Neukomm, Chevalier Sigismund

Neukomm, Chevalier Sigismund a celebrated German composer, noted for his devotion to sacred music, was born at Salzburg in 1778. He was related to the Haydn family, and, evincing musical talents at a very early age, he was placed under the Haydn brothers for instruction. From Michael Haydn, the elder brother — author of The Creation — Neukomm acquired that predilection for sacred music which distinguished him throughout his career. At the age of twenty he went to Vienna to study under Joseph Haydn, who received his young relative most kindly and made him his pupil; and the friendship thus begun lasted without interruption during the whole of the great master's life. Neukomm's close and unbroken intercourse with Joseph Haydn, and admiration of his genius, had a sensible effect on the formation of his own style. which is marked not only with Haydn's regularity, symmetry, and clearness, but with many of Haydn's characteristic traits of musical phraseology. After having gained a high reputation in Germany, Russia, France, Italy, and South America, Neukomm went to England in 1829, and his reception by the public was such as to induce him to pass much time in that country. His residence in England was an active period of his life. It was while there that his greatest works were composed, among them the oratorios of Mount Sinai and David. Mount Sinai, originally set to German words, was afterwards adapted by him to an English version of the text, and performed for the first time at the Derby Musical Festival of 1831. David, the poem of which was originally written in English, was composed: expressly for the Birmingham Musical Festival, and performed in 1834. During the same period he gave the English public many vocal pieces, both sacred and secular, which obtained general popularity. Among these, his sacred cantatas, Miriam, The Prophecy of Babylon, and Absalom, are remarkable for their grandeur, expression, and complete adaptation of the music to English poetry, for Neukomm was a perfect master of the English language. The Sea was for a long time the most popular song of the day; and though it has given place to newer favorites, it is still frequently heard, and always with pleasure. Neukomm's latest work is Twenty Psalms selected from the authorized English Version, for the use of singing-schools, choral societies, churches, and chapels of every persuasion. It was written for the Association for the Revival of Sacred Music in Scotland, and published by that body at Edinburgh in 1853. It possesses great value. The most beautiful of the Psalms are selected, and the music, in a plain and simple style. has the grand and solemn beauty which characterizes Neukomm's sacred works. Neukomm died at Paris, April 3, 1858. His residence for a few years previous had been alternate lay at London, Paris, and Bonn. There is scarcely a branch of his art which he has left untouched. A collection of voluntaries for the organ — an instrument on which Neukomm was one of the greatest performers in Europe — is among the most important works produced by him in England. His instrumental compositions, symphonies, quartets, sonatas, etc., are very numerous and of much merit; but it is on his great sacred works that his permanent fame will rest. In the course of his long life Neukomm received many of the honors due to the highest distinction in his art. He was invested with several orders of knighthood in France, Portugal, and Prussia; was a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in Prussia, and of most of the principal musical institutions and societies in Europe and the United States. The doctorate of music was conferred on him by the University of Dublin, and he was one of the jury of the great London Exhibition in 1851. For several years before his death he was afflicted with an ophthalmic complaint, at one time almost amounting to deprivation of sight, but he partially recovered from its See Fetis, Biographie Universelle des Musiciens, s.v.; English Cyclop. s.v.; Esquisse biographique de Sigismond Neukomm par lui meme, in La Maitrise (Paris, 1859).

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