Schelling left two major works for piano and orchestra: the Suite Fantastique (1905/6) and Impressions from an Artist’s Life. The Suite was particularly successful in Europe, being premiered by the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (with the composer playing and Mengelberg conducting) in 1907, and being later performed by the Berlin Philharmonic and a host of other orchestras across the continent. It was also played frequently by Moiseiwitsch who performed it at the Proms with Henry Wood conducting. It is an eclectic work, much lighter in vein than Huss’s Concerto, consisting of four movements of differing characters. The first is ‘à la hongroise’ in F sharp minor, with gypsy freedom and flavour. The punctuations in the orchestra are reminiscent of the slow lassu dance from the czárdás. Schelling’s unusually large orchestra includes two harps and tambourine. The piano style is assured and brilliant, as much in the fast passage-work as in the opening coruscating cadenzas. The second movement is pure Moszkowski, its cheerfulness overflowing into the Christmassy trio (in 5/4 time). The Intermezzo, in D flat major, is redolent of the slow movement from Dvorák’s ‘New World’ Symphony in its folk-like lyricism and instrumentation. In the cadenza Schelling makes use of impressionistic glissandos and arpeggios that are positively Ravelian.
The Finale, ‘Virginia Reel’ in G flat major, must have come as a delightful surprise to those early European audiences. Schelling had written of the Suite as a whole:
This was composed while I was studying in Europe and very homesick for America. It is for that reason that I included in the last movement, the Virginia Reel, ‘Dixie’, ‘Way down upon the Swanee River’, and ‘Yankee Doodle’. In that work I wanted to give forth the energy, vitality, and life of America.
At the mid-point of the movement the piano, imitating a banjo, delivers ‘Dixie’ deadpan while the strings, in harmonics, render a heart-on-sleeve version of ‘The Swanee River’ simultaneously. Not all is special effect, though, and the Finale as a whole is powerful and exhilarating.
from notes by Ian Hobson © 1997