Philipp Scharwenka was the elder brother of legendary pianist Xaver Scharwenka. As in the case of Xaver, Philipp's mother initially trained him in music, and both brothers studied at the Neue Akademie der Tonkunst under its founder, Theodor Kullak. Whereas Xaver went onto a glittering career as a virtuoso pianist, Philipp accepted the position of theory teacher at the Neue Akademie der Tonkunst and decided to pursue composition and conducting. When Xaver founded the conservatory that bore his name in Berlin in 1880, Philipp left the Neue Akademie in order to join him, and likewise traveled to New York City in 1891-1892 to assist Xaver in founding a conservatory there. Upon returning to Berlin, Philipp took over the directorship of the Scharwenka Conservatory and continued to lead it even after it merged with the Klindworth Conservatory. Among many students who passed through Philipp's hands was conductor Otto Klemperer, who later recalled that Philipp was the first person he knew who recognized the compositional genius of Gustav Mahler.
Philipp was not a compositional genius himself, though he composed at least 120 works including an opera, symphonies, many other orchestral pieces, concerti, and various chamber compositions. The prevailing wisdom, reflected in Grove's, is that he was a competent composer whose works are not of lasting value. However, as they have slowly come to be revived and recorded, it has been revealed that Philipp Scharwenka's music, while certainly derivative of the works of others and intractably romantic in style, is at least better than such an evaluation would indicate.