With an easy entrée into all the right circles, Thalberg embarked on his career as a pianist–composer in 1830 with the obligatory piano concerto. Only five years later he was one of the most famous musicians in Europe, appointed pianist to the Emperor of Austria and hailed as the leader of a new school of musical thought. Many highly regarded and influential musicians—Czerny, Fétis and Moscheles among them—believed that the innovations Thalberg brought to the piano ushered in a modern style of piano-playing that would have lasting value. To make the piano a singing instrument was his chief aim, best illustrated by his famous ‘three-handed’ effect which he achieved by dividing a melody between the two hands, sustained by adroit pedalling, thereby leaving either free hand to play brilliant figurations above and below. It gave the effect of two pianists playing. People used to stand on their chairs to see how he did it. Thalberg was not the first person to use the idea but was the first to develop it as a pianistic feature, which he did, along with a handful of other technical advances, in his many opera paraphrases and variations. Though easily sneered at, they became his trademark and indeed were far more popular at the time than, for example, any of Chopin’s compositions. Thalberg’s textural and pedalling innovations were a great influence on the keyboard-writing of succeeding generations and are still with us today.
Thalberg must have been quite a pianist—and it must have been quite something to watch him play his Piano Concerto with the absolute stillness and economy of movement for which he was noted, the very opposite of his rival Liszt. He was one of the first major pianists to tour North America and Brazil, which he did in 1855 and from 1856 to 1858. By the end of his second visit (with the violinist Vieuxtemps) he had amassed a vast fortune—more than Anton Rubinstein or even Paderewski made—and decided to retire. Asked why he no longer composed, Thalberg replied: ‘Alas, my imitators have made me impossible.’
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2012
Alphabetical listing of all musical works
|Hexaméron – Morceau de concert 'Grandes Variations de Bravoure pour Piano sur la Marche des Puritains de Bellini', S392 (Liszt/Bellini/Thalberg)|
|Hexaméron – Morceau de concert 'Grandes Variations de bravoure sur la marche des Puritains de Bellini', S365a (Liszt/Bellini/Thalberg)|
|Piano Concerto in F minor, Op 5 (Thalberg)|