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Hyperion Records

CDH55132 - Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 2
The Harvesters (c1882) by Hans Brasen (1849-1930)
Fine Art Photographic Library
(Originally issued on Collins13522)

Recording details: June 1992
St Martin's Church, East Woodhay, Berkshire, United Kingdom
Produced by John H West
Engineered by Mark Edwards
Release date: September 2002
Total duration: 65 minutes 46 seconds

'Scharwenka could not have been better served. He deserves no less' (International Record Review)

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

Piano Music, Vol. 2
Adagio  [3'39]
Vivace  [4'10]
Allegro  [4'55]
Allegro moderato  [4'50]
Allegro  [3'33]
Vivace con fuoco  [3'30]
Moderato  [4'38]
Allegro maestoso  [8'16]
Adagio  [6'31]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
One of the most exciting developments in the musical world over the past twenty-five or so years has been the gradual re-awakening of interest in the Romantic era, and more specifically in those composers who until recently have been consigned to an undeserved obscurity, not necessarily through lack of quality in their musical output but because of the changing dictates in fashion in the earlier years of the present century. A Romantic revival is now under way and is gaining steady momentum.

The nineteenth century was the golden age of the great virtuoso pianists who were required by the tradition of the day to compose music to perform at their own concerts. During the earlier part of the century in particular, much music was written primarily as a vehicle to display the virtuosity of the performer, and contained every conceivable technical difficulty. Vast numbers of fantasies, rondos and sets of variations on the popular tunes of the day appeared, which were the subject of much adverse criticism from serious musicians and composers, represented in particular by Robert Schumann. However, by the second half of the century, public taste and opinion was changing, and there was now more emphasis on original creative ability, rather than on mere bravura display for its own sake.

In 1865, Xaver Scharwenka, then a young man of fifteen who had been born and brought up in a small provincial Polish town, entered Theodor Kullak’s Neue Akademie den Tonkunst in Berlin. He studied piano with Kullak (1818–1882), himself a pupil of Carl Czerny, and composition with Richard Wuerst (1824–1881), who had studied with Mendelssohn in Leipzig. This solid academic musical education, together with his own natural talent and hard work, ensured Scharwenka’s success, both as pianist and composer.

Before 1874, when he took up a career as a travelling virtuoso, he had already been a member of Kullak’s teaching staff for some five years, together with his older brother Phillip (1847–1917). The experience he gained as a young professor at the Academy proved invaluable in his later years, as he turned more and more to teaching, opening a conservatory in Berlin in 1881, and following this up by opening a New York branch in 1891. By the middle of the 1890s this institution had become one of the world’s largest and was universally acknowledged as offering the highest quality of musical education.

It was the outbreak of war in 1914 that forced his retirement from the international concert platform after some forty years, during which time he had achieved every success and a worldwide reputation, receiving numerous decorations and orders of merit from most of the crowned heads of Europe, as well as honours from various illustrious institutions. The last few years of his life were mostly spent in Berlin, where he died in December 1924, a much respected man. His obituary notice in The Musical Times (March 1925) states: ‘He was considered one of the leading pianists of his time. His tone, it is said, beautiful and his interpretations in every school of music were those of a musician. As a composer he won prominence with his four concertos, and his opera Mataswintha, but the public knew him by his Polish Dances.’

Scharwenka had little difficulty in having his music published, and the famous firm of Breitkopf und Härtel in Leipzig accepted his first compositions in 1869. Among them was the first set of Polish National Dances Op 3, the first of which was to become one of the most popular pieces of all time, with millions of copies being sold all over the world. It was this piece that the composer used as a means of introduction to Franz Liszt in Weimar in 1870. (Scharwenka had pasted the opening bars inside his collapsible high crowned hat, and used it as a ‘visiting card’. Liszt immediately recognized it, having previously expressed a wish to meet the young composer!) Scharwenka went on to dedicate his first piano concerto (Op 32 in B flat minor) to Liszt in 1877.

Throughout his creative career, Scharwenka consistently returned to the Polish dance, as with Chopin and the mazurka. In fact, most of Scharwenka’s so-called Polish (national) dances are mazurkas. He wrote about thirty in all, and the two here which comprise Op 29, in C sharp minor and B minor respectively, were written about 1876. As with most of his earlier works in this genre, they consist of a number of small contrasting thematic units.

The sonatina in E minor, Op 52 No 1, is the first of a set of two composed in 1880. It is quite formal in style, following obvious models from the Classical period, with a ‘Tempo di Menuetto’ as the middle movement. Both sonatinas were probably composed primarily as instructional pieces intended for students of intermediate ability, and in such a capacity, would be a welcome addition today, especially in view of their melodic interest.

Composed in 1877 and dedicated to Brahms, Scharwenka’s Romanzero Op 33 (he used the same title for his Opp 59 and 64—Neuer Romanzero) is in the nature of a fantasy in four movements. The dramatic scherzo-like first movement is followed by a rather contemplative Adagio, which serves as an intermezzo leading to the third movement. Here, after the opening Vivace, the theme from the Adagio appears again in a slightly varied form. Scharwenka’s partiality to dance forms is more evident in the last movement which, after a short introductory passage, seems to suggest a polonaise. The work resolves itself in the tonic major and comes to a peaceful conclusion.

During the seven years that had elapsed since the appearance of his first piano sonata, Scharwenka had established his reputation as a composer, and his second sonata in E flat, Op 36, composed in 1878, was without doubt his most substantial work for piano solo. There are four movements, with the scherzo preceding the slow third movement. Once again the melodic content is strong throughout and the piano writing is of consistent high standard, as one might expect from one of the leading pianists of the day.

Martin Eastick © 2002

Other albums in this series
'Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 1' (CDH55131)
Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 1
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55131  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 3' (CDH55133)
Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 3
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy 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
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDH55134  Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service  
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