (Liszt supporter) and Fètis in the Revue et Gazette Musicale; the rivarly came to an end with a concert-duel in order to decide who was the greatest between them. This famous “duel” took place in Paris, the morning of March 31st 1837, in the hall of Princess Cristina di Belgioioso palace, but, rather than a winner, it most probably better underlined the greatness and peculiarities of the single artists.
Mendelssohn, Donizetti, Hanslick admired Thalberg and Schumann, who was not at all favourably disposed towards virtuosos, made for him an exception; in his reviews the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik he gave high praise to the Norma Fantasia op. 12, the Caprice op. 15, the Nocturnes op. 16, the Variations op. 17 and the Scherzo op. 31.
After the marriage in July 1843 with the daughter of the neapolitan bass-baritone Luigi Lablache, Thalberg moved to Naples where, together with incredibly intensive concert tours, he began a didactic activity, thus initiating the birth of the “Scuola Pianistica Napoletana” (Neapolitan School of Pianism), of which he is the recognized founder
During his career he played all over Europe, United States and Latin America, gaining at each concert an incredible number of admirers. His fame survived him, and today Thalberg is celebrated, studied and played throughout the world, and this is also due to the activity of the American Thalberg Society with its world-wide members and, from 1996, to the International Study Centre “Sigismund Thalberg” of Naples.
He died in Naples in April 27th 1871, and he received honours “(…) the most sensational amongst the ones the golden century of funeral rhetoric could have ever imagined: poems, article, speeches, luxurious cemeterial architecture and a marble monument in Naples City Park.” (Vincenzo Vitale: Il Pianoforte a Napoli nell’ottocento)
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