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London-born composer, pianist and teacher, of Italian parentage.
Berger's father was a businessman from Trieste who liked England and decided to stay. His son Francesco, born in London, first played in public at the age of 8 and then got a very thorough musical education studying piano and composition in London, Trieste and finally Leipzig.
On his return to England, in 1855 Berger ventured upon a very long and distinguished career as a pianist and teacher. Between 1868 and 1908 he organized unique classes in London for the study of chamber music with piano, known as the Après-midi instrumentales (Musical Afternoons). From 1886 he was professor of the Royal Academy of Music and from 1887 he taught at the Guildhall School of Music. A member of the Royal Philharmonic Society from 1871, he was elected an honorary secretary from 1884–1911 and became a member of its directorate from 1880 to1912.
Berger knew and befriended everyone of importance in Victorian musical life – Dvorak, Spohr, Meyerbeer, Wagner, Verdi, Brahms, Rubinstein, Berlioz, Jenny Lind, Sullivan, Saint-Saëns, Grieg, Sarasate, Clara Schumann and many other giants of music. He corresponded with Tchaikovsky, and greeted the composer on his visits to London in 1888, 1889 and 1893.
Berger was also a close personal friend of Charles Dickens.He first came into touch with him in 1855, having previously, as he expressed it, “worshipped him from afar.” This was just before Dickens purchased Gadshill, and Berger enjoyed 15 years of friendship with him there and elsewhere, and supplied music for two plays by Wilkie Collins, which Dickens produced at his famous private theatrical parties, The Lighthouse and The Frozen Deep.
Berger composed many works in all genres: masses, operas, overtures, chamber music, piano works (more than 100 light pieces), choral works and songs (among these more than 100 short vocal pieces).
This is a fine 2-page letter, handwritten in black ink (6 York Street, Portman Square, 21/5/90) to the photographer E.Kelsey. It gives us some idea of how constantly busy Berger was (he once claimed to be too busy to have any leisure interests at all).
It reads (in full):
Dear Mr Kelsey,
I am very sorry to say so but it is absolutely impossible for me to get away on Monday. Although I shall do no teaching I have many appointments with artists to keep on this day whom I cannot see at other times, & writing for the Phil.Soc. to do, as well as for the Prince’s Concert Society.
The pleasure must stand over until later in the Season.
I shall not expect you in the morn.
One horizontal correspondence fold; in very good condition.