The Maiden's Prayer: Leaves from Grandmother's Piano Album (Balazs Szokolay/ Ilona Prunyi/ Peter Nagy/ Peter Szokolay) (Naxos: 8.550646)
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The Maiden's Prayer
Leaves from Grandmothers Piano Album
The nineteenth century was the age ofthe piano. The newly developed instrument, decorated in the domestic taste of the time and strengthened by the use of an iron frame, making maintenance much easier,proved an admirable centre of home entertainment. The piano enjoyed also a social cachet.
Young ladies with any pretension to gentility were expected to play the instrument, whichhad the additional advantage of being self-sufficient and a useful adjunct in theaccompaniment of singers or other instrumentalists.
Composers and music publishers werequick to realise the importance of the new market for short piano pieces that were not toodemanding. Tekla Badarzewska-Baranowska's well known Maiden'sPrayer was an aptly named response to just such a maiden need for playable andattractive repertoire, ensuring the otherwise unknown composer a measure of immortality.
The genre produced attractive compositions from more distinguished composers than this.
The Czech Antonin Dvorak, no great pianist himself, sketched his famous Humoresque in America, where he spent a few years asdirector of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, writing it up in thetranquillity of his native Bohemia in 1894.
In Vienna at the turn of theeighteenth century and into the nineteenth the presiding genius, Ludwig van Beethoven,also turned his hand to sets of dances for the piano, music that had an obvious practicalapplication. Among such compositions came several sets of minuets, published in themid-1790s, with the Minuet in G the bestknown of all.
The French composer CamilleSaint-Sa?½ns had no intention of publishing his famous Carnivalof the Animals, a jeu d'esprit designed for the private entertainment of hisfriends. The carnival, after all, brought a rare collection of animals, including fossils,critics and pianists. The Swan, however,originally a cello solo, was published, and has continued to please ever since, not leastin soulful accompaniment to languishing ballerinas.
It has been the fate of some composers to be remembered ,popularly at least, by relativelytrivial compositions. Rubinstein, founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and one ofthe most famous virtuoso pianists of his time, as well as a prolific composer of operasand symphonies, is known above all as the composer of a Melodiein F, an undemanding little piece.
Jacques Offenbach, son of a cantorfrom Germany, established himself in Paris as a cellist and, in particular, as a composerof light opera. His Tales of Hoffmann,derived from the work of the writer of the title, includes a scene in Venice, with thescene aptly set by that most Venetian of songs, a Barcarolle.
The Russian composer Pyotr Il'yichTchaikovsky is represented on the present release by two pieces. The first is atranscription of a song, None but the lonely heart, while the second, in similar vein, isa sad song conceived for piano solo, the Chanson tristein G minor.
Mendelssohn's particular contributionto the piano album lies in his Songs without Words.
The title is in apt description of these little pieces, which have the form and melodiccontent of songs, but require the services of no singer. Strangely enough, On Wings of Song, for all the world a song withoutwords, was actually written with words and is a setting of a poem by Heine. It is,however, familiar enough in arrangements such as the present one.
Luigi Boccherini, a cellist who spentmuch of his career in Spain, produced music of great charm, leading to the description ofhim as 'the wife of Haydn', a reference to certain similarities of style with his greatcontemporary. His Minuet, from one of hismany string quintets, is familiar from various arrangements.
Among the great violinists of thetwentieth century Fritz Kreisler occupies a special position. His compositions, chieflyfor the violin, included a deceptive series of pastiches, pieces attributed to great ifforgotten composers, but in fact his own work. He was able to acknowledge openly his Liebesleid (Pain of Love), here performed in atranscription by the great Russian pianist and composer Sergey Rachmaninov, and his Caprice viennois, a recollection of the city ofVienna, where he spent his youth.
The Rustle of Spring, a piece that sounds rather more difficult than itreally is, has delighted amateur pianists anxious to impress their audience. The Norwegiancomposer Christian Sinding was a more substantial figure than this piece might suggest,with Wagnerian operas and symphonies to his credit, and a formidable number of songs, some250 in all, ensuring him a place as a successor of Grieg in the musical history of hiscountry.
Music and politics seem a world apart.
The great pianist Paderewski, however, was to become Prime Minister and Minister ofForeign Affairs in newly independent Poland in 1919, positions from which he retired inthe following year, later resuming his international career as a performer. Although hedid not write exclusively for the piano, Paderewski's works include a number of smallerscale piano pieces, among which the Minuet in G major
enjoys particular favour.
Gustav Lange's Edelweiss is familiar in many arrangements, as isthe Moravian Frantiek Drdla's Souvenir, originally written for violin and piano bythis violinist composer. Grieg is a composer of greater stature, an important figure inNorwegian musical nationalism. In a series of albums ofLyric Pieces he added significantly to domestic piano repertoire, as in his very NorwegianWedding Dar at Troldhaugen.
With the French composer Fran?ºois-JospehGossec we return to an earlier period of musical history. He enjoyed fame in France beforethe Revolution, after which he turned his attention to the provision of acceptable musicfor his new masters, only to lose his position when the Bourbon monarchy was restored.
His Gavotte 'Rosine' is taken from an operaof that name, written in 1786.
Edward Elgar's Salut d'amour was written in response to a poemfrom the middle-aged spinster who was to become his wife, and was followed at once by hisproposal of marriage. Originally entitled Liebesgruss,it sold very much better under the publisher's new French title than it had under itsoriginal German, a source of great profit to them and of very little to the composer.
The Merry Widow returns us to the world of Viennese operetta and themusic of Franz Lehar, a Hungarian-born bandmaster who made his career in Vienna. The workdeals with the marital complications involving the widow of the title herself and herlover and suitor.
The name of Zdenek Fibich may bejoined with those of Dvorak and Smetana, the founders of Czech musical nationalism in thesecond half of the nineteenth century. His Po?¿me
is taken from a set of Moods, Impressions andReminiscences, published in 1894.
The album closes with Leon Jessel's Parade of the Tin Soldiers, one of the better knownpieces by this German composer, who produced a number of similar short character-piecesfor an immediately welcoming public, at the same time winning himself a contemporaryreputation with his operettas.