'A repertoire that makes for a welcome family evening around the piano; alas for us all that we cannot offer renderings of such sympathetic finesse and lyrical elegance as are here set down by Philip Martin ‘at home’' (Henry Kelly, Classic FM Radio)
'You may wonder when you last heard such beguiling, fine-toned fluency ... this is a delectable disc finely recorded' (Gramophone)
'This repertoire is as delightful to listen to as it is to play … perfect evening listening' (Classic FM Magazine)
'Played by Philip Martin with winning insouciance' (The Independent)
'Martin makes for a sensitive, sympathetic guide … this release is a veritable treasure trove for the pianophile' (International Record Review)
'[Martin] plays poetically throughout, and this for me is an unmissable collection' (Mail on Sunday)
'If you’ve ever struggled through Badarzewska’s Maiden’s Prayer, tripped yourself up in Dvorák’s Humoresque in G flat, or wondered how the simple lines of MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose would sound in capable, smooth-contoured professional hands, this is the disc for you' (Irish Times)
'77 minutes de bonheur pur sucre pour nous faire oublier la morosité de la rentrée!' (Répertoire, France)
'Philip Martin is a pianist of great intelligence and much innate musicality; and the excellence of the recording is the final element in the equation for success' (musicweb.uk.net)
None of us can deny that they have fallen prey to the lure of a junk shop or of the chaotic mysteries of an attic, and sometimes purchasers of an old wardrobe or chest of drawers find there a bundle of treasure left behind … well, the spirit of 'What have we here?' permeates the adventures captured on this album.
Salon music had its heyday on record in the era of 78s, since the length of a side suited it so well, and for that reason some titles—such as Rubinstein's Melody in F and Paderewski's Minuet in G—may be familiar, but there are 'finds' to be had in any such compilation. This is music on which most aspiring pianists have cut their teeth, giving them as it does both the satisfaction of mastering a complete piece without straining their technique (well, mostly) as well as the backbone of a repertoire that makes for a welcome family evening around the piano; alas for us all that we cannot offer renderings of such sympathetic finesse and lyrical elegance as are here set down by Philip Martin 'at home' and off-duty from his award-winning complete Gottschalk recordings on Hyperion.
Towards the middle of the nineteenth century the piano came of age. Significant technical developments to the instrument had made possible greater agility and a more brilliant tone; iron-framed grand pianos had been introduced, strong enough to withstand the onslaught of the most demanding virtuoso. Equally significant, mass production made the upright piano an affordable, convenient and highly desirable acquisition for the home. Between 1850 and 1910 the number of pianos manufactured in Britain rose from 25,000 to 75,000. During the same period in America the figure increased from 900 to a staggering 360,000.
For the gentleman amateur and well-schooled young lady, the most popular ‘serious’ works, as gauged by the cheap albums of the day, were those with the broadest melodies and which produced the greatest effect. Movements from Beethoven Sonatas, the simpler Chopin Nocturnes, Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, short pieces by Schumann and the easier Impromptus of Schubert were ubiquitous choices. To cater for this new class of executant music-lover, a whole school of composers emerged, using the continental Romantics as their models, who usefully occupied a kind of midway position between the Great Composers and the pedlars of cheap piano-fodder. In the 1850s this music tended to reflect the current preoccupations with death and sentimentalized religion; by the 1890s this had broadened to embrace music of a much lighter vein and which took itself less seriously.
In that pre-gramophone, pre-wireless era, every European and American piano stool of a hundred years ago contained copies of—well, the kind of music resurrected and, yes, celebrated in this collection. Not all of it is easy to play from a technical point of view; many provide even greater musical and interpretative challenges; not all of it is good music (to use that as a selection criterion would be to miss the point); some of it (the Handel, Beethoven and Paradies works) comes from an earlier age, of course. But whatever its provenance or musical merit, little of the music on this album is ever heard in the concert hall today. Sadly, few professionals would risk programming even so endearing a work as Rubinstein’s Melody in F because of its associations. Yet some of these piano compositions are among the most popular pieces ever written for the instrument. This distinction, however earned, should surely be saluted.
To the cynics and sceptics and those who may think that such music is far beneath their consideration, J B Priestley provides an apt rejoinder in his essay ‘Homage to Moszkowski’ (but for Moszkowski read Poldini, Raff, Sinding et al):
If I pass him by, who will praise Moritz Moszkowski? The musical scholars and critics are eternally busy—and quite right too—with their Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and Brahms. Little Moritz has no place among the great. No music of his will ever disturb or challenge the soul … in his day he had his triumphs, but every garland has been dust these many years. Yet here and now, ignoring the giants who are always willing to take another bow, I crook my finger and, to the astonishment of the company, cry, ‘Maestro Moszkowski, forward!’ For has he not given me delight, hours and hours of it, glittering like the Carnival at Nice and yet as innocent as a baby’s birthday? And all those who, like me, have pounded away at his From Foreign Parts and his Spanish Dance duets, should join me in this place, clapping the hands that still seem to ache from his Bolero, and shouting, ‘Bravo, Moritz Moszkowski, Bravo!’ (Delight, Harper & Brothers, 1949)
And bravo Philip Martin for rummaging through all those boxes of second-hand music, repairing their grubby, torn and well-thumbed pages to let us hear again the music in which our grandparents and great-grandparents took so much delight. A century or so on, perhaps we may share their pleasure.
Like so many of his peers in this collection, Christian Sinding (1856–1941) has had to bow to history and be remembered for a few brief minutes from his entire life’s oeuvre. Of one hundred and thirty-two separate works, all his symphonies, operas and chamber music have disappeared, though his masterly Suite in A minor for violin receives the occasional airing. And once again, as illustrated by other titles in this anthology, it is a single piece from a collection that provided the composer with his one enduring international success. Frühlingsrauschen (Rustle of Spring) was a quintessential item in every piano stool, though its five flats and fast chromatic runs must have proved daunting to many an aspiring amateur. It is surely our loss that such an inspired miniature should be considered too hackneyed to be heard in concert these days.
Should we dismiss out of hand The Maiden’s Prayer, ‘this dowdy product of ineptitude’ (Arthur Loesser) that has become a comical byword for sentimental salon tosh? Most people do. It is now past parody, its title far better known than the music itself for no one plays it, not even the soppy amateurs whose territory it was and who so relished its ‘dripping, maudlin arpeggios’. Few could tell you the name of its composer. But hold! Despite the fact that it has no catchy theme to sing or hum, that its octave arpeggios are not easy to execute correctly, and that its four ‘variations’ (if one can dignify them with that term) are devoid of musical interest, The Maiden’s Prayer is probably the biggest selling piece of piano music ever written. Over one hundred editions were published in the nineteenth century and in 1924, more than sixty years after its first appearance, a Melbourne music publisher admitted to selling ten thousand copies of it a year.
Its unique status notwithstanding, little is known of the short life of its Polish composer. Tekla Badarzewska (1834–1861) wrote it when she was just seventeen and had it published in 1851 in Warsaw as Molitwa dziewicy (‘The Maiden’s Prayer’). It was republished as a supplement to the Paris Revue et Gazette Musicale in 1859 from whence it spread round the world like a plague. There are a further thirty-four piano pieces by Badarzewska, including one entitled Prayer Answered. Thankfully, it failed to capture the public’s imagination.
An ungentlemanly German critic in his obituary of Badarzewska opined that ‘[her] early death saved the musical world from a veritable inundation of intolerable lachrimosity’. Far greater composers than Badarzewska have shone brightly and profitably around the world before descending into obscurity. For better or worse The Maiden’s Prayer, if not the name of its composer, will never be forgotten. Quite an achievement for a teenage female Polish composer of the 1850s. Hard to dismiss in fact.
The great violinist Fritz Kreisler visited the ailing Antonín Dvorák (1841–1904) in 1903, so the story goes, and was handed a pile of (mostly unknown) music. Among them was a set of eight Humoresques for solo piano that had been composed in August 1894 and published that autumn by Simrock of Berlin. No 7 of these, the Humoresque in G flat, took the violinist’s fancy and, though Dvorák intended it as a light, whimsical caprice, Kreisler’s arrangement turned it into a slower, sentimental piece. His (four) recordings and performances of ‘Dvorák’s Humoresque’ made it universally popular and it was subsequently arranged for every imaginable instrumental combination (Kreisler even made a recording of the original piano version in 1914). The remaining seven Dvorák Humoresques are almost never heard.
Selim Palmgren (1878–1951) has been characterized as ‘a very unequal writer … a typical Vielschreiber who unwearyingly provides material for the maw of the publisher’. But among his piano miniatures one encounters many beautifully executed gems. Piano buffs treasure the two numbers championed by Benno Moiseiwitsch (Refrain de berceau and West Finnish Dance) and Eileen Joyce’s entertaining scamper through En route. Kevätyö—May Night (or Night in May as some editions have it)—is surely one of the finest of Palmgren’s delicately wrought tone poems. It comes from his collection of seven pieces entitled Spring and is typical of the Finnish composer’s atmospheric writing, its impressionistic harmonies tinged with Scandinavian colours, a close relation to some of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces.
‘After Chopin’, wrote Paderewski, ‘Moritz Moszkowski (1854–1925) best understands how to write for the piano, and his writing embraces the whole gamut of piano technique.’ Perhaps we may look askance at this statement today, but Paderewski was not far wide of the mark. Moszkowski’s untroubled, graceful, melodic and well-crafted piano music is expertly laid out for the hands. No one could pretend that it is deep music but, as one writer put it, ‘if it fails to stir the intellect, it sets the pulses tingling’.
Moszkowski’s music was in the repertoire of many great pianists, among them Hofmann—who studied with Moszkowski and received the dedication of his piano concerto—Godowsky, Bauer, Lhevinne, Rachmaninov, Friedman (who recorded the Serenade), Horowitz and Cherkassky. Even without his affluent background, Moszkowski would have been able to live comfortably on the early successes of his Spanish Dances, Op 12 (for piano duet) and the Serenata. Its lilting melody attracted the attention of lyricists: one Nathan H Dole wrote the frightful ‘I wait beneath thy window, love’ (recorded in 1915 by Fritz Kreisler and John McCormack) while a rather more sensitive German handling of the tune, ‘Liebe kleine Nachtigall’, attracted the talents of Richard Tauber (1935) and Miliza Korjus (1936).
Of Anton Rubinstein’s (1829–1894) colossal output of operas, symphonies, cantatas, sacred dramas, concertos, chamber music and instrumental solos, few will be familiar with any of his music other than his celebrated Melody in F (fewer still will ever have encountered its little lost sister, No 2 in B major). Yet, despite the lack of sustained development, the often loose, rambling style and the lack of real dramatic development, there is invariably an astonishing fund of striking ideas and felicitous melodic invention.
The Melody in F must be one of the world’s best-known tunes. Rubinstein composed it early in his career while staying on Kamennoi Island in the Neva, the home of Her Imperial Highness Madame la Grande Duchesse, Hélène Pawlona, to whom the work is dedicated. It is said that Rubinstein did not play it with the slow, sugary rubato to which we are accustomed but, rather, quite fast.
Few pianists have rivalled the celebrity of Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860–1941). For decades, his name was synonymous with his instrument. Though many virtuosos then and now have far exceeded him in technique and his recordings betray a Romantic’s freedom with the written text, Paderewski exercised a fascination over his audience that bordered on the mesmeric. As a composer, few of his works have survived—his opera Manru enjoyed brief success as did his Piano Concerto—but nothing he wrote came remotely close to the popularity of his Minuet in G (there is another Paderewski minuet—in A major, No 7 of Miscellanea, Op 16—but this one in G major is the ‘Paderewski Minuet’).
In his memoirs, the composer gleefully relates how it was written as a joke. While staying in Warsaw he frequently played Mozart to two elderly friends. Having exhausted his Mozart repertoire, Paderewski decided to write something in the style of Mozart and see if it would be spotted. Having heard the half-improvised piece (without the cadenzas, which would be added later), Paderewski’s friends refused to believe that it had not been written by Mozart, still less that they had just heard a performance by its composer (the Minuet’s Schubertian references obviously escaped them). The friends forgave the prankster and, of course, thereafter always insisted that he plays his Minuet whenever he visited, a request repeated wherever Paderewski appeared for the remainder of his long career.
Its first concert performance was given by Anna Essipoff (1851–1914), the wife of Paderewski’s teacher Theodor Leschetizky, and it was through her championship that the piece by the then unknown Pole became widely known. Paderewski himself recorded his Minuet six times for the gramophone—in 1911, 1917, 1922–23 (two different takes appeared on HMV DB379), 1926 and 1937.
Domenico Paradies (originally Paradisi, 1707–1791), though born in Naples, spent much of his working life in London where he made a good living teaching and composing operas. We learn from one source that ‘when Miss Schmähling (1749–1833, later known as Gertrud Mara, a famous soprano) made her first appearance in London as a violinist of eleven, Paradies was engaged as her singing teacher, but her father soon found it necessary to withdraw her from his influence. An earlier pupil was Miss Cassandra Frederick, who at the age of five-and-a-half gave a concert in the Little Theatre (1749) playing compositions by Scarlatti and Handel. The last we hear of this eccentric Italian is his connection with the elder Thomas Linley (1733–1795), the composer and father-in-law of the playwright Sheridan, to whom he gave instruction in harmony and thorough-bass.’ Later in life, Paradies returned to Italy where he died in Venice.
Clementi, Cramer and Mozart all studied Paradies’ keyboard works conscientiously. The most important of these are the 12 Sonate di gravicembalo dedicated to the Princess Augusta, which were published in London in 1754. Each has two movements and include an almost Scarlattian variety of invention. The A major Toccata is the only piece of Paradies played today.
The harmonious blacksmith is the fourth and final movement of George Frideric Handel’s (1685–1759) fifth harpsichord Suite from the first volume of his  Suites de Pièces pour le Clavecin published in London in 1720. The music was written as early as his first year in London, 1710, or quite possibly brought over with him from the continent—a passage from Handel’s Almira, written in 1704, is very like The harmonious blacksmith; a bourrée by Richard Jones (1680–1740) apparently features almost the same air in a minor key, though it is not known whether Jones preceded Handel or vice versa.
What is certain is that the Air and variations has nothing whatever to do with a blacksmith, harmonious or otherwise. The fictitious story that Handel first heard the air sung by a blacksmith in Edgware (London) while sheltering in a smithy during a storm was put about by the notoriously inventive antiquarian Richard Clark (1780–1856) in his Reminiscences of Handel (1836). The probable true origin of the nickname derives from a music-seller in Bath named Lintern who had been brought up a blacksmith but turned to music. It was the Air and variations that he was constantly asked to play and so decided to issue the single movement himself entitiling it The harmonious blacksmith. However, no copy of Lintern’s edition has ever surfaced. The earliest known printed version of the music bearing this title dates from 1819—in an arrangement for piano duet.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) wrote a number of short and unpretentious dances for the piano, some of which were intended to accompany actual dancing (the Écossaises and Waltzes, for example, WoO83–86). It is likely that the six Minuets (WoO10), seven Ländler (WoO11) and twelve German dances (WoO13) were originally written for orchestra, although only the piano versions survive.
After the first movement of the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata and Für Elise, the Minuet in G is the most popular piano work of Beethoven. It is certainly one of the most famous minuets in all music, more often heard in one of its numerous transcriptions than it is on the piano. Though composed as early as 1795 it was published as Op 167.
Spring Song is the final work in the fifth book of Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809–1847) Lieder ohne Worte. Dedicated to ‘Frau Dr. Clara Schumann geb. Wieck’, it is among the most familiar tunes ever composed for the piano. A constant standby in the era of silent films to denote drippy infatuation (often for comic effect), it takes a pianist of great taste and sensibility to transcend these associations. Only three of the complete forty-eight Songs Without Words were given titles by Mendelssohn himself: ‘Gondola’, ‘Duetto’ and ‘Folksong’. ‘Spring Song’ and all the other familiar nicknames of these imperishable gems were the inventions of publishers.
There are seven collections of short pieces by Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) bearing the title ‘Morceaux’. The earliest of these appeared in 1870, the last in 1893, fifty-three tasty morsels in all. Op 40 consists for the most part of dance movements and songs-without-words of ‘moderate difficulty’ for children. The best-known are the two Chopinesque waltzes (No 8 in A flat, which Rachmaninov thought of well enough to record, and the mournful No 9 in F sharp minor). Chanson triste (in G minor), finds Tchaikovsky at his most economical and affecting, its haunting opening theme (la melodia marked to be played con molto espressione) giving way to a reluctantly animated middle section, before returning to the subject of quiet resignation. The great Benno Moiseiwitsch recorded it in 1945.
Though Jean (Julius Christian) Sibelius (1865–1957) began piano lessons at the age of eight (soon forsaking the keyboard for the violin) and studied under Busoni in Helsinki, the piano was not his prime means of expression. His orchestral, vocal and stage works so overshadow the rest of his output that it is something of a surprise to discover that Sibelius wrote one hundred and thirty-four separate pieces for the piano within thirty-five opus numbers. Few can be said to be representative of his art at its greatest and only his celebrated Valse triste, Op 44 No 1 (an arrangement from the orchestral original) and Romance in D flat, Op 24 No 9 have ever achieved much popularity. Philip Martin makes a convincing case for The spruce tree (Kuusi), however, an economical sketch of touching and, some might say, characteristic brooding melancholy.
Various members of the Mason family were prominent in America’s musical life for one hundred and fifty years. Lowell Mason (1792–1872) was a composer, organist, conductor, pioneering musical educator and his country’s foremost promoter of choral singing; his son Luther Whiting Mason (1828–1896) was a notable musical educator who, in 1857, published a Book of Chants for community singing in conjunction with Dwight Hamilton Baldwin, soon to be the founder of the Baldwin piano company; Luther’s brother, Henry, was the co-founder with Emmons Hamlin of the Mason & Hamlin piano company; Henry’s son was Daniel Gregory Mason (1873–1953), who became an eminent composer and educator.
Lowell Mason’s youngest son is our man—William Mason (1829–1908), a celebrated concert pianist and educator. He studied with Moscheles in Leipzig, Dreyschock in Prague and Liszt in Weimar, returning to the United States in 1854. It is claimed that Mason’s tour of 1855 was the first in America to be devoted exclusively to piano recitals (i.e. a programme with no ‘assisting’ artists). Tiring of touring, he settled in New York as a teacher and exponent of chamber music.
Silver Spring has some of the flavour and gestures of a Liszt étude. Arthur Loesser, who recorded four of Mason’s forty piano works, noted that ‘Mason’s compositions belong mostly to the time of his youth … it is an agreeably surprising experience to become acquainted with them. Clearly they are not the product of a powerful original creative genius. Just as clearly they are the work of a fine lyric talent, master of the idioms of his time; they are emotionally cogent, smoothly made with few redundancies or irrelevancies, and most admirably suited to the piano.’
The catchy and effective (i.e. not too difficult) Tarantella in A minor is the first of Pieczonka’s ten Danses de salon which include among their sequence of titles the Chopinesque Mazurka de concert, Valse in A flat and Grande polonaise héroïque, as well as the more tempting prospect of Danse des fantômes, Wanda – mazurka brillante and Salon-walzer über Namen ‘BACH’.
Almost certainly Polish, perhaps of Silesian extraction, Albert (or was it Alfred?) Pieczonka (1828–1912) is an elusive figure. Despite assiduous international enquiries, your annotator has, frustratingly, been able to unearth barely a single biographical detail about the composer. The popular monthly periodical The Etude that served American music teachers for sixty-five years (1883–1948) dedicated its entire February 1915 issue (Vol 33 No 2) to Polish music. Page 128 carries a short piece, Hommage à la Pologne – mazurka (one of the Salon Dances) by A Pieczonka, yet the ‘Directory of Polish Composers’ in the same issue avoids mention of his name. Probably dating from around the turn of the twentieth century, a total of more than forty works were issued by various publishers in the United States and abroad (including Schirmer, John Church, Augener and several others).
The sixty-six piano pieces that Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) gathered into ten volumes of Lyric Pieces show the Norwegian composer at his best—a master miniaturist and tone-painter. Written between 1867 and 1901, the collection embraces the Romantic keyboard langage established by Mendelssohn, Chopin and Schumann, the assimilation of national idioms, and a brand of impressionism that foreshadowed Debussy (Bell Ringing, Op 54 No 6, for instance, predates Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie by nearly two decades). The Nocturne is one of Grieg’s loveliest effusions, equally effective in its orchestrated form: the Lyric Suite (1904) consists of five of the six pieces from Op 54, omitting the Scherzo, but concluding with the above-mentioned Bell Ringing.
Victor Herbert (1859–1924), one of the great names of American light music, is remembered today (if at all) for his light operettas, the most successful of which were Babes in Toyland (1903), inspired by The Wizard of Oz, and Naughty Marietta (1910) which includes the deathless ‘Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life’. In his earlier career, the Dublin-born composer had been a virtuoso cellist. Herbert’s playing of his Cello Concerto No 2 (1894) was an event which directly inspired Dvorák to write his own concerto masterpiece for the instrument.
Few, though, will ever have heard Herbert’s instrumental works. Heifetz was attracted to his À la valse, recorded in the 1940s, and another violinist, Maud Powell, made a disc of another Herbert waltz—Petite Valse (originally for cello)—in 1916, the year after its composition. Otherwise little has ever been committed to disc. Here, Philip Martin unwraps a third waltz, one of Herbert’s twenty-four compositons for solo piano. La coquette – valse brillante was written in 1900, light relief after a string of ten full-length stage works written in the space of six years. It’s an attractive morceau (in A flat with a central section in C major) that makes one curious to hear others, especially the intriguingly titled La Ghazel, Marion Davies March, Get Together, On Your Way and Valse à la mode, the last three written under the pseudonym of Nobel MacClure.
Zdenek Fibich (1850–1900) has rather fallen by the wayside. A precocious talent (first symphony at fourteen), he studied in Prague and then Leipzig (piano with Moscheles) before returning to his native Bohemia to conduct and compose. His more than seven hundred works were deemed original enough to rank him among the most significant of the Czech composers of his day—operas, melodramas, symphonies and symphonic poems, chamber music and about four hundred piano works. Among these are the 171 Moods, impressions and reminiscences published between 1892 and 1896. These are to Fibich what the Lyric Pieces are to Grieg. One of them, the sole piece by Fibich to be remembered, is his once-popular Poème. It travelled the world in various guises, especially popular in its arrangement for violin by Jan Kubelik (who recorded it in 1910), also appearing as a song with lyrics by one Arthur Anderson called ‘In Your Eyes’.
Ede (Eduard) Poldini (born in Budapest, 1869, died in Corseaux, Switzerland, 1957) was highly regarded for his stage works, long-forgotten serious and comic operas that include The Vagabond and the Princess (1903) and The Carnival Marriage (1924, produced in London in 1926 as Love Adrift). Of a total of one hundred and fifty-six opus numbers, most are elegant salon pieces for the piano. While his Étude japonaise, Op 27 No 2 (1907), enjoyed a vogue for a time, it is for his Poupée valsante (‘Waltzing Doll’) that he is remembered now. Its popularity was enhanced by Fritz Kreisler’s violin arrangement (and two charming recordings); it was also turned into a song by the American pianist and vocal teacher Frank La Forge which Lily Pons committed to disc. The complete Marionnettes, which appears to have no opus number, was dedicated to the great conductor Arthur Nikisch.
In 1896, the year of his ten Woodland Sketches, Edward MacDowell (1860–1908) was described as ‘the greatest musical genius America has produced’. Though his music was deeply rooted in the European tradition of Schumann, Mendelssohn and Liszt, MacDowell was among the first to use the melodic and rhythmic material of the American Indian, and to interpret the beauty of the American landscape. Woodland Sketches contains such descriptive tone miniatures as From an Old Indian Lodge, By a Meadow Brook, From Uncle Remus—and the delicate, justly loved gem, To a wild rose.
Of all the neglected composers featured in this collection, none is less deserving of his obscurity than Joachim Raff (1822–1882). A prolific writer of mellifluous symphonies, concertos, overtures, chamber music, operas and instrumental works (two hundred and fourteen published works with many more in manuscript), Raff was highly regarded by his contemporaries, acknowledged as a major figure in the Romantic movement. He has been all but forgotten since his death, though there has been a resurgance of interest in his music in recent years with recordings of his overtures, eleven symphonies, piano concerto and two violin concertos. Raff’s Cavatina, Op 85 No 3, was a perennial favourite with violin students for many years. His other most enduring success was another short work, the delightful tone portrait of a girl at her spinning wheel. Keyed in F sharp major and with many cross-hands effects, the moto perpetuo semiquavers of La fileuse demand exceptional control. The piece was a favourite of the legendary Vladimir de Pachmann (1848–1933) who recorded the piece for the gramophone twice, in 1907 and 1909.
American-born (Edgeworth, Pennsylvania), German-trained (with Franz Böhme from 1877 to 1878 and Karl Klindworth from 1884 to 1886), Ethelbert (Woodbridge) Nevin (1862–1901) had a natural facility for graceful, melodious vocal and piano music. His song The Rosary (1898) had a tremendous vogue selling six million copies in the first thirty years, netting £80,000 in royalties for the composer and his heirs. He did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his other big song hit Mighty Lak’ A Rose, composed in the year of his early death.
But Narcissus on its own would have been sufficient to keep Nevin in life-long comfort. It comes from a set of five pieces on water themes, though whereas Nos 1, 3 and 5 (Dragon Fly, Water-Nymph and Barcarolle) are a little too nimble for amateurs, and Ophelia (No 2) is slow and insipid, Narcissus caught the mood of the time. Once you had mastered the cross-hands effects (the last page has the left hand jumping up over four octaves) and translated the harmonic progression of the middle section, the visual appeal of Narcissus and its endearing melody made it de rigeur for all drawing-room pianists.
The Prague-born Viennese pianist Alfred Grünfeld (1852–1924) was phenomenally successful in his day, a prolific composer—especialy famous for his transcriptions of Johann Strauss II—and the first mature pianist of note to record for the gramophone. His first discs date from as early as 1899; during the following fifteen years he cut a further ninety sides, among them some fine Chopin, Schumann and Brahms items and, incidentally, a performance of Poldini’s Poupée valsante, though not, alas, the Romanze.
Grünfeld’s Romanze is heard here in its original key of F sharp major (other editions appeared in F major). The sentimental theme of the piece is in marked contrast to its unexpected central Allegro agitato e appassionato section and, on its second repeat, the octave treatment of the opening theme. But then one of Grünfeld’s specialities was to play the right hand of Chopin’s ‘Minute Waltz’ in octaves and a tempo.
(Marie) August Durand (1830–1909) began his career as an organist, studying in his native Paris under François Benoist and holding various posts at successive churches in the city. He also occupied himself with musical criticism and composition. In 1870 he acquired with Schönewerk the music-publishing business of Flaxland. Durand & Schönewerk, then Durand & Fils (1891) and succeeded by Durand & Cie, made a speciality of publishing the works of the most important French composers, including Chausson, Debussy, Ravel and Saint-Saëns. Durand could hardly claim to number himself among this illustrious company, but all of his music found a ready publisher, including his glittering Waltz No 1 in E flat, a great favourite for many years. It is known as Durand’s Première valse—there are five others, all of them completely unknown—and is gratifyingly effective to play … until the fast repeated notes and consecutive fourths on the last page give rise (in this writer’s experience, at least) to a maddening finger jam.
Jeremy Nicholas © 2003