'Delightful concertos. Kullak's in particular strikes me as a gem. Piers Lane plays both with dexterity and wit. A winner' (The Sunday Times)
'I can't stop playing the disk: the anticipation of a number of ear-tickling passages, notably in the Kullak, is too delicious for words. Effervescent, lightweight music transformed into entertaining and compelling minor masterpieces' (Classic CD)
'Performed with the kind of zestful spirit and communicative flair that his rightly won this series so many plaudits' (Gramophone)
'This is opne of the very finest of Hyperion's 'Romantic Piano Concertos' series (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)
Allegro moderato ma con fuoco [10'06]
Allegro ma non troppo [10'03]
Andante con moto [6'10]
Allegro vivace [8'06]
Dreyschock and Kullak are today only footnotes in the biographies of those who emerged from the nineteenth century as giants of the musical world, but in their time both artists were very significant indeed.
Both were pianists (and born in the same year) but had very different careers. Dreyschock seems to have been a bit of a showman and played loud and fast, he made a speciality of his left hand work and was one of the first to compose for this esoteric medium. His large output of compositions seem never to have made much impression and it is now purely as a performer that he is remembered. His only concerto (not to be confused with his Concertstück once recorded on LP) is rather Mendelssohnian and has a particularly energetic finale.
Although by all accounts also a superb virtuoso Kullak gravitated towards teaching and became perhaps the most prolific teacher of the nineteenth century century; he eventually founded his own Academy in Berlin which had a roll of around 1000 piano students at its peak.
His only concerto was published in 1855 and is quite conservative for its time, though it may have been written earlier. It clearly derives from the tradition of Hummel and contains much brilliant finger work interspersed with a lyricism very reminiscent of Chopin. It may not be profound, but it is both beautiful and entertaining and must surely be one of the most enjoyable 'lost' concertos around.
Other recommended albums
I had … gone to Kullak, who is now the first teacher in Germany, since all the greatest virtuosi have given up teaching. Kullak himself is a truly splendid artist, which I had not expected. He used to have great fame here as a pianist, but I supposed that as he had given up his concert playing, he did not keep it up. I found, however, that I was mistaken. His playing does not suffer in comparison even with Tausig’s, whom I have so often heard. Why in the world he has not continued playing in public I can’t imagine, but I am told that he was too nervous. Like all artists, he is fascinating, and full of whims and caprices. He knows everything in the way of music, and when I take my lessons he has two grand pianos side by side, and he sits at one and I at the other. He knows by heart everything that he teaches, and he plays sometimes with me, sometimes before me, and shows me all sorts of ways of playing passages. I am getting no end of ideas from him. I have enjoyed playing my Beethoven Concerto so much, for he has played all the orchestral parts. Just think how exciting to have a great artist like that play second piano with you! Kullak … is not nearly so terrible a teacher as Tausig. He has the greatest patience and gentleness, and helps you on.
So wrote Amy Fay, that delightful American diarist whose Music-Study in Germany has captivated and informed generations of pianists.
Theodor Kullak (1818–1882) was undoubtedly one of the great teachers of the last century. The list of his pupils is almost as comprehensive as that of Franz Liszt. It includes names like Xaver Scharwenka, Moritz Moszkowski, Nikolai Rubinstein, Otto Bendix, Hans Bischoff, Alfred Grünfeld, James Kwast and Julius Reubke along with a host of others perhaps less familiar to modern readers.
Kullak was born on 12 September 1818 in a little town called Krotoschin, which is now Krotoszyn in Poland. He began his piano studies as a pupil of Albrecht Agthe in Posen. He progressed sufficiently to excite the interest of the artistic Prince Anton Radziwill in his eighth year. This early ability to attract noble patronage was an art he continued to deploy to advantage for many years to come. In 1829 the Prince used his influence to secure a Berlin Court concert—quite a coup for an eleven-year-old from Posen! He appeared with a co-artist called Henriette Sontag, and so delighted was the usually undemonstrative King that he presented young Theodor with thirty Friedrichs d’or. Six weeks in Berlin was a real adventure, and it was topped off with a concert in Breslau which was received with gratifying applause. The kindly Prince Radziwill then saw to a rounded education for Theodor, sponsoring his school fees in Zullichau.
Alas, Theodor eventually lost Radziwill’s patronage and from the age of thirteen to eighteen had to live with just occasional access to a piano. At nineteen, at his father’s behest, he opted for a sensible profession and went to study medicine in Berlin. A new aristocratic friend, Ingenheim, provided a small stipend which allowed him music studies with Siegfried Dehn and E E Taubert. Ingenheim was also instrumental in providing him with several pupils of rank. Medicine was not close to Theodor’s heart. Music was a more pressing vocation and in 1842 a Frau von Massow interceded on his behalf in the right places, and Friedrich Wilhelm IV placed 400 thaler at Kullak’s disposal, specifically for piano studies. The 24-year-old opted for a Viennese education. Czerny happily took over his pianistic schooling, and Herr Otto Nikolai and Herr Sechter, the theoretical side of things. Liszt and Henselt were also highly revered influences. Kullak played a little in Austria that year but in 1843 returned to Berlin where Fräulein von Hellwig secured him the post of pianoforte instructor to Princess Anna, the daughter of Prince Karl. This was just the beginning. Kullak seemed subsequently to make a speciality of teaching princes and princesses of the Royal house, as well as the offspring of many upper-class families who became aware of his excellent professorial qualifications, connections and, presumably, his unimpeachable manners!
In 1844 he founded the Tonkünstler-Verein in Berlin and presided over it for many years. Two years later, at the age of twenty-eight, he was made Pianist to the Prussian Court, and four years after that founded the Berliner Musikschule (also known as the Kullak Institute) in partnership with Julius Stern and Bernhard Marx. However, during the ensuing five years, dissension reared its ugly head among them and Kullak retired from his institute which then became known as the Stern Conservatoire, with von Bülow as a director.
In 1851 Kullak established a new school, the Neue Akademie der Tonkunst, which proved a lasting success and was affectionately referred to as ‘Kullak’s Academy’. It specialised in the training of pianists and became the largest private music school in the whole of Germany. By the time of its twenty-fifth anniversary it boasted a hundred teachers and eleven hundred students. Kullak was made Professor in 1861 and was also elected to honorary membership of the Royal Academy of Music in Florence. Many other distinctions were also accorded him. His son Franz (1844–1913) received his musical education at his father’s Academy, completing his studies under Wehle and Litolff in Paris. After abandoning a concert career because of a nervous complaint, he taught at the Neue Akademie, succeeding his father as director when Theodor died in 1882.
Amy Fay describes the Theodor of the early 1870s as looking:
Many of Kullak’s students such as Amy Fay went on to study with Liszt. Franz Liszt was on friendly terms with Kullak, but Carl Lachmund (another American pianist, diarist and pupil of Liszt) reports that when Kullak died on 1 March 1882 Liszt wasn’t best pleased with his colleague. Apparently Kullak amassed an immense personal fortune throughout his professional life. Says Lachmund:
Another review of this sonata objected to too much of Beethoven’s influence in it. The Symphonie de Piano, Grande Sonate en Quatre Parties, in E flat, Op 27 (c1846), was reviewed as an unoriginal, often tedious piece with too much of Spohr’s influence this time! Spohr was the dedicatee. The critic felt the piece had more the feel of an orchestral reduction than that of an orchestral creation. Poor old Kullak! There were successful works however! Weitzman in 1897 refers the reader to the Trio, Op 77 (1853), which proved him:
Among Kullak’s educational publications are the Kinderleben, short pieces for children, Opp 62 and 81; Sheherazade, Six little pieces, Op 78; and the School of Finger-Practice, Op 61. There are many characteristic salon pieces such as Ondine, Les Etincelles, and Les Danaïdes. He also published transcriptions and rearrangements of works by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Chopin—and even of an aria from Weber’s Der Freischütz.
The Piano Concerto in C minor, Op 55, was composed around 1850 in Leipzig. I hope the listener finds it as engaging to listen to as it is to play. It certainly stood out as exceptional when first sight-read along with twenty or so others of its ilk! Its C minor key lends it a noble poignancy in places and dramatic fire in others. Bellini and Chopin are not far distant a lot of the time. Weber too gets a look-in during the last movement. The bravura of the great virtuoso—which Kullak undoubtably was—obviously informs much of the texture; there are nasty passages in double notes to overcome, and lots of scales and arpeggios to practise. Nonetheless, I really feel Kullak the renowned musician of taste and depth underneath all the virtuoso elements. There’s a wide-ranging temperament at work, with a charming sense of humour, a lyrical passion, a darker awareness, and the performer’s sense of occasion and flair.
There is undoubtedly more profundity here than there is in Alexander Dreyschock’s Piano Concerto in D minor, Op 137, although this too is great fun to play. Theodor Kullak once said that Dreyschock’s technique was better than Liszt’s, and Kullak’s opinion is not one to take lightly. Certainly the Revue et Gazette Musicale in Paris spoke of a ‘new pianistic trinity’ when Dreyschock first played there as a 24-year-old in 1843—with Liszt as the Father, Thalberg the Son, and Dreyschock the Holy Ghost.
Alexander Dreyschock was born on 15 October 1818 at Zak in Bohemia. While still a small child he lost his father. He was a gifted boy, though, and his musical talents were first displayed publicly at the age of eight. At fifteen he travelled to Prague to study piano and composition with Václav Tomášek. Apparently his mother was somewhat simple and used to tell people he was studying medicine. By the age of twenty, Alexander was a stunningly proficient pianist and undertook his first professional tour in December 1838, performing in various northern and central towns in Germany. The Paris Revue reported:
A German [of course, they got that wrong], Alexander Dreyschock is presently travelling in Prussia and Hanover; everywhere he goes he causes a furore. We are assured as far as mechanism and prodigious finger facility are concerned, he is the most astonishing player, and that when he arrives in Paris he will prove a dangerous rival for Liszt, Thalberg and Dohler.
A promising start! He took things further in 1840, touring Russia (1840–42); Paris (spring 1843); London, Holland, Austria and Hungary (1846); and Denmark and Sweden in 1849. Everywhere he caused a sensation with prodigious execution of thirds, sixths, and octaves, plus a few other little tricks. When he made his Paris debut in 1843 he not only played his own compositions—which was expected anyway—but he appeared without co-artists, amazing one critic who saw no signs of boredom in the audience right throughout the evening! He also included among his offerings a piece just for the left hand alone. Various left-hand pieces were definitely published prior to Dreyschock’s advent, but perhaps they hadn’t been considered fit for public consumption, because Dreyschock achieved notoriety with this novel accomplishment of his. Johann Baptist Cramer, by now an elderly gentleman, exclaimed: ‘You don’t have a left hand; you have two right hands!’ Hector Berlioz praised the young man ‘whose talent is fresh, brilliant and energetic, with immense technical skill and musical feeling of the highest order.’ Not all reviewers were so accommodating. Hanslick said Dreyschock ‘completed the succession of those virtuosi whose bravura was capable of attracting and fascinating a numerous public which admired technical magic and was happiest in astonishment’, and Henri Blanchard, whilst overall deeply impressed, wondered at the variations for the left hand alone (Dreyshock’s renowned set on ‘God Save the Queen’): ‘a kind of tour de force more curious to see than it is gracious to hear; the inextricable difficulties are its principal merit … but what are the lapsus manus in the incessant jumps of a single hand which does the work of two?’
Dreyschock’s most glamorous prestidigitation even provoked Liszt. Apparently Dreyschock’s teacher, Tomášek, had one day exclaimed about the extraordinary attainments of the modern-day virtuoso, and he prophesied that some day in the future, some virtuoso would be able to play the left-hand of Chopin’s Etude Op 10 No 12 (the so-called ‘Revolutionary’ Etude) in octaves instead of single notes. Inspired by this heady vision, Dreyschock went home and practised twelve hours a day for six weeks. At the end of it all he was able to perform the ‘Revolutionary’ at speed in the prescribed octaves. It astonished Mendelssohn when he heard it at the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts, and it obviously made Liszt sweat a little when Dreyschock began single-handedly to usurp his Viennese audience. At his next Viennese concert, Liszt purled through Chopin’s Etude in F minor, Op 25 No 2. After the rapturous applause, he repeated the first bar slowly and tentatively—in octaves. Then again, a little faster. Then he really sped up and whisked the entire etude into an octave souffle. Talk about one-upmanship! Liszt remained King in Vienna, but Hans von Bülow couldn’t compete with Dreyschock’s success there. He called Dreyschock’s event ‘a got-up furore’, and described the left-hand wizard as ‘an homme-machine, the personification of lack of genius, with the exterior of a clown’. Whatever the musical raison d’être for left-hand pieces may be, Dreyschock’s tricks ensured him a place in the history books—and a large fee-paying public during his lifetime. The King of Denmark even gave him a box of cigars wrapped in 100-thaler bank notes after his left-hand Variations created a sensation in Copenhagen.
There is another lovely anecdote relating to the Viennese season. It was originally told to Richard Mansfield, whose mother was in the Viennese court (which, incidentally, appointed Dreyschock ‘Imperial Pianist’). At his Court debut, Dreyschock played to the Emperor in a very hot chamber with closed windows. He began to perspire.
The Emperor observed his performance with great interest. At its conclusion, Dreyschock stood up before the Emperor, afraid to wipe the sweat from his brow. The Emperor condescended to say ‘My dear Dreyschock, I have heard Moscheles play’. Dreyschock bowed. ‘I have heard Thalberg.’ Dreyschock lowered himself more. ‘I have heard Liszt.’ Dreyschock almost prostrated himself. ‘I have heard all of the great pianists. But I never, never, never saw anybody perspire as you do!’
William Mason, the American pianist, gives an interesting insight into Dreyschock’s technical approach to the keyboard. In his Memories of Musical Life, he wrote:
At the time of which I write (1849–1850) very little seems to have been known (in Europe) of the important influence of the upper-arm muscles and their very efficient agency, when properly employed in the production of tone-quality and volume by means of increased relaxation, elasticity, and springiness in their movements. I received considerably over one hundred lessons from Dreyschock, and with slow and rapid scale and arpeggio practice his instruction had special reference to limber and flexible wrists, his distinguishing feature being his wonderful octave playing. Beyond the wrist, however, the other arm muscles received practically little or no attention, and the fact is that during my whole stay abroad none of my teachers or their pupils, with many of whom I was intimately associated, seemed to know anything about the importance of the upper-arm muscles, the practical knowledge of which I had acquired through the playing of Leopold de Meyer … In the Tomášek method, as taught and practised by Dreyschock, the direction to the pupil was simply to keep the wrists loose. To be sure, this could not be altogether accomplished without some degree of arm-limberness, but no specific directions were given for cultivating the latter.
There seem to be contradictory reports about Dreyschock’s tone. Heinrich Heine penned a memorable pun in relation to this:
I can truly report that public opinion has declared him one of the greatest of pianists and compared him with the most celebrated. He makes a hell of a din (‘höllischen Spektakel’). You believe you’re hearing not the pianist, Dreyschock, but rather three times three-score (‘drei Schock’) pianists! Since on the evening of his concert the wind was blowing south by west, perhaps you heard the racket in Augsburg. At such a distance the effect might be agreeable. Here however, in this Department of the Seine, it would be easy to burst an eardrum when this piano-banger pounds away. Hang yourself Franz Liszt, you are an ordinary god (‘Windgötze’) compared with this God of Thunder.
Charles Hallé, too, reported on Dreyschock’s loud playing in London in 1843. But Ignaz Moscheles, whom Dreyschock encountered during his visit to London (where he gave fifteen concerts in that single season), declared:
There were, thankfully, lots of honours to deflect the jibes. Eduard Marxsen, later one of Brahms’s teachers, dedicated his Three Left Hand Impromptus to Dreyschock, as did Theodor Leschetizky his arrangement of the Sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor. In 1862 Anton Rubinstein invited him to become a staff member at the newly founded Conservatoire of Music in St Petersburg. He was appointed Professor of Piano, Court Pianist to the Tsar and also Director of the Imperial School of Music for the Operatic Stage. He maintained this double post for six years, but his health suffered appallingly with the apparently disagreeable Russian climate. Frequently he requested leave of absence to regain his strength in the southern sunshine. He moved to Italy in 1868, but it was too late and he died in Venice on 1 April 1869 at the age of fifty-one. At the wish of his family he was buried in Prague.
Dreyschock’s output included an opera, Florette oder die erste Liebe Heinrichs IV—it was an outstanding flop. There is also an Overture, a Rondo for orchestra, a string quartet, at least three piano sonatas (one was played in Paris in 1843; Op 30 was written in 1845; the finale of a third in E flat was played in Prague in 1847) and 140 piano pieces of the salon type, including the Rhapsodies, Opp 37, 38 and 39, and the descriptive pieces Le Festin de Noces vénitiens, Op 69.
It is surprising that Dreyschock’s ego could withstand the volume of criticisms levelled against his creative abilities. How’s this for a reaction to your proudly published Op 1?
I have never felt it so easy to give my readers a clear idea of the music in question as today; never before have I felt so much confidence in assuring them that they can all write their own etudes, if they only will. It is presupposed, of course, that each one knows the tonic triad (popularly expressed by the notes C, E, G) and the dominant chord; and if able to modulate into the nearest minor keys, incredible things may be accomplished. Then to work; let the hands be quietly placed in some ordinary position of the chords, then let one hand leap suddenly over the other in waltz measure, right and left, above, below; next write it all down, get money from the publisher, and composition and composer are ready. Every novel merit must be recognised, so our—we hope, young—composer can spring gaily onwards, occasionally; perhaps, into Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, to learn a few new chords, and for other useful reasons. But we must observe, that we wish the note ‘a pupil of Tomášek’, which the above composer has printed on his title-page, away, for, with our respect for the correct and thorough Tomášek, we can scarcely believe that he gave his sanction to this set of pieces. In a few words, the etudes ought never to have been published to the world; nay, more, they never ought to have been written.
Robert Schumann was equally damning of Dreyschock’s Op 12 Grand Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra:
This is the first grand work by the young pianoforte hero who is so much talked about at present. But, unhappily, we are forced to declare that it is a long time since we have met with anything so insipid. What poverty of fancy and melody, what an expenditure in attempting to impose lack of talent upon us, what coquetry over the commonest trivialities! Had the young virtuoso no friend to tell him the truth, no one who, overlooking his finger facility, could direct his attention to the emptiness, the nullity of his music? A private report goes about that the young virtuoso has no opinion whatever of Beethoven—is, in fact, his declared enemy; we know nothing certain about it, but his compositions lead us to fear that there is truth in the rumour. But even if he were to study Beethoven it would not profit him anything; he can only learn from masters of the third and fourth rank, like Strauss and Lanner. We even fear that our good advice will not be understood; for the ‘fantasia’ does not so much betray the talent of a mere pupil, as a positive, inborn capacity for production. This might be more mildly said; but when impotence steps forward with so much pretension, it is impossible to look on without indignation. What Herr Dreyschock is able to accomplish as a virtuoso is another matter; his leaps, tricks, the bravura with which he plays everything, may please for a while. But the time is coming when the value of such arts will be lowered, and then what is left to this kind of virtuoso?
Strong medicine for a young man to swallow! I find the Fantasy rather weak myself, but the D minor Concerto, Op 137 I do think has a certain merit. Of course it is not particularly profound, but nor is it pretentious. It fizzes with the sort of champagne brilliance Dreyschock’s audiences must have loved. A critic once said:
He [Dreyschock] proved himself a player of true worth in his rendering of Mendelssohn’s G minor Concerto and other serious compositions.
It is certainly of Mendelssohn that I was most aware when playing the piece. I decided to aim more for the ‘delicate touch’ described by Moscheles, than for the clangorous racket lampooned by Heine. I have developed a real affection for Dreyschock’s fireworks in this piece—but it has left me with no burning ambition to practise the ‘Revolutionary’ in octaves for 504 hours! I hope someone may, though. I would like to see it done!
Piers Lane © 1999
Other albums in this series
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 24 – Vianna da Motta
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads availableCDA67163
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 37 – Nápravník & Blumenfeld
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The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 38 – Rubinstein & Scharwenka
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads availableCDA67508
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 59 – Zarzycki & Zelenski
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads availableCDA67958