Henri Herz was a pianist and composer, Austrian by birth, and French by domicile. He was also a music teacher at the Paris Conservatoire. Among his major works are eight piano concertos, a piano sonata, rondos, nocturnes, waltzes, marches, fantasias, and numerous sets of variations.
Herz was born Heinrich Herz in Vienna on 6 January 1803. He was Jewish by birth, although he asked the musical journalist Fétis not to mention this in the latter's musical encyclopaedia, perhaps a reflection of endemic antisemitism in nineteenth-century French cultural circles. As a child he studied with his father, and in Coblenz with the organist Daniel Hünten. In 1816 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied under Victor Dourlen and Anton Reicha. His brother Jacques Herz (1794-1880) was a fellow-pupil at the Conservatoire who also became a pianist and teacher.
Herz was married to Pauline Thérèse Lachmann, a French courtesan known as La Paiva. It is generally believed that they married in London, but it is not clear that this actually occurred. In any case, such a marriage would have been bigamous. By him she had a daughter. Richard Wagner, Hans von Bülow, Théophile Gautier, and Émile de Girardin attended her salon. Her spendings nearly ruined Herz's finances, and he traveled to America in 1848 to pursue business opportunities. While he was away, her spending continued, and Herz's family turned Thérèse out of the house in frustration. In 1830, he founded his own piano factory in Paris. In 1838, he built the Salle des Concerts Herz on the rue de la Victoire, used for performances by Berlioz and Offenbach. He died in Paris on 5 January 1888, aged 84.
Career as a pianist
A celebrated pianist, Herz traveled worldwide, including tours in Europe, Russia, Mexico, South America, and in the United States of America between 1846–50, where he concertized all the way to San Francisco. His performances were compared to the more extravagant manner of Leopold de Meyer, concertizing in the United States during the same period (1845–47). He wrote a book about his experiences abroad, Mes voyages en Amérique (Paris: Achille Faure, 1866), translated by Henry Bertram Hill as My Travels in America (1963).
Herz taught at the Conservatoire between 1842–74. Of his pupils, only Marie-Aimée Roger-Miclos (1860-1950) recorded, in the early 1900s, for Dischi Fonotipia.
Herz composed many pieces including eight piano concertos. Among his many musical works, he was involved with the composition of Hexaméron (the fourth variation on Bellini's theme is his). Many however found his piano style showy and shallow, and Robert Schumann was amongst those who criticized it.
- Fryklund, Daniel, Contributions à la connaissance de la correspondence de Fétis, Stockholm, 1930
- Hector Berlioz Website, accessed 23 February 2011]
- R. Allen Lott, From Paris to Peoria: How European Piano Virtuosos Brought Classical Music to the American Heartland.
- Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, 1994, Oxford University Press.
- Free scores by Henri Herz at the International Music Score Library Project
- Page of the French website Gottschalk.fr containing a list of works, audio extracts and free scores
- Laure Schnapper : Henri Herz, magnat du piano (Paris, EHESS, 2011)