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Hyperion Records

CDH55141 - Moszkowski: Piano Music, Vol. 1
(Originally issued on Collins14122)

Recording details: December 1993
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by John H West
Engineered by John Timperley
Release date: June 2002
Total duration: 68 minutes 36 seconds

'A thoroughly enjoyable 69 minutes in the company of Tanyel and Moszkowski' (International Record Review)

Piano Music, Vol. 1
Albumblatt Op 2  [4'58]
Serenata  [2'34]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
’After Chopin, Moszkowski best understands how to write for the piano.’ Perhaps this comment by Paderewski may seem today to be rather excessive, but during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Moritz Moszkowski was one of the most respected and admired musicians of his time, and his piano music was immensely popular.

He was born on 23 August 1854 into a wealthy Jewish family in Breslau, which was then in East Prussia. His initial musical education commenced at an early age in Dresden, from where he progressed to Julius Stern’s Conservatory in Berlin, finally completing his studies at Theodor Kullak’s Neue Akademie der Tonkunst. He made his successful debut as a concert pianist in Berlin in 1873 and his early successes as a composer included the Spanish Dances for piano duet and the Serenata, Op 15 No 1, which quickly became very popular and established his reputation. Amongst his fellow students at the Academy were the brothers Philipp and Xaver Scharwenka, who both became close friends, and eventually all three joined Kullak’s teaching staff. It is perhaps also worth noting that Moszkowski was no mean violinist and, according to the American Amy Fay in her book Music Study in Germany, he sometimes played first violin in the academy orchestra. He also composed a fine violin concerto, Op 30, which is long overdue for revival.

Using Berlin as his base for the next twenty or so years, Moszkowski travelled extensively throughout Europe, giving many recitals, and, although already famous as a brilliant pianist and composer, also gained recognition as a conductor. It was in this capacity that he made several visits to London at the invitation of The Philharmonic Society, introducing several of his orchestral works, although it was not until 12 May 1898 that he made his debut in England as a pianist with the British premiere of his piano concerto, Op 59 (recorded in Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series on CDA66452).

In 1897, at the height of his fame, he moved to Paris. He was now married (to the sister of Cécile Chaminade) and had a son and a daughter. He was most sought after as a teacher, especially by Americans, although curiously enough he was never persuaded to tour America in spite of the vast sums offered to entice him there. In 1904 it was a young Thomas Beecham who, at the suggestion of André Messager, went to Moszkowski for lessons in orchestration, and Beecham later acknowledged his master’s wide experience and refinement of taste in his own development. Among Moszkowski’s piano pupils, Josef Hofmann was undoubtedly the most important.

From about 1908 onwards, however, Moszkowski’s fortunes went into decline. He began to suffer from ill-health and he lost both his wife and daughter. As the new century dawned, his popularity began to fade as musical tastes changed, and he became a recluse. Although he was still composing, his output during his last fifteen or so years was comparatively sparse as he lost his enthusiasm and ambition, and although his later pieces showed no lack of inspiration, he made it quite clear that he had absolutely no interest in the new musical order. He sold the copyrights of his music and invested his considerable wealth in German, Polish and Russian securities which unfortunately became quite worthless at the outbreak of war in 1914. His last few years were spent in poverty in Paris, although in 1921 some of his old friends in America arranged a testimonial concert for his benefit at Carnegie Hall. This spectacular event, during which fourteen pianos were played together by some of the leading pianists of the day, raised some ten thousand dollars, although the proceeds did not actually reach Moszkowski until the year of his death in 1925.

Although he produced an opera, Boabdil, in 1892, a ballet, Laurin (1896) and a number of orchestral works, Moszkowski’s reputation as a composer rests with his considerable piano output, and if one excludes the piano concerto and rumours of an earlier concerto and a piano quintet, both now unfortunately presumed lost, the remainder consists of smaller works—waltzes, mazurkas, studies and various character pieces, usually published in miscellaneous groups.

Some of his early pieces show the occasional influence of Schumann, although Moszkowski soon developed a more personal style, and his distinct individuality is the more obvious as one becomes acquainted with more of his music. It is well-crafted and imaginative and the composer’s understanding of the piano and how to write effectively for it is always evident, from the charming simplicity of the early Albumblatt Op 2 and the famous Serenata, Op 15 No 1, to the scintillating and exuberant virtuosity of the Tarantella Op 27 No 2 and the Valse Op 34 No 1, which has precariously survived as an occasional encore.

From the Eight Characteristic Pieces Op 36 of 1885 comes the brief but peaceful Rêverie, contrasting with the excitement and surging melody of Expansion, and the descriptive En Automne, whilst the Air de Ballet, together with the later pieces La Jongleuse and Près de Berceau, are perfect examples of his lighter ‘salon’ music.

The Poème de Mai, together with the Four Pieces Op 68, was composed a few years after he had settled in Paris, and this is reflected perhaps in a slight change of style. His tendency towards chromatic harmonies seems a little more subtle than in earlier pieces, particularly in the Nocturne, which must surely rank amongst his best works.

The Chanson Bohème, from Bizet’s Carmen, is a transcription in the grand tradition, superbly capturing the mood of the original in true virtuoso style, whilst the tranquility of Offenbach’s Barcarolle is perfectly preserved.

Martin Eastick © 2002

Other albums in this series
'Moszkowski: Piano Music, Vol. 2' (CDH55142)
Moszkowski: Piano Music, Vol. 2
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55142  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Moszkowski: Piano Music, Vol. 3' (CDH55143)
Moszkowski: Piano Music, Vol. 3
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55143  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
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