ADRIEN FRANCOIS SERVAIS (1807 - 1866)
Adrien François Servais, the Paganini of the cello,” was born on June 6, 1807 in Hals, Belgium, near Brussels. His father was a church musician. Servais first studied the violin (and was quite an accomplished player), but after hearing the cellist Nicholas-Joseph Platel (1777–1835), Servais switched his allegiance to the cello. Servais was admitted to Platel’s class in the Royal School of Music (in 1832 this institution became the Brussels Conservatory) at age 12 and soon won a premier prix. By 1829 Servais had become Platel’s assistant. In 1833, at the suggestion of François Joseph Fétis (1784–1871, Belgian composer and critic), Servais traveled to Paris and gave several successful concerts. This success was repeated in an 1835 Philharmonic concert in London during which Servais played his own cello concerto. It was probably during this time that Servais became acquainted with the music of Nicoló Paganini (1782–1840), and the great Italian became one of Servais’ great influences. He returned to Brussels and was soon giving concerts of his own compositions, and these concerts were very successful. Servais met the violinists Henri Vieuxtemp and Hubert Léonard in Brussels, and later collaborated with them in several works (including several on this disc). All three men were associated with the Brussels Conservatory. Beginning in 1836 Servais again took to the road, going back to Paris and also appearing in Holland, Germany, France, Russia, Austria, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. On one occasion Servais performed Beethoven’s Trio in B-flat Major, opus 97, with Felix Mendelssohn on piano and Ferdinand David on violin. Of particular interest are his four separate trips to Russia (he married in St. Petersburg in 1849) which culminated in an 1866 tour shortly before his death; one of his Russia tours reached as far as Siberia. One Russian reviewer wrote that “there is not a single artistic quality that this unsurpassed musician does not possess.” His concert tours of Russia did much to inspire Russian cellists such as Karl Davydov. In 1848 Servais was appointed first cellist of the Royal Chapel and a professor of cello at the Conservatory, and while the frequency of his concertizing diminished he continued to travel until the year of his death. He died at Hals on November 26, 1866.