'Hyperion continues its invaluable exploration of the piano's highways and byways with this richly enjoyable programme from Philip Martin, focusing on the scintillating output of Viennese child prodigy Henri Herz … The salonesque, radiant charms of the La Cenerentola variations … come tripping off the page in this affectionately sparkling performance from Philip Martin, whose warmly engaging style is a constant source of pleasure throughout' (Classic FM Magazine)
'Philip Martin proves a strong Herz advocate, displaying a genuine affection for the music and all the requisite flair for the abundant trills, roulades, scales … and repeated left-hand jumps' (International Record Review)
'Martin, fresh from his laudable eight-disc survey of Gottschalk's piano music, tackles these well-programmed works with sensuousness and vitality, capturing the ornately flamboyant allure of the music with great affection' (MusicalCriticism.com)
'Herz may not be a great composer, yet his stuff certainly is fun to digest in small doses, especially when you consider Philip Martin's appropriately light and colorful touch, supple finger work, and marvelous sense of dramatic timing... Collectors who dote on the rare Romantics need no prodding to acquire this excellently engineered release' (ClassicsToday.com, USA)
'Philip Martin sounds like he is enjoying himself, and his technique is fully up to the tasks at hand' (Fanfare, USA)
La dolcezza [4'47]
La melanconia [3'47]
La semplicità [3'58]
Première ballade Op 117 No 1 [7'57]
Fantaisie dramatique Op 89 [14'22]
Deuxième ballade Op 117 No 2 [7'39]
The composer-pianist Henri Herz was one of the most brilliantly fashionable musical personalities of his day, performing to large audiences throughout Europe, and touring America to great acclaim. In the early part of the nineteenth century his music outsold that of Liszt and Chopin. By the early 1850s, however, tastes were beginning to change and his sparklingly virtuosic works began to be derided by contemporary commentators and to drop out of circulation. However this is delightfully enjoyable music, clearly demonstrating the tastes of the time, and worthy of our attention. Hyperion has contributed greatly to a resurgence of interest in Herz’s music with the recordings of six of his piano concertos (CDA67465 and CDA67537), and this disc is the first recording devoted exclusively to his solo works.
The Variations on ‘Non più mesta’ from Rossini’s La Cenerentola Op 60 is Herz’s best-known work. Several composers were attracted to the show-stopping aria sung by Rossini’s eponymous heroine, and Herz’s response is as dazzling and witty as the original, demanding pyrotechnical displays of agility from the pianist. Philip Martin has delighted listeners with his eight volumes of the works of Gottschalk—a composer undoubtedly influenced by Herz—and his performances on this disc are equally as agile and graceful.
Other recommended albums
Heinrich (Henri) Herz was born in Vienna on 6 January 1803. A child prodigy who had his first lessons from his father, he was giving concerts by the age of eight, among which was an appearance in Coblenz when he played Hummel’s Variations on an ‘oberländische Melodie’ Op 8. After studies with Daniel Hünten, the organist father of the more famous Franz, Herz won admission to the Paris Conservatoire in April 1816. His first compositions—Air Tyrolien varié Op 1 and Rondo alla Cosacca Op 2—appeared two years later.
During the 1820s and ’30s he established himself as one of the most brilliant pianists and sought-after teachers of the day. His music was ubiquitous, outselling all his peers, Liszt and Chopin included; he built a 500-seat concert hall, Salle Henri Herz, in the Rue de la Victoire (long since vanished), and went into partnership with a piano manufacturer named Klepfa producing about 400 instruments a year. This last venture proved a costly failure. In order to obtain more capital and recoup his losses Herz headed for America, becoming the first important European pianist to tour the country, recording his travels in an entertaining memoir eventually published in 1866 as Mes voyages en Amérique. He remained there until 1851, returning home, like many pianists after him, an extremely wealthy man.
By the early 1850s, however, musical tastes had changed. The public had heard more of Liszt and Chopin, virtuosos like Clara Schumann had dropped bravura display pieces from their programmes in favour of Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schumann. Herz’s heyday was over and, though he continued to compose, his energies were directed to his (now successful) piano business and teaching at the Paris Conservatory. Among his pupils were Adolphe Fétis, Berthe Goldschmidt, Henri Rosellen, Marie Jaëll, Charles Salaman and Maria Roger-Miclos (1860–1950), the latter being the only Herz pupil to have made any recordings (eleven titles, ten of which were issued, for the French Fonotopia label in 1905 and 1906). In 1874 Herz relinquished the post he had held since 1842 as professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire. He died in 1888. (A fuller account of Herz’s career can be found in the booklet for Hyperion’s recording of his piano concertos Nos 1, 7 and 8—CDA67465.)
Few music reference books have a kind word to say about Henri Herz, that is if he merits a mention at all. This was written while he was still alive: ‘The works of Herz are noted chiefly for their extremely brilliant and difficult features. None of them are very likely to outlive the present century’ (James D Brown: Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 1886). Sir George Grove, writing in the first edition of his Dictionary, concludes that ‘Herz was the Gelinek of his day, and like that once renowned and popular Abbé, is doomed to rapid oblivion’ (Josef Gelinek, 1758–1825, combined a career as a priest, pianist and prolific composer).
These views are representative of a general tone prevalent to the present day. One wonders to what extent their writers were fully acquainted with Herz’s music. Had they heard or played any of his eight piano concertos, his Variations on ‘Non più mesta’ or any of the other works on the present disc? Or were they routinely echoing Robert Schumann, whose influential and published derision of Herz’s music was, to a large extent, the cause of its demise. Schumann, incidentally, played Herz’s finger exercises as a child in Zwickau. Later, in 1831, inspired by the young Clara Wieck’s success with Herz’s Bravura Variations, he worked hard on another set of Herz’s variations, Op 38. Unlike Clara, his future wife, he did not have the pianistic equipment for such music, and thus resorted to dismissing it in his journalism; he even composed a Phantasie satyrique (nach Henri Herz) in 1832 as a spoof of Herz’s supposed ‘theatricality’.
Our more eclectic age has greater tolerance of such perceived superficiality. After all, it is hard to argue that the music of some Baroque masters is any more or less profound than that of the Parisian salons of the 1830s and ’40s. Minor composers of earlier periods of musical history have been accorded a scholarly attention that is yet to be granted to those of Herz’s era. Indeed Vivaldi, now a central figure in the core classical repertoire, was largely unknown until his rediscovery in the late 1940s. No one could pretend that Herz is a major composer; nevertheless, it is fascinating to return to the forgotten music of a previous era and hear what captivated audiences before tastes changed, and gain a fuller picture of the musical world in which greater composers operated.
There is growing interest in the music of Herz and his ilk. Before the appearance of Howard Shelley’s recordings of six of Herz’s piano concertos in 2003 and 2004 (Hyperion CDA67465 and CDA67537), there had been only five recordings of any of Herz’s music, that is apart from the many versions of Liszt’s Hexaméron to which Herz contributed the fourth of its six variations. More recently, his Grande valse Op 211 ‘Les perles animées’, Marche et rondo sur la Clochette, Paganini’s Last Waltz, Rondo de Paganini and Grande fantaisie sur la Romanesca Op 111 (arranged for four hands by a certain Richard Wagner) have all made their CD debuts. That said, the present volume is the first recording devoted exclusively to the solo works of Henri Herz.
The Deuxième thème original avec introduction et variations Op 81 begins with a stormy Introduzione in G minor (Allegro con fuoco), before Herz presents his theme, a Donizetti-like cavatina in G major. The brilliant first variation in 2/4 features an ‘umpah-umpah’ left hand more familiar from early ragtime compositions (in one bar Herz offers an ossia with higher notes for pianos with the luxury of seven octaves). Still in the tonic, Variation 2 is in 6/8 and marked Lo stesso tempo, grazioso tranquillo. Variation 3 retains the triplets but these are now vivo e leggiero and in 2/4. The key shifts to A flat major for the lovely Chopinesque fourth variation, modulating back to the home key for a concluding alla polacca and a con brio finale. The work is dedicated to Madame Henry Shellon.
The Variations on ‘Non più mesta’ from Rossini’s La Cenerentola Op 60 is Herz’s best-known work. Sometimes known as the Rondo Aria, ‘Non più mesta’ (‘No longer sad beside the fire’) is the pyrotechnical aria sung by the eponymous heroine at the end of Rossini’s opera, premiered in 1817. Rossini had composed the tune a year earlier for Count Almaviva’s final aria, ‘Ah! il più lieto, il più felice’ (‘Ah! of all loving hearts mine is the happiest’), in The Barber of Seville, a number that is generally omitted from productions nowadays.
Several composers were attracted to this show-stopper, including Chopin (his flaccid variations for flute and piano were written at the age of fourteen), Franz Hünten, Diabelli and Burgmüller, but Herz’s response is surely the finest, as witty and agile as the original. The introduction, theme, six variations and finale remain resolutely in C major while Herz throws all manner of digital challenges at the performer, including left-hand skips of tenths and twelfths, rapid scales and repeated notes for the right hand, broken octaves and, in Variation 5, a dolcissimo quasi glissando in thirds.
Herz—described on the cover as ‘Pianiste de S. M. le Roi de France’—offers this blindingly obvious note at the head of the score of the Trois Nocturnes caractéristiques Op 45: ‘To play these Nocturnes in the manner intended by the composer, one must endeavor to make the piano sing and to draw from it a sweet and melodious sound’.
La dolcezza is a Bellini-like aria in A flat major (its central section modulating to B major) and at the very least worthy of revival as an encore. La melanconia, in G minor and marked Moderato parlante, has a similar wistful vocal quality which Herz rounds off with a gentle flurry of arpeggios and a final sighing chord in the major. La semplicità, to be played con certa espressione parlante and dolce semplice innocentemente, employs the same device of a simple, single-note melody with flowing accompaniment, rather in the manner of a nocturne by John Field. All three are well within the reach of the amateur and, one assumes, of their dedicatee, the wonderfully named Mademoiselle Eudoxie Cordel.
The Première Ballade Op 117 No 1, in D flat major, owes rather more to a Chopin nocturne than a Chopin ballade. After four introductory measures, Herz introduces a cantabile theme of a type familiar from the preceding Nocturnes, but this time given in octaves. It is sentimental, effective and not too difficult (though the more animated central section in F minor might give some pause), a prime example of the kind of work that made Herz’s music sell in unrivalled quantities in the 1830s and ’40s.
Philip Martin follows this dream-like sequence with a rarity—Le mouvement perpétuel Op 91 No 3. Not only is the printed music obscure (Martin might well be the first pianist to play this piece in over a century) but the form is far from common in keyboard literature. Its only precedent would seem to be the most famous moto perpetuo for the piano, the final movement of Weber’s Piano Sonata No 1 in C major, Op 24. Mendelssohn wrote a perpetuum mobile for his friend Moscheles in 1826 (his Op 119), clearly modelled on Weber’s, but this was not published until 1873. Alkan, Busoni and Godowsky left us isolated examples, but others are few and far between. So Herz’s note-spinner, though it too is derived from Weber, deserves our attention. It is also a tour de force—and fun.
The full title of the Fantaisie dramatique Op 89 as printed on the cover is Fantaisie dramatique sur le célèbre choral protestant intercalé par Giacomo Meyerbeer dans Les Huguenots. Those expecting a bravura Herzian treatment of ‘the celebrated Protestant chorale’—Luther’s setting of Psalm 46, ‘Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott’—will be disappointed, as will anyone expecting a virtuoso paraphrase on the opera’s themes as in Thalberg’s two stupendous fantasies Op 20 and Op 43, or the three different versions of Liszt’s Réminiscences des Huguenots. In fact, it appears, there is nothing of Meyerbeer at all in Herz’s sixteen-page score.
Robert le Diable (1831) was Meyerbeer’s first major success and laid the foundations of his fabulous wealth. His next triumph, Les Huguenots (February 1836), was greatly anticipated and saw the phenomenon, in the words of Arthur Loesser (Men, Women and Pianos), of ‘an eminently erethic merchandise label, likely to provoke little haemorrhages of money from almost anyone … Through this chink the smooth Henri Herz thought he could squirm himself into a little fresh, if forbidden, sugar.’ Unable to compose a fantasy on the themes from Les Huguenots, since he and Schlesinger, the opera’s publisher, were sworn enemies, Herz published the above-titled work weeks before Schlesinger’s publication date, ‘providing it with a homemade introduction and a gratuitous air de ballet as an epilogue’. Crafty. No Meyerbeer—and ‘Ein’ feste Burg’ had been in the public domain for centuries. The piece is dedicated to Mademoiselle Marie Saladin de Prégny.
The Deuxième Ballade Op 117 No 2 appeared elsewhere—with an added minor-key introduction, as well as the subtitle ‘La mélodieuse’—as No 1 of the Deux Ballades Op 117. Philip Martin plays the version without the introduction, so we have used the numbering adopted by that edition, both for this piece and for the ‘Première Ballade’ on track 6 (which in the alternative edition is listed as No 2 and subtitled ‘L’harmonieuse’).
Listening blind to this Deuxième Ballade, one might reasonably guess its composer as Gottschalk. There is no doubt that Herz exerted a strong influence on the American boy wonder and the chromatic phrase immediately after the opening theme’s repeat is similar to passages in several of Gottschalk’s works. It is an altogether graceful confection with its cantabile espressivo melody (in B major) and its later runs of demisemiquavers requiring the most delicate touch and sensitive tonal discrimination. The cadenza is reminiscent of those in Mozart’s Fantasia in D minor, K397.
The Fantaisie et Variations sur des Airs nationaux américains variés Op 158 is an early (the earliest?) example of the many sets of variations on American national airs composed by visiting European pianists with the aim of ingratiating themselves with their audiences. It seems that, like Gottschalk a decade or so later, Herz was inspired to write a work wherever he visited, for there is also a Fantaisie mexicaine Op 163, La Californienne Op 167 and La Brésilienne Op 195.
Herz sets the scene for his Fantaisie and Variations with a maestoso introduction, a cadenza and a sentimental music-box theme before arriving at his first American national air entitled ‘Jackson’s March’. Assiduous research has failed to unearth any source or score for this tune, though there is an obscure folk song of this name with the alternative title of ‘Chapel Hill Serenade’. It is not one of America’s best-known national airs. ‘Hail Columbia’, on the other hand, which follows, is one the country’s most recognizable anthems. It was composed for, and played at, the inauguration of George Washington in 1789 and is attributed to the German-born Philip Phile (1734–1793). Herz sets this in F major following it with a strange tremolando interlude in D flat major that leads into a brief fugato section in A major. After a vapid scale passage we arrive in the home key of E major for ‘Yankee Doodle’ (or ‘Dondle’ as the score prints it), a tune familiar since pre-Revolutionary days and sung to various different lyrics. Three brilliant variations follow before Herz combines ‘Yankee Doodle’ and ‘Jackson’s March’ by the unusual expedient of scoring the right hand in 2/4 and the left in common time (c). Forceful octaves and brilliant arpeggios bring the drama to a rousing conclusion.
Jeremy Nicholas © 2008