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Hyperion Records

CDH55387 - Moscheles: Complete Concert Studies
Moscheles' London drawing room (attributed to) by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
(Originally issued on CDA67394)

Recording details: April 2003
Charterhouse Hall, Godalming, Surrey, United Kingdom
Produced by Amanda Hurton
Engineered by Arne Akselberg
Release date: July 2011
DISCID: 72124C19
Total duration: 77 minutes 39 seconds

'Graceful, fluent and engagingly affectionate performances' (Gramophone)

'Lane is the kind of pianist who can make anything sound good. His formidable technique is evident from the opening étude … it is all the better that this recording is engineered well and we have a fine instrument' (American Record Guide)

'Hyperion furnishes excellent recorded sound in a release of truly generous length, and Henry Roche does a splendid job with the liner notes. Enthusiastically recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

'Piers Lane's concern is to underline the unexpected meatiness of the piano writing, and he offers lusty, swaggering performances … it's a revelatory recording' (International Piano)

'Il joue ces œuvres de manière impeccable et soignée, avec un goût exquis, en dosant parfaitement la puissance et le raffinement nécessaires, nous offrant ainsi d'agréables révélations à savourer' (Répertoire, France)

Complete Concert Studies
Piers Lane (piano) Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
No 4a: Juno  [3'02]
No 6: Bacchanale  [3'02]
No 2: L'Ambition  [3'47]
No 4: La Fougue  [3'20]

Given Moscheles contemporary fame it is surprising how much his reputation has faded. He bridged the gap between the Classical and Romantic movements and, though a fine pianist and a sincere and skilled craftsman as a composer, his downfall was surely that his transitional idiom was quickly overshadowed by the Titans of the new Romantic movement such as Chopin, Schumann and Liszt. None of this need concern us now—his music has its own worth, as our recordings of his concertos have shown.

This CD brings together all his works that could be described as ‘concert studies’ (it excludes the Op 70 set as these are much more didactic in nature). The Op 95 set is probably his greatest solo piano work and the many foretastes of later composers such as Schumann and Brahms reveal the influence that Moscheles had on later generations.

Piers Lane does his customary magnificent job in presenting these studies, most of which are premiere recordings.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Ignaz Moscheles (1794–1870) was one of the finest pianist-composers of the first half of the nineteenth century. Indeed it is hardly an exaggeration to say that between 1815 and 1830 he was considered by many the supreme virtuoso of his day, for he combined technical brilliance and an unmatched depth of expressive power with true compositional and artistic mastery. His style is marked by rhythmic and melodic vivacity and charm, coupled with a ready love of the unexpected, revealing deeper hidden levels. He had in addition a lovable and generous nature, and a capacity for painstaking precision that made him an ideal mentor to generations of pupils.

He was born in 1794 in Prague to a German-speaking Jewish family; but after his father’s early death he settled in 1808 in Vienna, where his teachers were Albrechtsberger and Salieri, his friends included Meyerbeer and Hummel, and his idol and the zenith of his artistic aspirations was Beethoven. In 1814 he was commissioned to arrange the piano score of Fidelio, and had the joy of regular visits to Beethoven for his approval or comments, coming to know him as a kind and generous friend. In 1815 his Alexander Variations Op 32 for piano and orchestra brought sudden fame and popularity, and he embarked the following year on the life of a touring virtuoso, travelling throughout Northern and Western Europe and paying extended visits to Paris and London. In 1824 he met and taught the young Mendelssohn in Berlin, whence arose a lifelong and intimate friendship, severed only by Mendelssohn’s death in 1847. Early in 1825 in Hamburg he met and married the striking and cultivated Charlotte Embden, and settled for twenty-one years in London, bringing up a family of four children and establishing a dominant position as pianist, composer, conductor and teacher. He continued to tour in Britain and on the Continent; but towards 1840 he took a deliberate decision to make teaching his dominant role, and increasingly devoted his greatest energies to that calling, to which his character and genius so conspicuously suited him. In September 1846 his eldest daughter Emily married Antonin Roche in London, the great-grandparents of the author of these notes. A few weeks later Moscheles made his final move to Leipzig, accepting Mendelssohn’s invitation to be Director of Piano and Piano-Composition at his recently founded Conservatory.

His compositions are, like Chopin’s, predominantly for piano, but in addition to eight piano concertos they include a symphony, an overture, some songs and a small but important body of chamber music. True to his era, the solo output comprises both serious and ‘salon’ pieces, with each displaying a constant inclination to share its better characteristics with its opposite type. Chief among the former are the sonatas Opp 49 and 56 and the three very fine Allegri di Bravura Op 51 (1821), sometimes called Concert Studies.

Moscheles’ earliest and best-known set of true studies, Op 70, containing two books traversing the twenty-four major and minor keys, appeared early in 1827, and their influence on the musical world was immediate and profound. It is their pride as well as their misfortune to have laid the ground for Chopin’s studies which so soon afterwards carried the genre into ethereal realms and put their precursors into historical shade. Nevertheless the great popularity of Moscheles’ Op 70, together with his faith in his own musical aims and his passionate interest in the increasing brilliance and sonority of the instrument, seem to have spurred him to extend the boundaries of pianism yet further. The young Mendelssohn wrote to him in January 1829: ‘Your splendid studies are the finest pieces of music I have become acquainted with for a long time—as instructive and useful to the player as they are gratifying to the hearer. Might you not feel disposed to publish a third book? You know what service you would be rendering all lovers of music.’

Moscheles finally began work on the new set of twelve Characteristic Studies, Op 95, in the autumn of 1836, beginning with Juno, A Dream and Bacchanale. A Children’s Tale was written in October, a harbinger of the birth of their third and youngest daughter Clara. ‘They are not intended for pupils’, he writes; ‘there are difficulties in them which only a master can overcome. Thalberg, Liszt, all such players will find their work cut out for them.’ He performed some of them in May 1837 in London, though the complete set was not ready for publication until the following winter. Mendelssohn wrote to him in April 1837: ‘You cannot fancy how impatient I am to get them, what a treat it will be to me, and how refreshing it will be to have something new to study. For really the piano music of the present day is such that I cannot make up my mind to play it through more than once; it is so desperately empty and poor that I usually get tired of it on the first page.’ Then in December: ‘I have spent some of my happiest hours with your new Studies, the first proofs of which Kistner sent me. It is a long time since I have had any piano music I wanted to play over and over again; so you can fancy how I enjoy something new, to which I can give my whole heart. I am particularly struck by the difference between these and your former Studies—not that I love the old ones less, but the new ones are for quite a different class of players, far in advance of the former; here the technical difficulties have become of secondary importance, and the intrinsic merits of the work have to be brought out. Once more a thousand thanks, and may you give us many more of the same kind!’ ‘My dearest Felix’, came Moscheles’ reply, ‘your praise of my Studies gives me much pleasure. I did not feel called upon to aim at popularity with the general public, but I dared not hope that my work addressed itself to the select circle of Connoisseurs. That you should welcome me with a Bravo strengthens my faith in myself.’

Moscheles performed some of the new Studies at his London ‘Historical Concerts’ of 1837–9; when Liszt played three of them at the Philharmonic Society in June 1840, Moscheles commented: ‘He played them quite admirably and with faultless execution; but by his powers he has completely metamorphosed the pieces; they have become more his studies than mine. With all that they please me, and I shouldn’t like to hear them played in any other way by him.’

Dedicated to the musician and writer Friedrich Rochlitz, the Studies are inscribed with a motto from C P E Bach’s famous essay on performance: ‘A musician cannot move his audience unless he himself is moved; he must experience the passions that he wishes to impart to his hearers. Only if feelings are understood can they truly be shared.’ In a short Preface Moscheles says: ‘The attainment of the mechanical training of the hand is here considered a secondary object, as the author takes it for granted that much proficiency in that acquirement has already been gained. The player is particularly recommended to use his own ingenuity and reflection in expressing the passions, sentiments and general character which he supposes the author to have felt and intended at the time he composed each piece, and which he has hinted at by the characteristic title and by other musical terms found scattered over the composition. To try to express his innermost feelings in more precise words seems an encroachment on the very nature of music, in whose true devotees he hopes that these pieces may stir the imagination and arouse if not identical, at least similar visions to the composer’s own.’

With these Studies Moscheles immerses himself unreservedly in the early nineteenth-century Romantic style. No 1, Wrath, in A minor, is a jagged, agitato combination of a predominantly staccato theme with a demanding semiquaver accompaniment. The second, Reconciliation, marked Andante placido, displays a rather Gounod-esque sweetness, but its ingenious hand-crossing and increasingly complex web of filigree decoration belie any initial impression of tameness. Contradiction, a moto perpetuo in D flat, was greeted as a favourite by both Mendelssohn and Schumann for its buoyant energy and refined characterization. Echoes of Beethoven and Schubert lead us towards a typically gleeful side-slip into D major (con ilarità) and the irresistible sweep to the final confident chords. The fourth, Juno, is in some ways the most remarkable of the collection: there are many beauties here, and its rhythmic power, sonority and depth of expression strikingly foreshadow Brahms’s music.

A discretional three-bar lentamente transition, the first of four such linking passages, leads gently into E flat and A Children’s Tale. Its immediate appeal ensured it became the most popular piece of the collection—indeed Moscheles would subsequently be moved to say with wry resignation that no-one would suspect that several of the other studies were equally worthy of concert performance. In fact it has rare intimacy and charm, its melody gliding gracefully over a persistent inner dotted-note rhythm. Again one may be reminded of Gounod, especially towards the end where the melody appears in octaves below the dotted accompaniment. No 6, Bacchanale, is a Schumannesque chordal tour de force over a bounding octave bass, with contrasting sotto voce passages in unashamedly operatic style. It could be called ‘musicians’ music’, for like many of the studies it has details of special delight for the performer, who has his work cut out to share them with the audience as the music sweeps along. Affection is an apotheosis of fully Romantic style; marked Andante molto espressivo, its modern-sounding melody on a carpet of demisemiquavers speaks directly to the heart. Echoes of yet unwritten music flicker among the sensuously weaving harmonies. ‘Exactly your own self’, said Mendelssohn—‘as if I heard you talk and play.’ Nothing is self-effacing about Carnival Scenes, a brilliant 24 tarantella headed Alla Napolitana—one can feel the dancers setting new standards of stamina, virtuosity and sheer speed. (Can one really hear snatches of Poulenc?)

No 9, Moonlight on the Sea-Shore, uses the player’s legato and contrapuntal skills to create a rich and haunting tone-picture, with repetitive motifs that pre-echo Hugo Wolf. In the Gottschalkian Terpsichore Moscheles gives free rein to the sense of dance that is never far below the surface of his music. Its ebullience (again con ilarità towards the end) convincingly suggests that in a later age he would have made a great jazz musician. A Dream, the longest of the set, is an extended companion-piece to No 9, and an intimate study in soft sonorities and legatissimo touch. The descending opening notes create a mood of stillness and wonder similar to the beginning of Schumann’s Mondnacht, and a middle section is ushered in by a whispered triplet figure marked come un zeffiretto and later misterioso. Terror (Presto agitato) is of the twelve perhaps the most demanding and technically advanced, and as in Nos 1 and 4 we hear clear echoes of the Brahmsian style.

The Deux Études Op 98, were composed for Moscheles’ own comprehensive tutor of piano technique Méthode des Méthodes, which he published with François Fétis at the end of 1840 in France, Germany and England. The concluding part comprises some eighteen studies specially commissioned from many of the best composers of the day, its most famous offspring being Chopin’s Trois Nouvelles Études composed in 1839. Liszt, Mendelssohn, Thalberg and Henselt also contributed. L’Enjouement (playfulness) is an unassuming but excellently written piece full of invention, in cantabile style with an inner accompaniment of off-beat semiquavers. The more virtuosic L’Ambition in G minor starts quietly with an expressive but agitato melody over rushing triplets, but soon more and more complex passagework keeps impetuously bursting forth. Moscheles had been appointed pianist to Prince Albert in early 1840, and later presented an inscribed copy of the complete work to the Prince as dedicatee.

The Deux Études Op 105, were written for the Beethoven Album published in November 1841 by Pietro Mecchetti of Vienna to raise funds for the Beethoven monument in Bonn. They found themselves in illustrious company: the volume included Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses and Chopin’s Prélude Op 45. Mendelssohn was sent manuscript copies of the studies in June 1841, and replied: ‘I cannot tell you how much I have found in them to enjoy and admire, and how grateful I am that you should select me as the first to send them to, in advance of the whole musical world. The D minor one is my favourite … but then there is that lively one in F major, which I love more and more each time I play it. They are both so truly Moscheles that it is hard to choose! The one in F I cannot manage at all yet, although I have tried hard.’ They are in truth at least as advanced and demanding as anything he had composed up to that time, the first in F major, Allegro scherzoso, for its very rapid piano repeated notes, and the second, Allegro feroce, for the power and stamina of its virtuoso repeated chords. Liszt, who gave several four-hand concerts with Moscheles in 1841 and was a constant and welcome guest in his house that summer, played both studies admirably at sight from the manuscript.

With the Quatre Grandes Études de Concert, Op 111, that appeared in 1845, Moscheles returns, as if irresistibly, to characteristic titles, which mirror the increased power and scope of the music. He composed two of them on holiday in Boulogne in the late summer of 1841; La Fougue was written in 1843. His concert career had effectively ended, yet here he produced four of his finest compositions. All the varieties of technical difficulty that a virtuoso could wish for develop organically from the music itself, which shows nonetheless at times the simplicity of a great and mature artist. Rêverie et Allégresse (dreaming and joyfulness), after a pensive opening, embarks on a quiet and unassuming tune which grows almost imperceptibly into a rushing torrent of notes. In the charming Le Carrillon there is a similar development from artlessness to explosive power; its second theme has an accompaniment of deliciously discordant passing notes. Tendresse et Exaltation has once again a remarkably ‘up-to-date’ tune, hauntingly varied and developed. The growing sense of rapture finally breaks free in an allegro tempo that crescendos to a triumphant conclusion. The final Étude, La Fougue (impetuosity and passion), is reminiscent of Alkan in its power and ardour, and is perhaps the finest of an exceptional group of pieces. They were dedicated to the composer Wilhelm Speyer of Frankfurt, and published for the benefit of the Mozart Society of that city.

The final piece on this disc, the Grande Étude de Concert, Op 126, in E flat, was written in 1856 for the first volume of Lebert and Stark’s great Klavierschule (Piano Tutor) published in Stuttgart. A subsequent volume contained Liszt’s concert studies Gnomenreigen and Waldesrauschen, and here too Brahms’s double-sixths version of Chopin’s F minor Study saw the light of day. Op 126 is a straightforwardly tuneful study in double thirds, and it is surely a remarkable production for a composer in his sixties, however youthful he remained at heart.

Henry Roche © 2003

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