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Hyperion Records

CDH55131 - Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 1
(Originally issued on Collins13252)

Recording details: December 1991
Abbey Road Studios, London, United Kingdom
Produced by John H West
Engineered by John Timperley
Release date: June 2002
Total duration: 63 minutes 0 seconds

'Seta Tanyel plays her well-contrasted selection with obvious affection and persuasive charm … playing of outstanding drive and verve' (International Record Review)

'The recorded sound has all the freshness needed for this music' (Pianist)

Piano Music, Vol. 1
Cantabile  [3'01]
Con fuoco  [3'23]
Vivace  [2'50]
Appassionato  [3'16]
Con fuoco  [3'00]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Franz Xaver Scharwenka was born on 6 January 1850 in the small town of Samter, near the Polish city of Posen (Poznan) which was then part of East Prussia. Together with his older brother Philipp (1847–1917), he showed early musical talent and, with encouragement from his father, received his first music lessons.

In 1865 the family moved to Berlin where the two brothers were accepted at Theodor Kullak’s Neue Akademie der Tonkunst. Here Xaver made good progress, studying piano with Kullak himself (who had been a pupil of Czerny) and composition with Richard Wuerst. In 1868 Xaver joined Kullak’s teaching staff and the following year made his debut as a pianist at the Berlin Singakademie to great critical acclaim.

As a performer Scharwenka was renowned for the quality of his tone. His playing combined brilliance and clarity with power, yet without any harshness. (Examples of his playing can be found in the several recordings he made in New York in 1911 and 1913 for Columbia.) 1869 saw the appearance in print of his first compositions, which had been accepted by the famous German publishers, Breitkopf und Härtel. These included a piano trio, a violin sonata, and the first set of Polish Dances, Op 3, the first of which was to make Scharwenka a household name, with copies sold being counted in millions.

Having completed his military service in 1874 Scharwenka embarked upon a career as a travelling virtuoso, and his reputation grew steadily. In 1877 he completed the first of his four piano concertos, one of his most successful works, and in the same year he married one of his former pupils, Zenaide Gousseff. He visited England in 1879, playing his concerto at the Crystal Palace. 1881 marked the beginning of a change of direction in his career as he turned his attention more to teaching, opening his own conservatory in Berlin. He still found time to compose, writing a symphony and the opera Mataswintha as well as more piano music, although his output became progressively less prolific.

In 1890 Scharwenka made his first visit to America where his reputation as a composer was already established. After another successful tour there, he emigrated with his family and settled in New York where he opened another branch of his conservatory in 1891. For the next seven years he lived in the United States, returning to Germany for a few months each summer. The Scharwenka family moved back to Berlin in 1898, although he still made regular visits to America until the outbreak of war in 1914. During a tour in 1910 he performed his Fourth concerto in New York under Gustav Mahler.

By 1914 his teaching activities occupied most of his time and his own output now included various pedagogical works. His autobiography, Klänge aus meinem Leben (‘Sounds from my Life’) appeared in 1922. Scharwenka died in Berlin on 8 December 1924.

It surely comes as no surprise that Scharwenka’s activities as a composer were mainly confined to the piano, where he demonstrates a perfect understanding of the instrument. The Polish influence from his early years made a lasting impression, together with the thorough German training he received in Berlin, where the music of Schumann in particular was of importance in his creative development. Chopin’s influence is perhaps slightly less in evidence, although he knew Chopin’s music well and played it often, as well as editing his famous compatriot’s works for the publisher Augener and Co.

The five Polish Dances Op 3 of 1869 quickly led to Scharwenka’s popularity, and whilst one is initially tempted to make comparisons with the mazurkas of Chopin, these early pieces already have a distinct originality. The melodic content is strong and quite rhythmic, and it is obvious why they made such an immediate impact.

Of the two Polonaises recorded here, the first falls within the bounds of respectable nineteenth-century salon music, whilst the latter, composed some four years later, is, by contrast, a powerful and exciting example of Scharwenka’s unashamed romanticism.

In spite of the Polish dances and polonaises, Scharwenka was quite cosmopolitan in his musical outlook. The enchanting Impromptu Op 17 shows definite leanings towards Schumann and it is also worth noting a passing similarity here to the earlier music of his friend and fellow-student at Kullak’s Academy, Moritz Moszkowski (1854–1925), although both followed their own distinctive musical paths. Although ‘salon music’ has been the object of much undeserved adverse criticism in more recent times, Scharwenka’s smaller pieces have a consistent quality and appeal, and the Valse-Caprice Op 31 is no exception. After a tentative introduction, the waltz commences innocently enough, but makes increasingly more demands on the pianist as it scurries towards an excitingly virtuoso conclusion.

The ‘Eglantine’ Waltz Op 84 was a much later piece, dating from 1913. It was primarily written for teaching purposes and the published score includes a detailed analysis to help the prospective pupil with interpretation.

The young Scharwenka had already gained valuable experience in writing in larger forms with the sonata for violin and piano, Op 2 (1869), and his first Piano Sonata, composed in 1871 and dedicated to his teacher Kullak, is a youthful work full of ambition, sustaining a constant driving energy within a fairly formal sonata framework. The work is cast in four movements, with the scherzo being placed second. The rather short slow third movement really serves as an introduction to a furious and impassioned finale. A new edition with some small revisions appeared around 1905, but the version recorded here is the original.

Martin Eastick © 2002

Other albums in this series
'Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 2' (CDH55132)
Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 2
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55132  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 3' (CDH55133)
Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 3
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDH55133  Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service  
'Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 4' (CDH55134)
Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 4
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDH55134  Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service  
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