Heinrich Picot de Peccaduc, Freiherr von Herzogenberg (10 June 1843 – 9 October 1900) was an Austrian composer and conductor descended from a French aristocratic family.
He was born in Graz and was educated at a Jesuit school in Feldkirch and also in Munich, Dresden and Graz before studying law, philosophy and political science at the university of Vienna. He soon turned his energies to music and attended the composition classes of Felix Otto Dessoff until 1864. Early on he was attracted to the music of Richard Wagner, but after studying J. S. Bach's works he became an adherent of the classical tradition and became an advocate for the music of Brahms. In 1866 he married Elisabet von Stockhausen, who had been a piano pupil of Brahms; Brahms's letters to and from both Herzogenbergs form one of the most delightful sections of his correspondence. They lived in Graz until 1872, when they moved to Leipzig: in 1874, with the Bach scholar Philipp Spitta, Herzogenberg founded the Leipzig Bach-Verein, which concerned itself with the revival of Bach’s cantatas. Herzogenberg was its artistic director for ten years, during which time Ethel Smyth was one of his composition pupils. From 1885 he was Professor of Composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin: it was in this capacity that he advised the young Ralph Vaughan Williams to study with Max Bruch. He died suddenly in Wiesbaden, aged 57; in his last years he used a wheelchair due to necrosis of the joints.
Herzogenberg was a well-schooled composer of definite gifts, and was the first to write a set of Variations on a theme of Brahms (his op.23, for four hands at one piano, composed in 1876 on the Brahms song, Die Trauernde, op.7 no.5), but despite Elisabet’s cajoling Brahms almost never expressed approval of his works. It has been suggested that he was piqued that Herzogenberg had married Elisabet, of whom he was himself extremely fond. Toward the end of his life, Brahms grudgingly relented somewhat writing, “Herzogenberg is able to do more than any of the others.”
While Herzogenberg has tended to be characterized as a mere epigone of Brahms, many of his compositions show little or no overt Brahmsian influence, for example his two string trios Op.27 Nos. 1 & 2, while some early compositions pre-dating his acquaintance with Brahms have features in common with the older composer.
Towards the end of his life he concentrated on providing music for communal worship in the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Strasbourg, under the influence of Friedrich Spitta, brother of Philipp Spitta, who was professor of theology there, though Herzogenberg himself remained Roman Catholic. His models in these pieces were the Bach oratorios and passions, with chorales designed to be sung by the congregation and only a small instrumental ensemble. He also wrote a large-scale Mass in memory of Philipp Spitta, for which Friedrich Spitta selected the text. Several of Herzogenberg’s major works were thought to have been destroyed during World War II but resurfaced during the 1990s.