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Hyperion Records

CDH55133 - Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 3
(Originally issued on Collins13652)

Recording details: October 1992
St Martin's Church, East Woodhay, Berkshire, United Kingdom
Produced by John H West
Engineered by John Timperley
Release date: February 2003
Total duration: 63 minutes 28 seconds

'the music here could hardly be more sympathetically presented than by Tanyel, whose performances are immaculate in their musicianship and virtuosity' (Gramophone)

'Tanyel's clear enthusiasm for this unhackneyed programme is utterly refreshing … The performance reminds us again just how well she understands the piano's Romantic repertoire' (Classic CD)

Piano Music, Vol. 3
Seta Tanyel (piano) Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service  
Moderato  [5'46]
Lento  [6'16]
Moderato  [5'41]
Novelette  [4'17]
Melodie  [4'47]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
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 der 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, 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, was 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 his 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 his 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 recognised it, having previously expressed a wish to meet the young composer!) Scharwenka went on to dedicate his first piano concerto to Liszt in 1877.

The Scherzo in G major, Op 4 (1869), was published by Breitkopf und Härtel following the success achieved with the Polish Dances, Op 3. It is a piece full of youthful exuberance and a good example of Scharwenka’s ability to compose effectively for his own virtuoso display without sacrificing true musical content. The pianist is given no respite as the piece hurries on, ending with a spectacular flurry of broken octaves.

The Barcarolle in E minor is one a number of shorter character pieces composed in the early 1870s. Scharwenka uses his thorough knowledge of the piano to good effect with a rich melodic line set above a steady undulating accompaniment.

The Novelette und Melodie, Op 22, were probably composed in 1875. There is some evidence here of Schumann’s influence, particularly in the energetic Novelette, although in the middle section Scharenka’s Polish origins show through. In direct contrast, the simplicity of the Melodie creates an air of restful tranquillity.

With the exception of his Polish Dances, the Variations for Piano, Op 48, was probably Scharwenka’s most popular work for piano solo during his lifetime. He certainly played it often at his concerts, and in 1919 it was performed by the young Claudio Arrau in Berlin at a concert given to celebrate Scharwenka’s fiftieth anniversary as a performing artist. The well-known German critic Karl Schelle, in reviewing a concert given by Scharwenka in January 1880 which included the Variations, praises him not only as a fine virtuoso performer but also as a composer, stating the Variations to be a fine work of great creative power.

The theme, in D minor, is of a dark and sombre nature, and in the first published edition there were twenty variations. Scharwenka revised and condensed the work some years later, reducing the number of variations to twelve and in some cases changing their order, and it is this version which is recorded here.

The four Polish Dances, Op 58, were composed when Scharwenka was at the height of his creative power, following on from the success of his second piano concerto at the beginning of 1881. In contrast to his earlier works in this genre, these pieces are more substantial, with a greater use of chromatic harmonies and more advanced modulations, and the overall development of the thematic material shows greater maturity. Although Scharwenka was not the ardent nationalist as typified by Paderewski, there is perhaps a passing tongue-in-cheek reference to the Polish anthem in the last piece of this set.

Martin Eastick © 1992

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. 2' (CDH55132)
Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 2
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55132  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'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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