Romantic Piano Favourites, Vol. 3 (Balazs Szokolay/ Janos Matyas) (Naxos: 8.550107)
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Romantic Piano Favourites-Volumes 3
The third collection of Romantic PianoFavourites contains a popular mixture of well known pieces, starting with an Air and Variations from a harpsichordsuite by Handel that enjoyed particular favour in a more romantic guise, underthe title The Harmonious Blacksmith.
In fact the strokes of the blacksmith's hammer were not its inspiration, thelegend of the work's inception being entirely posthumous.
Beethoven's piano sonatas offer a formidableanthology of the composer's own developing style in writing for the piano, oncedescribed by a critic as the New Testament to the Old Testament of JohannSebastian Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues.
The Andante in F, known as the Andante favori, was originally intended asthe slow movement of the famous sonata dedicated to Count Waldstein, an earlypatron, through whose agency Beethoven had been introduced to the attention ofpolite society in Vienna, on his arrival there in 1792. The movement waswritten in 1803 and published in Vienna two years later.
Dvorak, the son of a village inn-keeper andbutcher in Bohemia, forsook the family business to become a major figure inEuropean music in the later 19th century. As a composer he was never far awayfrom the national source of his inspiration, and it was the success of his Moravian Dances, published by Simrock atthe request of Brahms, that led to a commission for a set of Slavonic Dances for piano duet, of whichOpus 46 No.1 was the first.
An important figure in the life of Dvorak wasJohannes Brahms, who had left his native Hamburg to settle in Vienna in 1863,establishing himself, in the eyes of many, as the successor of Beethoven, muchto the annoyance of Richard Wagner and his followers, who saw the music of thefuture in very different terms. Brahms himself was a pianist of some ability,although critics were later to praise rather the musical thought than thetechnique of his performance. The sixteen Waltzes
that make up his Opus 39 were written in 1863, with aversion for piano duet andan arrangement for solo piano. The work was dedicated to the critic EduardHanslick, a strong supporter of Brahms, portrayed by Wagner in Die Meistersinger as Beckmesser.
Schumann paid due respect to Vienna, where hehad once briefly hoped to make a name of himself, as his future wife Clara haddone with her remarkable piano playing. The story of Schumann's marriage,against the opposition of Clara's father, has appealed to the romanticimagination, although subsequent events and the composer's insanity and earlydeath may suggest that Friedrich Wieck was exercising mere common prudence inprohibiting his daughter's marriage. The Albumfor the Young was written in 1848, eight years after Schumann'smarriage, at a time ofpolitical disturbance in Dresden, where the couple had made their home. In thespace of a fortnight he wrote some 43 little pieces, to supply a general needfor music of good quality for young players, and more specifically for the twoeldest of his four children.
The Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg,descendant of a Scottish lobster-importer, who had taken refuge in Norway afterthe Battle of Culloden and the defeat of the Stuart cause, was to prove themost important figure in the creation of a national school of music in his nativecountry, in spite of his training in Leipzig and the then predominance ofDanish culture in that part of Scandinavia. A pianist himself, he publishedduring his life ten volumes of Lyric Pieces,vignettes of colour and variety. The Marchof the Trolls offers a picture of those often hostilepersonifications of the forces of nature, the Trolls, creatures that make theirappearance in Ibsen's play Peer Gynt,for which Grieg provided incidental music. ToSpring, also included in the present anthology, formed part of acollection of Lyric Pieces
published in Leipzig in 1886.
The Songwithout Words was a favourite form of nineteenth century composers,a suitable title for a short piano piece of obvious melodic appeal.
Tchaikovsky, who used the title more than once, if not with the prolificenthusiasm of Mendelssohn, included his Chantsans paroles in F in a collection of three pieces written in thesummer of 1867 and collected under the title Souvenirde Hapsal. Now employed at the Conservatory in Moscow, he hadintended to spend the holiday with his brother Anatoly in Finland, but moneyran out, and returning to St. Petersburg the brothers found the family houseclosed, in the absence of their father. In desperation they travelled asdeck-passengers to Hapsal, a resort on the Estonian coast, where their brotherModest was staying with Tchaikovsky's married sister Sasha Davidov. The threepieces represent a change of attitude to Hapsal, a place he had hoped to avoid,but which he came to like, in spite of shortage of money.
Moritz Moszkowski, a German musician of Polishorigin, enjoyed a reputation as a performer and as a composer of lighter music,particularly of a Spanish flavour, an association he was unable completely todiscard. His piano music, and in particular the famous Etincelles, was enormously popular withhis contemporaries, a fine example of salon music.
The needs of performers in the days beforerecording included arrangements and transcriptions. Some of these might simplymake orchestral music available in the home, while others might provide animaginative re-creation of the original music in terms of the piano. FranzLiszt, one of the greatest virtuosi of his time, transcribed a great deal ofmusic for his own use as a concert pianist, particularly during the first partof his career, before settling in Weimar to pursue interests in orchestralmusic.
His version of a song from Schubert's songcycle Die schone M??llerin wasgiven its final form in 1846, following earlier transcriptions of Schubert's Schwanengesang and Die Winterreise.
Music and politics seem a world apart. Thegreat pianist Paderewski, however, was to become Prime Minister and Minister ofForeign Affairs in newly independent Poland in 1919, positions from which heretired in the following year, later resuming his international career as aperformer. Although he did not write exclusively for the piano, Paderewski'sworks include a number of smaller scale piano pieces, among which the Menuet celebre enjoys particular favour.
Sergey Rachmaninov's version of his compatriotRimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee,is a further example of inspired transcription by a great virtuoso. The bee inquestion has made its appearance in arrangement after arrangement, but had itsorigin in the opera Tsar Saltan,where it is, in fact, the metamorphosed Prince Guidon, who takes revenge on hiswicked aunts by stinging them.
The Swan of the French composer Camille Saint-Saenswas the only part of the Carnival of theAnimals that he allowed to be published. The whole work, intended asa private jeu d'esprit, isnowadays a part, at least, of the juvenile orchestral concert repertoire,although its original form was for a very small group of players.
Saint-Saens was known as the French Mendelssohn,with the earlier composer's command of classical form and clarity of texture.
Mendelssohn himself, belonging to the generation of the first romantics, wrotethroughout his life a number of short pieces for piano, grouped together