Georg Henschel was in born in Breslau on February 18th, 1850, singing in public by the age of nine and attending the Leipzig Conservatory by the age of 17. He quickly proved proficient in voice, composition, piano and conducting. He soon was securing major engagements as a baritone under Verdi and Brahms, the latter was a major influence on him. The composer from Hamburg always admired his talents, Henschel was introduced to friends as "a singer who composes."
In 1879, while in London, he met a 19-year-old soprano, born in Columbus, Ohio, whose family moved to Boston when her vocal talents developed. Lillian Bailey made a triumphant return home to Massachusetts and on March 3rd, 1881 appeared with her fiancé at a concert by the Harvard Musical Association. They were married six days later.
It was there that Henry Lee Higginson heard the two perform, but it was Henschel's conducting of his Concert Overture that impressed Higginson enough to offer him to conduct a new orchestra he was launching, the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The first 3 seasons were an artistic
success, the ensemble gave nearly as many concerts as the New York
Philharmonic had in their first 30 seasons. There were nearly as
many performances outside of Boston as in the Music Hall (now the
Orpheum Theatre). But it was a financial drain. Higginson lost a
small fortune but soldiered on.
It isn't clear today who decided that Henschel's term was to conclude after 3 seasons, but at the final Friday afternoon public rehearsal, the orchestra and audience surprised the conductor with Auld Lang Syne.
At the end of his tenure, the Henschels left America, not for central Europe, but for England, grateful for a country that wasn't poisoned with anti-Semitism. Continuing his conducting career on top of his voice recitals and composition, he founded the London Symphony concerts in 1886 (which folded in 1897 to be revived within a decade) and the Scottish Symphony from 1893-1895.
Throughout his active career, his only operatic appearance took place on December 9th, 1899, when a cast member became ill in his opera Nubia.
Georg and Lillian Henschel had a daughter in Boston. Helen Henschel, like her father was an active recitalist and also accompanied herself at the piano in performance. When Lillian Henschel died in 1901 at the age of 41, daughter Helen was contralto soloist for the Requiem Georg Henschel wrote in his wife's memory.
Georg Henschel was also an important teacher, replacing Jenny Lind at the Royal College of Music in 1886. Among his many students was Roland Hayes. He was knighted Sir George Henschel in 1914, at the conclusion of his vocal career. That career was revived in 1928, for the Schubert centennial. For a singer born in 1850, Henschel's recordings show an instrument in amazing condition for someone well past the standard singing career. We have only one recording of his conducting, as he participated in the first complete cycle of the Beethoven Symphonies, made for the centennial of Beethoven's death in 1927. Henschel was given the Beethoven Symphony #1 (other conductors were Thomas Beecham, Henry Wood, Hamilton Harty and Felix Weingartner).
Sir George Henschel returned to the Boston Symphony for the 50th season. On October 10th 1930 he replicated his first BSO program of October 1881, with a single exception, closing the concert with Wagner's Meistersinger Prelude. He died in Scotland on September 10th, 1934.