No 01 in D minor: Orage, tu ne saurais m'abattre. Allegro molto agitato
No 02 in D flat major: Pensez un peu à moi, qui pense toujours à vous. Allegro moderato
No 03 in B minor: Exauce mes vœux. Tempo giusto
No 04 in B flat major: Repos d'amour. Allegretto sostenuto
No 05 in C sharp minor: Vie orageuse. Tempo giusto
No 06 in F sharp major: Si oiseau j'étais, à toi je volerais. Allegro
No 07 in D major: C'est la jeunesse qui a des ailes dorées. Presto animoso
No 08 in E flat minor: Tu m'attires, m'entraînes, m'engloutis. Allegro agitato ed appassionato
No 09 in F major: Jeunesse d'amour, plaisir céleste …. Allegro
No 10 in E minor: Comme le ruisseau dans la mer …. Moderato
No 11 in E flat major: Dors tu, ma vie?. Allegretto sostenuto ed amoroso
No 12 in B flat minor: Plein de soupirs, de souvenirs …. Moderato ma con moto, con afflizione
The turbulent first étude (‘Orage, tu ne saurais m’abattre’/‘Storm, you will not fell me’) plunges without ado into wide-ranging arpeggio figures for the left hand, over which a simple melody is declaimed in octaves. A central section transfers these to the right hand over a sequence of descending diminished chords. The opening section is repeated in a modified manner and the storm is assuaged. From the whirlwind to the world of bliss, Henselt, defying all tonal considerations, symbolizes the change by stepping down a minor second for the second étude (‘Pensez un peu à moi, qui pense toujours à vous’/‘Think a little about me, who thinks always about you’), one of his most ardent outpourings. Technically, the more demanding right hand has to promote a legato between the second and fifth fingers over the span of an octave, whilst maintaining the melody with the third and fourth fingers – a severe test, but with poetic results.
No 3 (‘Exauce mes vœux’/‘Fulfil my desires’) features one of Henselt’s rather stern melodies in the right hand, over rapid descending broken chords paired between the hands. No 4 (‘Repos d’amour’/‘The repose of love’) is a leisurely moving ‘song without words’ featuring a characteristic melody in the tenor register shared between the hands. With the arrival of the middle section, the soprano voice, hitherto an accompaniment, develops its own little song which, over the tenor, burgeons into an effective duet. There is an obvious connection between this étude and the second of Clara Schumann’s Trois Romances pour le piano, Op 11 (Dresden, November 1838).
Formally and musically, the fifth étude (‘Vie orageuse’/‘Stormy life’) ranks amongst the finest in the collection. It deserves close attention for the manner in which it grows from its iambic opening two bars in the right hand to their inversion in the left hand in the central section. Its cascading end should not blind us to its probable origins in the keyboard works of J S Bach and Hummel. No 6 (‘Si oiseau j’étais, à toi je volerais’/‘If I were a bird, to you would I fly’) is the best-known of the studies. It follows the words of a German folk song: ‘Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär, und auch zwei Flügel hatt’, flog’ ich zu dir’, which were set by, among others, Schumann (Op 43 No 1 and Op 81 No 9) and Weber (Op 54 No 6/Jähns No 233). A glittering effect is obtained by the chords of fifths and sixths, with closely spaced alternating hands, perfectly placed over the black keys. This original effect was passed down to, among others, Brahms (the slow movement of the F minor Piano Sonata, Op 5), Rimsky-Korsakov (Op 11 No 3) and Arensky (Op 24 No 2). Godowsky’s arrangement augments the difficulties, distorting the feathery texture.
No 7 (‘C’est la jeunesse qui a des ailes dorées’/‘It is the youth who has golden wings’) is an endearing, swift-moving octave study. It opens with a rising figure, having a resemblance to a melody in Hummel’s Rondeau Brillant, Op 109, on which Schumann based his song Mit Myrten und Rosen, Op 29 No 9. Such fingerprints are pointers to a particular composer’s idiom and help to show how a specific piece of music relates to other works. A very different view is expressed by Gino Tagliapietra in his edition of Henselt’s Op 2 studies (Ricordi), where he suggests that the opening bars are a kind of rhythmic transformation of Chopin’s G flat Étude, Op 25 No 9. The connection can be better appreciated if one transposes Chopin’s opening bars into D major. In No 8 (‘Tu m’attires, m’entraînes, m’engloutis’/‘You attract me, you carry away, you engulf’) the right hand divides, with rapid triplets for the fourth and fifth fingers providing an overlay to the chromatic scales underneath. The left hand combines with its own material – an orchestra in itself. These effects are not well represented by others of the period and Henselt’s model may well be Hummel’s Étude in F major, Op 125 No 23. The concluding barrage of chords recalls Schubert’s songs, for example An Schwager Kronos and Aufenthalt.
No 9 (‘Jeunesse d’amour, plaisir céleste, ah tu t’enfuis, mais la mémoire nous reste’/‘Love’s youth, celestial delights; ah, you fly away, but the memory stays with us’) is a mellifluously flowing chordal/octave study. The direction innocente in the first bar belies formidable difficulties involved in maintaining a legato in the full writing for both hands. The opening section is followed by a slightly longer repeat which magnifies problems of execution by introducing repeated semiquavers an octave below the melody – a pattern that, as usual with Henselt, tests both hands. This device (also found in ‘Reconnaissance’ from Schumann’s Carnaval, Op 9) probably derives from Cramer’s Study in B flat, No 70 of his set of 84 studies. In No 10 (‘Comme le ruisseau dans la mer, se répand, ainsi, ma chère, mon cœur t’attend’/‘As the stream pours out into the sea, so my love, my heart awaits you’) the movement of the stream is depicted in rapid two-note cells, functioning chromatically within the confines of the key, which surge up and down the keyboard, passing between the hands. Under and over the perpetual motion, the yearning heart sings a slow-moving melody reminiscent of Mendelssohn. The piece evaporates in a most beautiful flurry of arpeggios, ending in the tonic major. A superficial connection with parts of Chopin’s Étude in C sharp minor, Op 10 No 4, may be felt, but it is evident that an earlier model of Hummel’s Concerto in A minor, Op 85, lies at the root of this music, as indeed it does with that of Chopin.
The beguiling melody of No 11 (‘Dors tu, ma vie?’/‘Do you sleep, my life?’), similar to that found in the F major Étude, Op 2 No 9, and elsewhere, is stated in the right hand throughout in bare octaves (except for the short coda). The constantly flowing, greatly stretched arpeggios in the left hand, and the ‘thumb-under’ activity, look forward to the slow movement of the Piano Concerto, Op 16. (Attention should be drawn to the piano piece Loreley by Han Seeling, 1826–1862, modelled on Henselt’s study and at one time widely played.) No 12 (‘Plein de soupirs, de souvenirs. Inquiet, hélas! Le cœur me bat’/‘Full of sights, of memories. Restlessly, alas, my heart beats’), written in Henselt’s favourite ‘Russian’ key of B flat minor, is an impassioned conclusion to Henselt’s lovelorn state, as expressed in the Op 2 studies. It is important how one interprets the rhythm, and how the notation is read: some editions give the time-signature of 2/4; that by Emil von Sauer in the late-nineteenth-century Peters edition revised the time-signature to 12/16. The regularity of the flow of the melody is displaced in the middle and the end of each bar, producing a kind of rocking effect. The motion, subject to certain accents, is the same as that in the conclusion of Henselt’s ‘Donizetti Variations’, Op 1, and rhythmically approaches that in Chopin’s F sharp minor Prelude, Op 28 No 8.
from notes by Richard Beattie Davis © 2005