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Hyperion Records

CDA67932 - Dohnányi: The Complete Solo Piano Music, Vol. 2
Autumn by Emil Parrag (b1925)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: December 2011
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Hayes
Engineered by Ben Connellan
Release date: January 2013
Total duration: 79 minutes 47 seconds

'The opening pages of Dohnányi's Op 2 might well have been penned by Brahms in one of his jollier moods … the finale reveals a taste for bravura writing in the great pianist-composer tradition. The Variations may be Brahms-lite, too, but no less appealing, helped not a little by Martin Roscoe's sensitive sculpting and dynamic shading. The subtle changes he rings in the repeat of the theme's initial statement are an indication of the care and imagination he brings to the whole score … Roscoe rounds off this rewarding voyage of discovery with Dohnányi's transcription of nine of Schubert's 12 Valses nobles in performances which surpass the composer's own … and in immeasurably better sound' (Gramophone)

'You can't help but be impressed by Dohnányi's compositional assuredness … all performed with consummate technical mastery and musical insight' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Connoisseurs of late Romanticism and aficionados of early twentieth-century music all owe Martin Roscoe an immense debt of gratitude … it would be difficult to overpraise Roscoe's accomplishment … the music simply flows unimpeded and we are left to bask in Dohnányi, whose music, at its very least, is always subtle, charming, cultivated and immensely communicative. Very warmly recommended' (International Record Review)

'Roscoe's ongoing Hyperion series is cause for celebration … Roscoe yields nothing to the composer as pianist, a testament to his stature in this repertoire … a project of major significance' (International Piano)

'Martin Roscoe is an absolute master when it comes to repertoire such as this and one could well imagine the composer himself looking on as he plays with a smile of approval. This disc is number two in a series of four covering all of Dohnányi’s solo piano music. Together with his recordings of the two piano concertos Roscoe has done this composer a great service in helping him emerge from the success of the aforementioned Variations on a Nursery Tune and show that there was very much more to him than that' (MusicWeb International)

The Complete Solo Piano Music, Vol. 2
Scherzo: Allegro  [7'02]
Fugue  [5'58]

This second volume of Dohnányi’s piano music focuses on early works from the period 1897 to 1907, when Dohnányi was still establishing himself within the great lineage of composer–pianists. Martin Roscoe is the ideal performer: the acknowledged master of this deeply appealing and unfairly neglected repertoire.

A highlight of the album is the Variations and Fugue on a theme of EG, Op 4—a monumental work that would soon be hailed by the Viennese press as ‘the most valuable enrichment of music literature since Brahms’.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
This is the second recording in Martin Roscoe’s survey of the complete solo piano music of Ernö Dohnányi (1877–1960). While the first volume (CDA67871) featured works spanning Dohnányi’s entire career, this recording focuses on compositions from 1897 to 1907, when Dohnányi was still establishing himself within the great lineage of composer–pianists. These early works bear the unmistakable influences of Schubert, Schumann and Chopin, but most significantly of Dohnányi’s mentor Johannes Brahms. At the same time, they reveal an exuberant and distinctive compositional voice.

Dohnányi composed his Four Piano Pieces, Op 2, in 1896 and 1897, while he was still a student at the National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music in Budapest (now known as the Franz Liszt Academy). The work’s dedicatee, Dohnányi’s fiancée Elsa Kunwald, would later become his wife and the mother of his children Hans and Margaret, whose diminutive nicknames were Hansel and Gretel.

The first of the Four Pieces is a Scherzo, a fast and humorous movement in a triple-metre genre that dates back to the late eighteenth century. A traditional scherzo takes the form of a minuet, in which an initial section is followed by a trio before returning to round off the movement. In Dohnányi’s Scherzo, the first section is marked by anapaestic rhythms that are continually interrupted by playful pauses and mischievous shifts of key. The middle section features a slow-moving chorale that shifts the tonality from C sharp minor to its enharmonic parallel, D flat major. An insistently beating A flat/G sharp (marked ‘quasi Timp[ani]’ in the score) brings back the opening material. Not content merely to demonstrate a mastery of the time-honoured form, Dohnányi expands it by ending the movement with the themes from both sections in a triumphant C sharp major.

The next two movements are intermezzos, a nineteenth-century title for inner movements from larger works that are typically lighter in character than their outer counterparts. The first Intermezzo, in A minor, again shows Dohnányi’s clever custom of darting impishly from key to key. As with the preceding Scherzo, this Intermezzo follows an extended minuet form in which the trio—a tranquil and deeply emotive section in A major—returns at the end to conclude the movement in the tonic major.

The second Intermezzo, in F minor, is the slowest of the Four Pieces. It is introduced by three lines of poetry by Robert Reinick that are clearly inspired by the oft-quoted promise of fidelity from the biblical book of Ruth: ‘Wo du auch wandelst, bin ich dein, / Wo du auch weilst, du bist ja mein, / Ich hab’ ja dich und meine Liebe!’ (‘Wherever you go, I am yours, / Wherever you live, you are truly mine, / I truly have you, and my love!’). This piece, perhaps more than any other in the set, suggests the passion its composer no doubt felt for its dedicatee—at least at that time, as Kunwald was to be the first of Dohnányi’s three wives.

The final work in Dohnányi’s Four Pieces is a difficult Capriccio in B minor. Fanciful works with this title have been around since the sixteenth century, but in the nineteenth century the genre became associated with rapid staccato figurations. In keeping with contemporary conventions, Dohnányi’s Capriccio adopts not only the style but the form of a scherzo. Once again, however, he could not resist expanding the structure. An agitated opening section gives way to a calm trio in G major, and then returns before introducing a second trio, a chordal episode in B major. As with each of its predecessors, the Capriccio ends in a major key.

Dohnányi graduated from the Academy of Music in 1897 and spent the following summer at Lake Starnberg, near Munich, taking lessons from the eminent piano virtuoso Eugen d’Albert. It was then that Dohnányi composed his Variations and Fugue on a Theme of EG, Op 4—a monumental work that would soon be hailed by the Viennese press as ‘the most valuable enrichment of music literature since Brahms’.

The ‘EG’ who composed the theme was Emma Gruber, to whom the work is dedicated. She was born Emma Schlesinger, but her family changed their last name to Sándor to conceal their Jewish heritage. After marrying a wealthy Hungarian named Henrik Gruber, she became a prominent benefactor who hosted fashionable soirées in her Budapest salon, where she prided herself in discovering and promoting new talent. The young Dohnányi become her piano teacher and then a frequent performer in her salon. Dohnányi and Gruber even teamed up for the premiere of his Waltz for four hands, Op 3, another work that he dedicated to her. Gruber was also a patron of Bartók and Kodály, marrying the latter after the death of her first husband.

Gruber’s theme is a simple minuet, reminiscent of the aria on which Brahms based his Handel Variations. In the first two variations, Dohnányi replaces the ebb and flow of the original rhythms with more regular quaver and semiquaver subdivisions. The third variation introduces a minor tonality, while also continuing to explore bolder harmonies. This increased chromaticism is especially noticeable in variation 4, in which the original key of G major is barely identifiable. Dohnányi continues to play with both harmony and rhythm in the lilting scherzando of the fifth variation. In the sixth variation, the original minuet tempo is slowed to an emotive Adagio in G minor. Variation 7 remains in the minor, speeding the tempo slightly for a staccato canon. The eighth variation is faster still, returning to G major for chordal passages that contrast with both the preceding variation and the bravura ninth variation. The tempo quickens again for variations 10 and 11, by which time the original harmonies of Gruber’s theme are barely recognizable. The twelfth variation harks back to the playful simplicity of the original theme before the entrance of the menacing final variation.

Throughout his career, Dohnányi would maintain a special affinity for the theme-and-variations form. Later compositions that would feature this design include his Variations on a Hungarian Folksong for piano, Op 29, as well as movements from his Cello Sonata, Op 8, the Serenade for string trio, Op 10, the Suite for orchestra, Op 19; the String Quartet No 3, Op 33; and the Szimfonikus percek (Symphonic Minutes) for orchestra, Op 36. The Variations and Fugue on a Theme of EG concludes with a complex four-part fugue based on Gruber’s theme. This was Dohnányi’s first use of the established technique of following variations with a fugue, one that he would subsequently employ in the finales of both of his symphonies as well as in his famous Variations on a Nursery Song for piano and orchestra, Op 25.

Dohnányi launched his career as a professional pianist with recitals in Berlin on 1 and 7 October 1897. These performances featured the premiere of the third of his Four Pieces, as well as of the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of EG. Over the next eight years Dohnányi would establish himself as one of the leading pianists of his generation with tours throughout Europe, Great Britain, and the United States. In 1905 he consolidated his reputation by accepting a prestigious professorship at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. Two years later, he composed his Humoresques in the form of a suite, Op 17. Like ‘Capriccio’, ‘Humoresque’ (or ‘Humoreske’) was a popular title in the nineteenth century for short, humorous compositions for piano, and in this work Dohnányi arranged five such pieces into a suite. The entire work is notable for its references to previous musical eras—an idea to which Dohnányi would return six years later in his Suite in Olden Style, Op 24.

The score for the first movement is titled simply March, but Dohnányi often referred to it as the ‘March humoresque’ in concert programmes. It is based on a four-beat descending tetrachord that provides an ostinato to all but the last two bars. When Dohnányi performed the March, he would play the ground bass twice as an introduction before commencing the published work.

The second movement is a Toccata, a genre that has been popular since the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Such pieces derived their titles from the Italian word for ‘touched’ because they required advanced technique. Dohnányi includes a reference to the second Prelude from J S Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

In the third movement Pavane (‘Pavane from the 16th century with variations’), Dohnányi quotes a stately Renaissance dance before varying it five times, again showing his predilection for variation form. In the third variation the composer combines the theme with a quotation of ‘Gaudeamus igitur’, which Brahms famously quoted in his Academic Festival Overture.

The next movement is a Pastorale, a genre associated with the countryside that forms yet another connection to the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Just as he would ten years later in his Pastorale ‘Hungarian Christmas Song’ (see volume 1), Dohnányi complies with the standard conventions for composing pastorales by combining drones in the bass that imitate shepherds’ bagpipes with a lilting siciliana in the upper register that is reminiscent of shepherds’ shawms. In this case, the siciliana proves to be a two-part canon.

The final movement is a four-part Fugue. As with the fugal finale of the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of EG, this work is an impressive display of compositional acumen that also demands a virtuoso performer—a perfect vehicle through which the thirty-year-old composer–pianist could confirm his extraordinary skills in both arenas.

Dohnányi did not publish his transcription of Schubert’s Valses nobles until 1925, but it entered his repertoire several years earlier, most likely as an encore that he improvised onstage. Like the paraphrase on the ‘Valse lente’ from Delibes’ Coppélia that concluded the first volume in this series, Dohnányi takes the twelve waltzes that comprise Schubert’s Valses nobles merely as a starting point to which he adds clever countermelodies and delightful harmonic twists. While Schubert’s original work is merely a collection of dissimilar waltzes, the young Dohnányi once again demonstrates his talent for crafting expansive forms by omitting the seventh, ninth and eleventh Valses nobles and repeatedly bringing back the first waltz as a refrain. The opening waltz returns again at the very end of the transcription in a flurry of virtuosic passagework that brings the piece to a rousing conclusion.

James A Grymes © 2013

Other albums in this series
'Dohnányi: The Complete Solo Piano Music, Vol. 1' (CDA67871)
Dohnányi: The Complete Solo Piano Music, Vol. 1
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67871 
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