Hyperion Records

Thalberg, Sigismond (1812-1871)  
Reproduced by kind permission of Daniel L Hitchcock

Sigismond Thalberg

born: 6 July 1812
died: 27 April 1871
country: Germany

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A full and accurate account of Thalberg’s life has yet to be written. His birth and parentage would need a chapter to themselves. Almost every reference book states that he was born in Geneva in 1812, the natural son of Count Moritz von Dietrichstein and the Baroness von Wetzlar. (The Count, incidentally, was a good amateur musician and was one of the fifty-one composers invited by Diabelli to contribute to Vaterländischer Künstlerverein, a collection of variations on a waltz theme he had penned; the Count wrote Variation 6, Pixis wrote Variation 31; Beethoven, you will recall, submitted a set of 33.) The reality is far more complicated, laid out in full by Dudley Newton in The Sigismund Thalberg Society Newsletter (Vol. 4, Number 1, 1993, Supplement; reprinted from The Liszt Society Journal, Volume 16, 1991). In brief, it seems most likely that his father was Joseph Thalberg, the natural son of Moritz’s elder brother Prince Franz-Joseph von Dietrichstein, and that his mother was called Fortunée Stein. What is not in any doubt is that Sigismond Thalberg was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and doted on by his paternal grandfather, the Prince. To be handsome, cultured, a brilliant pianist with blue blood in his veins and illegitimate was almost too much good fortune for one man.

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

Albums
'Thalberg & Pixis: Piano Concertos' (CDA67915)
Thalberg & Pixis: Piano Concertos
'Liszt: Complete Piano Music' (CDS44501/98)
Liszt: Complete Piano Music
MP3 £160.00FLAC £160.00ALAC £160.00Buy by post £200.00 CDS44501/98  99CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)  
'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 10 – Hexaméron & Symphonie fantastique' (CDA66433)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 10 – Hexaméron & Symphonie fantastique
'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra I' (CDA67401/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra I
MP3 £10.00FLAC £10.00ALAC £10.00Buy by post £10.00 CDA67401/2  2CDs Please, someone, buy me …  
'Pixis & Thalberg: Piano Concertos' (CDA67915)
Pixis & Thalberg: Piano Concertos
Complete works available for download
Piano Concerto in F minor, Op 5 Howard Shelley (piano), Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Howard Shelley (conductor)
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)
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