The Death of Mr. Georg Fabrizius

Richard Sutcliffe – Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel

A lot was promised to me, and I was cruelly deceived. Only one way remains for me, because everything conspires against me in order to make me falter: that is to end my life. Well, so be it: my heart will cease beating. Still there was something, in that sorely tested heart. But being unhappy in this world is the fate of all artists. My journey ends, and God forgive me![1]

Louis Schoonen

This is the suicide note that Louis Schoonen, the Belgian writer, found in the room at the Hôtel de la Bourse, which was rented by the 26-year-old German violinist Georg Fabrizius. Schoonen met with the violinist after a rehearsal for a concert that was supposed to be performed at the Brussels opera house on 1 November 1847. He describes him as having a soft and nervous character but with talent. He was a dreamer and always seemed sad and longing. His violin playing had been criticised, but the director of the Brussels Conservatoire, François-Joseph Fétis, approved of his compositions.

Schoonen had left Fabrizius in a café near his hotel to speak with Auguste Nourrit, the director of the opera house, and when he returned, the violinist had disappeared. In his room the authorities found: his violin, clothing, papers, passport, letters, a medallion of his father’s military service in 1814 and a lock of hair from a German woman who had been his lover.

Several days after this account was published in the Belgian press, Schoonen published another article, which detailed the events which followed Fabrizius’ mysterious disappearance.

Notified that a discovery had been made, as a result of the disastrous decision that this artist taken, I went to Laeken. There in the presence of a body, through whose heart two bullets had bored, I was convinced of the horrifying truth. The maimed corpse was as I could confirm, that of the poor Fabrizius! I recognized it easily, even with its distorted face.

Palais of Laeken in northern Brussels

The body was found yesterday morning by a young man from Laeken in a forest on one side of the royal palace; it had been almost completely buried by leaves which the fall winds had strewn on the ground. The out of the way location and complete lack of information about the path the unfortunate soul had taken, after leaving the theatre, are the reason that the corpse had been hidden so long from the search efforts.

Two fired pistols laid next to the body of Fabrizius. He only had his watch and two violin strings in his possession, the latter which I had bought for him at the instrument maker Vuillaume, for a rehearsal.

A great amount of blood had flown out of his mouth, as a result of the heavy shock caused by the two pistol shots, which the artist had fired into his left side.

I have to say; I shudder to think about it! To commit suicide in that way, in those conditions…

Place de la Bourse

When I searched room number three at the Hôtel de la Bourse, in the presence of several others, I found, among other things, bullets of a small calibre, firing capsules and a pistol’s ramrod. I could not find the actual weapons.

One obligation remains for me, as I am the prime witness in this case, that is, to do credit to the proper character of a man, whose name people involved in the affaire use in error or malice. People have mistakenly assumed, I don’t hesitate to admit, that Mr. M… by his words or deeds could have contributed to the sad decision, that led to the end of the existence of this German composer. More than any other – and there is a lot of convincing evidence for this – Mr. M… served to present this young, foreign artist to Brussels – in a season which has been so ungrateful for artists that want to give concerts. The letter of recommendation by his professor to Mr. de Bériot is still pasted into his wallet, which I presented to the prosecutors.

Regarding the rumours which people spread in Brussels about Georges Fabrizius’ debts, – I can confirm they are false. Mr. Georges Fabrizius had given one of his hosts a 300-franc deposit, twice the amount he owed. For the rest, the Count Coghen and Mr. Rittweger, director of the bank, wanted to help the poor musician, they told me this twice, so that he wouldn’t be in poverty.

Poor artist! Poor soul! … You dreamed of such fame and fortune; but fate killed you from sorrow, after art had made you useless! …

P.S. A condition which I have been made aware of, and which makes this dramatic and sad disaster even worse, is, that I have been assured, that Mr. Georges Fabrizius killed himself five days ago. This supposes, that, as it is nine days since his disappearance, having made the firm decision to kill himself, he must have hesitated to put something so disastrous in motion.

If this is true, it is a horrible case, to think of the pains that this man must have undergone. On one side the prey of sombre despair, floating between an overturned present and an agonizing future, scared on one side to leave a career so soon, happier days would arrive, and to some extent pushed towards an abyss by necessity, to end a life, out of fear of being made ridiculous – he would have, according to the lines that he wrote, been saved by the smallest encounter, but fate, which seemed to follow him to his end, did not want the encounter to take place![2]

Reports of Fabrizius’ suicide and the circumstances leading up to them appeared in several Belgian newspapers from in the period between October 30th and November 12th. Later in November and December it was also reported in the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung, the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, La revue et gazette musicale de Paris, and L’Italia musicale. Outside of these references I have not been able to locate any information about this young violinist. He is described as having served in the courts of Schleswig-Holstein and Schauenbourg-Lippe, placing him in northern Germany. The press refers to him as Fabricius as well as Fabrizius and undoubtedly his first name was Georg rather than Georges.

La Monnaie/De Munt

His scheduled performance at the royal theatre (known today as La Monnaie/De Munt) was for 1 November 1847. On that same day the press reports the program as including three pieces to be performed by Fabrizius: Variations brillantes sur un theme de Beethoven, Caprices pour violon seul and Le Carnaval de Venise. It is not clear how many, if any, of these pieces are original compositions. Their titles resemble works by de Bériot, Paganini and Ernst. The rehearsal which seems to have triggered this whole series of unfortunately events was also described in the press, but not in the flowing prose of Louis Schoonen:

The incident which motivated the change in program at the Théâtre Royal has had distressing consequences. It seems that after having heard Mr. Fabrizius practice his pieces which he had proposed to perform that evening, they [the administration of the theatre] were obliged to make him understand that he did not have enough talent to play violin in public in the country of [Charles] de Bériot and [Henri] Vieuxtemps, and by stubbornly wanting to appear in the announced performance, he would expose himself to insults.[3]

It is not clear who took the decision to terminate the performance. One report says that Fabrizius called in sick, but it is possible that theatre made a hasty decision to change that day’s programming. Instead of the concert, which was to include Fabrizius, they scheduled a performance of the Diamants de la Couronne, a comic opera by Auber. However, they seem to have not been able to arrange for all the singers and ultimately had to cancel the concert all together. This left an outraged public who demanded refunds.

Auguste Nourrit

The director of the theatre at the time Auguste Nourrit, who had been nominated in 1847, resigned in November of the same year due to mishandled finances. His attempt to avoid a hostile public by refusing Fabrizius the right to perform may have led to an even worse financial situation as all the tickets had to be refunded.

 For a 19th-century violinist, performing in Brussels or Paris and receiving a positive review was a sure guarantee of a successful career. We are led to believe, by Schoonen’s account, that Fabrizius was in fact invited to come in perform by Mr. M. The fact that Fabrizius had a letter of recommendation to de Bériot and that Fétis, the director of the conservatoire, had review Fabrizius’ compositions may suggest that the German violinist intended to enrol at the conservatory. While Fabrizius would have been one of the older students at that institution, it was not unheard of to accept students of his age in the classe de perfectionnement of Charles de Bériot.

The Belgian musical public was aware of the importance of the Brussels Conservatory and its violin classes, particularly that of Charles de Bériot. When reviewing a concert of the Polish violinist Apollinaire de Kontski only three years later, Le Diapason says:

The Belgian public is too accustomed to hearing good violinists from their own country to be surprised by those who arrive from abroad. The Belgian Violin School occupies the first rank, thanks to the talent of our virtuosi who are appreciated everywhere for their fullness [of sound] and grand style, and have made themselves the most advanced representatives of the art.[4]

Charles de Bériot

While never overtly hostile in their published reviews about foreign violinists, the press usually remained cold to them and as Charles de Bériot said:

To keep on the path of beauty and truth in the arts, what is necessary? To know oneself well. But as “pride tries to deceive oneself”[5]and that criticism frequently irritates or discourages us, we think that the surest way is to judge oneself. That is to discern in the praises that we receive the healthy advice which is almost always present in what is not said. Thus, do they praise your energy? Be careful, it is because you lack grace. Do they speak often of the delicacy of your talent? Be persuaded that you have neither fullness nor force. It is thus a fair mind always takes as advice the counter of praise, in order to never fall into inevitable exaggeration by forcing the trait which they admire.[6]

It is this world of veiled, or perhaps not so veiled criticism, that Nourrit had hoped to spare the young Fabrizius. As a big fish in the large pond of the norther German courts, he had not only entered the ocean that was the Brussels public, but the figurative spawning grounds of the leading violin school in the world.

© 2019 Richard Sutcliffe

Bibliography

De Bériot, Charles, Méthode de violon (Paris: Schott, c.1857)

Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung

                Vol. 8, nr. 151, 18 December 1847, pg. 608

Le Diapason

                18 April 1850, pg. 39-40

Handelsblad

                5 November 1847, pg. 2

                7 November 1847, pg. 2

                12 November 1847, pg. 2-3

Indépendance Belge

                1 November 1847, pg. 3

                2 November 1847, pg. 2

                5 November 1847, pg. 3

L’Italia musicale

                Vol. 1, nr. 21, 24 November 1847, pg. 167

Journal de Bruxelles

                10 November 1847, pg. 2

Neue Berliner Musikzeitung

Vol. 48, 24 November 1847, pg. 395

Vol. 53, 29 November 1847, pg. 435

La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris

                Vol. 14, nr. 46, 14 November 1847, pg. 375


[1] Handelsblad, 7 November 1847, pg. 2.

[2] Hadelsblad, 12 November 1847, pg. 2-3.

[3] Indépendance Belge, 5 November 1847, pg. 3.

[4] Le Diapason, 18 April 1850, pg. 39-40.

[5] De Bériot is quoting Molière’s Le Tartuffe.

[6] De Bériot, Méthode de violon (Paris: Schott, c. 1857), pg. 254.

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