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Hyperion Records

CDH55134 - Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 4
CDH55134
(Originally issued on Collins14742)
Recording details: October 1995
Forde Abbey, Somerset, United Kingdom
Produced by John H West
Engineered by John Timperley
Release date: September 2003
Total duration: 71 minutes 49 seconds

'… brimful with alert character and beauty whilst the two piano pieces are delightful in their raucous melodies … briliantly done by Tanyel' (Classical Net Review)

Piano Music, Vol. 4
Con fuoco  [3'21]
Vivo  [3'15]
Con fuoco  [4'02]
Menuett  [4'26]
Scherzo  [3'38]
Passionato  [1'37]
Animato  [0'57]
Vivace  [2'01]
Theme: Andante  [1'03]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Xaver Scharwenka was born on 6 January 1850 in the small town of Samter, near the Polish city of Posen (Poznan), which was then in East Prussia. Together with his older brother Philipp (1847-1917) he showed early musical talent and with encouragement from his father received his first music lessons.

The family moved to Berlin in 1865 where the two brothers were accepted at Theodor Kullak’s ‘Neue Akademie der Tonkunst’. Here Xaver made good progress, studying piano with Kullak himself, who had been a pupil of Czerny, and composition with Richard Wuerst.

In 1868, Xaver joined Kullak’s teaching staff and the following year he made his début as a pianist at the Berlin Singakademie to great critical acclaim. As a performer, he was renowned for the quality of his tone. His playing combined brilliance and clarity with power, yet without any harshness. Examples of his playing can be found in the several recordings he made for the Columbia Graphophone company in New York in 1911 and 1913. The year 1869 also saw the appearance in print of his first compositions, which had been accepted by the famous German publishers Breitkopf & Härtel. These included a piano trio, violin sonata, and the first set of Polish National Dances Op 3, the first of which was to make Scharwenka’s a household name, with copies sold being counted in millions.

Having completed his military service in 1874, he set off as a travelling virtuoso, and his reputation grew steadily. In 1877 he completed the first of his four piano concertos, one of his most successful works, and in the same year he married one of his former pupils, Zenaide Gousseff. He came to England in 1879, playing his concerto at the Crystal Palace.

1881 marked the beginning of a change of direction in his career, as he turned his attention more to teaching, opening his own conservatory in Berlin. He still found some time to compose, writing a symphony and the opera Mataswintha as well as a few more piano pieces, although his output gradually became less prolific.

Scharwenka made his first visit to America in 1890 where his reputation as a composer was already established. After another successful tour, he emigrated with his family and settled in New York, where he opened another branch of his conservatory in 1891. For the next seven years he lived in the USA, returning to Germany for a few months each summer.

The Scharwenka family moved back to Berlin in 1898, although he still made regular visits to America right up until the outbreak of war in 1914. It was during a later tour in 1910 that he performed his own Fourth Piano Concerto in New York with Gustav Mahler conducting.

By 1914 his academic duties occupied most of his time and his own output now included a number of pedagogical works. He did however also find time to complete his entertaining autobiography, Klänge aus meinern Leben, which appeared in 1922. He died in Berlin on 8 December 1924, a much respected man and musician.

It is surely not surprising that Scharwenka’s activities as a composer were mainly confined to the piano, where his thorough knowledge of the instrument’s capabilities is always in evidence. Furthermore, he never compromised his position as a true musician for the sake of mere virtuoso display, either as performer or composer. The Polish influence from his early years made a lasting impression, together with the thorough German training he received in Berlin, where the music of Schumann in particular was of importance in his creative development. Chopin’s influence is perhaps less evident, although he knew Chopin’s music well enough and performed it often, as well as editing his famous compatriot’s complete works for the publishers, Augener & Co.

In his early works Scharwenka quickly acquired confidence in his own creative ability which is reflected in the two Erzählungen am Klavier (Legends) Op 5 of 1870, although they do show how much Scharwenka was —ally influenced by Schumann.

The Six Waltzes Op 28 date from the mid 1870s and are more in the manner of a suite and should be considered and performed as one work rather than as separate items. Scharwenka provides contrast as each of the waltzes is divided into smaller sections, some of which appear more than once throughout the set.

Scharwenka wrote twenty-nine so-called Polish National Dances in all, and the four that comprise his Op 47 (originally published as four mazurkas in 1879) must surely rank among the best. These are dynamic pieces, richly colourful and strongly rhythmic, and with much contrast both in tempo and mood, indicating in no uncertain terms Scharwenka’s origins!

The Variationen über ein Thema von C.H. Op 57 of 1881 are the second of Scharwenka’s three sets of variations and are dedicated to Prince Constantin zu Hohenlohe se Schillingsfürst, who brother Chlodwig was Chancellor of Germany from 1894 to 1900. A close friend of Scharwenka, the Prince was a keen amateur composer and the sixteen-bar theme in A major was his own (as indicated by ‘C.H.’ in the title). The thirteen variations that follow are expertly developed, as one might expect.

While in America during the 1890s, Scharwenka produced a number of smaller pieces which were published exclusively by The John Church Co. of Cincinnati. They were probably intended for the domestic market in the USA as salon music and with Scharwenka’s name on them, were a guaranteed success for the publisher! The Menuett and Scherzo Op 65 are such examples and while not too technically demanding, they do require a careful and sympathetic approach.

Although Scharwenka lived until 1924, it is quite clear that he, along with many others of his time, had no interest in the major cultural changes that were taking place in the early years of the twentieth century. His 3 Klavierstücke Op 86 (Nocturne, Serenade, Märchen), which were published in 1913, underline this fact, although they give no indication of any lessening in his creative powers. His melodic ideas are as fresh and strong as ever, and especially in the Nocturne and in the Märchen (Fairy-Tale) there is more than just a passing reference to Franz Liszt. Scharwenka here seems to re-affirm his commitment to the musical ideals of the nineteenth century, and to a world in which he was perfectly at home, and where he was honoured with the respect he deserved.

Martin Eastick © 1995


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. 3' (CDH55133)
Scharwenka: Piano Music, Vol. 3
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDH55133  Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service  
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