Comptesse de Breville on Ernst’s last years

A little more from Anna, Comptesse de Bréville, on Ernst’s later days. She’s wrong to say that the first signs of illness were first noticed in 1857, but this is the year they became serious enough to force his retirement. And although ‘the violinist being told he must part from his beloved friend’ is something of a romantic cliché (a similar tale is told of Ferdinand David’s last days) there could well be some truth in the story – even if Ernst did occasionally play in private until only months before his death in October 1865:

In 1857 the first signs of [his] disease were noticed; and thenceforward its insidious progress as watched with daily increasing anguish by a number of devoted friends. For some time the doomed man rebelled against his fate; and it was only at the peremptory command of his physician that he did not appear in public.

Poor Ernst was called upon to make even a greater sacrifice. He was forbidden to touch his beloved instrument; and words would be inadequate to convey that scene of agony in which he was told that he must be debarred from future association with his violin. For some time the physician hesitated to inflict the cruelest of blows, but the disease was spreading fast, and its mandate would not be disobeyed. ‘You must give up your violin,’ was the reluctant order. The sufferer pleaded hard, arguing with the force of conviction that, parted from the friend of his life, the world would be a scene of desolation. But such a pleas was in vain. The decline of physical strength was so rapid that the player’s arm had often sunk to his side powerless to wield the bow which had held entranced the audiences of half the civilized world.

The World of Music: The Great Virtuosi (London: Gibbings, 1892) pp.64-5

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