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Musical composer and pianist, b. at Geneva, 1812; d. at Posilipo, Italy, 27 April, 1871. The precise date of his birth is a matter of dispute. He was a natural son of Prince Moritz Dietrichstein, and at an early age was brought by him to Vienna. While yet a boy, at the Polytechnic Institute of the Austrian capital, Thalberg formed a friendship with the young Duc de Reichstadt (popularly known as L'Aiglon), who so fired his imagination with the vision of military glory that he was upon the point of entering that career. From this step he was saved by the early discovery of his musical genius through Mittag, the Viennese bassoonist. Devoting himself in good earnest to music, of which he had acquired some knowledge from Mittag, he studied theory under Sechter and pianoforte technic under Hummel. At the age of fourteen he had already made his first public appearance as a pianist in Prince Metternich's salon. Four years later (1830) he began touring Europe, was received with enthusiasm by the virtuosi of the day, and was eventually (1834) appointed court chamber-musician by the emperor. During the next quarter of a century, a period in which the development of the pianoforte made enormous advances, Thalberg's fame was unrivalled save for his great contemporary, Franz Liszt. His concerts and recitals drew crowds, not only in all the capitals of Europe, including London, but also in Brazil and in the United States (1857). The world of musical criticism was for a time divided between the two parties of Thalberg's admirers and those of Liszt. To Liszt, nevertheless, is due perhaps the most decisive encomium of Thalberg as a pianist: "Thalberg is the only artist who can play the violin on the piano". In 1843 he married the widow of Boucher, the painter, a daughter of the famous operatic basso, Lablache.
Thalberg's chief contribution to the advancement of musical art seems to have been as an exponent of possibilities in pianoforte technic which had been unsuspected before his time. He not only possessed the mastery of touch in a transcendent degree and excelled in sostenuto playing by the use of the pedal, but actually discovered a method of making two hands produce the triple effect of melody, accompaniment, and bass on one keyboard - a resource exploited by many composers after him. His compositions, some 100 in number, include two operas, "Florinda" and "Christina di Suezia", both important only as demonstrating his unfitness for this field of art. He composed successfully only for the instrument of which he was an unquestioned master, his best-known works being the fantasias on operatic and other popular melodies.
HUME, in Dict. of Music and Musicians (London, 1903-11); Thalberg and Vieux-temps Grand Concert Book (pamphlet preserved in the British Museum, London).