Hyperion Records

Caprice in E major, Op 22
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The Caprice in E major, Op 22, received its premiere (under the later discarded title L’hilarité) in London on 25 May 1838 at Bennett’s annual benefit concert, with the composer at the piano. However, it was almost certainly conceived two years prior to that, as a letter from Bennett to James W Davison (music critic of The Times and a friend of Bennett from his teenage years) in November 1836 implies that a first version of the work had been completed and was ready to be performed in Leipzig the following month. Although this performance never materialized, the work was introduced in Leipzig on 21 February 1839, and performed there again in January 1842.

Ignaz Moscheles described the work as ‘spirited and interesting’; Schumann noted the performance in his diary, but left commenting upon it to ‘Z’ in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. It was there written that ‘the Capriccio is a lovely flower bouquet, fresh and fragrant, graceful, fine and beautifully coloured, and as concerns its inner worth, at the same time so modest’. Schumann himself reviewed the score a year later, seemingly believing it to be a new work. And whilst he stated that ‘this Capriccio shares all the excellences we have so often praised in the compositions of this most distinguished of living English composers’, he expressed concern that Bennett’s ‘power of invention has seemed to decline’. Had the Caprice reached him in its proper chronological order this view would, perhaps, have been somewhat different.

The work begins with two solo statements on the piano, accompanied occasionally by pizzicato strings, an opening that could be regarded as strange for a concerted work. As one would expect from a virtuoso pianist-composer, there are plenty of areas of passagework traditional to the form, but also some beautiful moments of interplay between the solo instrument and the orchestra. The British composer Geoffrey Bush (1920–1998) suggested that some of the material used in the Caprice was destined for Bennett’s B minor symphony, which was subsequently abandoned and lost.

Somewhat curiously, when the work was submitted to Friedrich Kistner for publication in 1839, he found that there was no extant complete piano part. On questioning the composer he was told that, as Bennett always played the work from memory, no such copy had previously been required. The work is dedicated to Madame Louise Dulcken (1811–1850), sister of the German violinist Ferdinand David and an émigré pianist who counted Queen Victoria among her pupils. Dulcken described the work as charming in a letter to the composer.

from notes by Elizabeth French © 2007

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