Franz Xaver Scharwenka was born in Samter, Prussia (Polish: Szamotuły; until 1793 and since 1919 part of Poland) in 1850. Although he began learning to play the piano by ear when he was 3, Scharwenka did not start formal music studies until he was 15, when his family moved to Berlin and he enrolled at the Akademie der Tonkunst. Under Theodor Kullak, his pianistic skills developed rapidly, and he made his debut at the Singakademie in 1869. He taught at the academy until entering military service in 1873. Upon his discharge in 1874, Scharwenka began touring as a concert pianist. Praised for the beauty of his tone, he was a renowned interpreter of the music of Frédéric Chopin.
In 1881 Scharwenka organized a successful annual series of chamber and solo concerts at the Singakademie in conjunction with Gustav Holländer and Heinrich Grünfeld. That October he founded his own music school in Berlin. In 1886 he conducted the first in a series of orchestral concerts devoted to the music of Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt and Ludwig van Beethoven while continuing to tour extensively and play his works in collaboration with other artists such as the conductor Hans Richter and the violinist Joseph Joachim. This triple role as pianist, composer and educator would occupy Scharwenka for the rest of his career.
In 1891, Scharwenka made his first tour of America. Deciding to emigrate, he opened a New York branch of his Scharwenka Music School. In 1893 the Berlin Scharwenka Conservatory was united with the Klindworth Conservatory, and in 1898 he returned there as Director, from New York. In 1914, with W. Petzet, he opened a School of Music with a piano teachers' seminary attached. Among pianists who received some instruction from him were José Vianna da Motta, Fridtjof Backer-Grøndahl and Selmar Jansen. His Methodik des Klavierspiels was published in Leipzig in 1907. 
In addition to his activities as a pianist, composer and founder of a music school, he also organized a series of concerts, focusing mainly on works by prominent composers of the century, including Beethoven, Berlioz and Liszt. Scharwenka made several recordings for Columbia Records in c. 1905 and c. 1908, including works of his own, as well as Chopin, Mendelssohn, Weber and Liszt: his account of Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu (Op. posth. 66) is admired. There are Welte-Mignon piano rolls, including the Chopin A-flat Waltz, Op 42, and the F minor Fantaisie (Op. 49), his performance of which was famous.. He recorded his "Polish Dance No. 1" in E-flat minor, Op. 3, No. 1 on Ampicoreproducing piano roll in 1921.
Scharwenka's own compositions include an opera (Mataswintha), a symphony, four piano concertos, chamber music (all with piano part) and numerous piano pieces. The four piano concertos are substantial works. The first, in B flat minor, Op. 38, was completed in 1874 and premiered the following year. Originally written as a solo piano fantasy, Scharwenka was dissatisfied, and reworked it with orchestra into this form. Franz Liszt accepted the dedication and performed it in Berlin. Its first recording was made in 1968 with Earl Wild and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf. The fourth concerto, in F minor, Op. 82 (1908), was premiered on 18 October 1908 in the Beethovensaal, Berlin, with Scharwenka's student Martha Siebold as the soloist and the composer himself conducting.
Scharwenka's works were neglected for some years after his death; however, his "Polish Dance No. 1" in E-flat minor, Op. 3, No. 1, remained enormously popular. Since the mid-1990s, however, interest in his music has been rekindled, and recordings of most of his works are now available commercially. The recording of his Fourth Piano Concerto played by Stephen Hough with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Foster was voted Record of the Year by the British music magazine Gramophone in 1996. His Symphony in C minor, Op. 60, received its CD premiere in 2004.
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 32 (1876)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 56 (1881)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C♯ minor, Op. 80
Piano Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 82 (1908)
Overture in G (1869)
Andante religioso, Op. 46a, the composer's arrangement of the Cello Sonata (1881)
Symphony in C minor, Op. 60 (1885)
Piano Trio No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1 (1868)
Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 2 (1868)
Piano Quartet in F major, Op. 37 (1876-1877?)
Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 46 (1877)
Works for solo piano
5 Polish Dances for piano, Op. 3
Scherzo in G major for piano, Op. 4
Stories at the Piano, Op. 5
Piano Sonata No. 1 in C sharp minor, Op. 6 (1872)
Polonaise in C sharp minor, Op. 12
Barcarolle in E minor, Op. 14
Impromptu in D major for piano, Op. 17
2 Piano Pieces, Op. 22: Novelette, Melodie
Valse-Caprice in A major for piano, Op. 31
Piano Sonata No. 2 in E♭ major, Op. 36 (1878)
Dance Suites, Op. 41
Polonaise for piano, Op. 42
Piano Trio No. 2 in A minor, Op. 45 (1878)
Polish Dances, Op. 47
Theme and Variations for piano, Op. 48
4 Polish Dances for piano, Op. 58: Moderato, Lento, Allegro non tanto, Moderato
Serenade for violin and piano, Op. 70 (1895)
Eglantine Waltz for piano, Op. 84
3 Piano Pieces, Op. 86: Nocturne, Serenade, Maerchen
Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 56 played by Michael Ponti with the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Kapp. Issued in 1971 as LP, VOX Candide STGBY 651. Also contains Scherzo Op. 4, Erzählung am Klavier no 2, Op. 5, Novelette Op. 22 no. 1, and Polonaise op 42.
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C sharp minor, Op. 80 played by Seta Tanyel with the Radio Philharmonie Hannover conducted by Tadeusz Strugala. Recorded in 1996. CD also contains Piano concerto no. 2 (Hyperion no. 67365)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 82 played by Stephen Hough with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Foster. Recorded in 1995. CD also contains Emil von Sauer's Piano Concerto no. 1 (Hyperion no. 66790).
X. Scharwenka, Klänge aus meinem Leben (Koehler, Leipzig 1922). (autobiography).
Xaver Scharwenka, Sounds From My Life: Reminiscences of a Musician (Hardcover) by Xaver Scharwenka (Author), William E. Petig (Translator), Robert S. Feigelson (Introduction) (The Scarecrow Press, Inc.; Har/Com edition (April 28, 2007)). ISBN 13:978-0-8108-5669-1, ISBN 10:0-8108-5669-7. (This is the first English translation of the autobiography above. In addition to extensive annotations, the book includes an introduction providing an overview of Scharwenka's life and work, a comprehensive discography, and a CD of representative selections of Scharwenka's musical compositions.)