Suite 1. No 1 in C minor: Eroica. Moderato – Presto agitato ed appassionato
Suite 1. No 2 in G major: Allegro brillante
Suite 1. No 3 in A minor: Hexentanz. Allegro con brio e feroce
Suite 1. No 4 in E major: Ave Maria. Andante
Suite 1. No 5 in F sharp minor: Verlorene Heimat. Con moto appassionato e dolorosa
Suite 1. No 6 in A flat major: Danklied nach Sturm. Lento sostenuto
Suite 2. No 07 in C major: Elfenreigen. Molto vivace
Suite 2. No 08 in G minor: Romanze mit Chor-Refrain. Andante arioso
Suite 2. No 09 in A major: Allegro con leggerezza
Suite 2. No 10 in F minor: Entschwundenes Glück. Allegro non tropp, con passione dolorosa
Suite 2. No 11 in B major: Liebeslied. Allegretto sostenuto ed amoroso
Suite 2. No 12 in G sharp minor: Nächtlicher Geisterzug. Allegro tempestoso
Looking back to Beethoven and forward to Brahms and Balakirev, the first étude (‘Eroica’) commences with a slow distillation of the study which follows. It opens with a very Schubertian melody in the tenor (see Die Krähe), laid out in much the same way as in the B flat Étude, Op 2 No 4, before an amplification by both hands. It ends on a pause of the dominant seventh. (With the addition of a tonic chord, it could be played as a self-contained movement.) The study – characterized by an unremitting battery of pairs of repeated chords, into which the Die Krähe melody is woven – rises to a great climax, foretelling the thundering of the scherzo in Brahms’s Piano Quintet, Op 34 (even more telling in the version for two pianos, Op 34b), before sinking quietly into C major and a loud chord that signifies the end. The style of writing is also to be found in Henselt’s Piano Concerto, Balakirev’s Islamey (1869) and the last movement of the latter’s Piano Sonata (1900–05).
No 2 is an arpeggio study for the right hand, somewhat after the manner of Chopin’s Op 10 No 1, adding to the stretch of a tenth with further notes on the second half-beat of each group of semiquavers, thus enriching the texture, a feature of Henselt’s and of later Russian music. The third étude (‘Hexentanz’) is a fierce arpeggio study, resembling on paper Czerny or Cramer, even recalling early studies of Liszt in the same key. A stretch of an octave and a third above is required. The right hand is underpinned by a rhythmic figure in the bass which inverts much of this material in the middle section in the relative major. It is joined by the right hand, free to sing a pleasing little melody of its own. Following the recapitulation, the left hand in contrary motion joins the right hand in a formidable coda, precipitandosi.
Henselt’s Protestantism did not preclude his gentle incursions into the fringes of the Catholic Church. The seraphic peace, after the fury of the ‘Hexentanz’, is achieved in No 4 (‘Ave Maria’) by a flowing four-part chorale, artfully spaced. Henselt would no doubt have played without using the sustaining pedal. The descending augmented sixths towards the end are characteristic of Henselt’s idiom. It is quite likely that the study was suggested by No 71 and others of Cramer’s set of 84 studies. (Weak echoes, originating in Cramer or Henselt, or both, exist in certain studies by Theodore Döhler, 1814–1856.)
No 5 (‘Verlorene Heimat’/‘Lost home’) is a chordal study; for the most part the right hand sings a simple slow melody, unharmonized, but with three octave eruptions directly anticipating the brilliant octaves in the slow movement of Henselt’s Piano Concerto and, later, the Ballade, Op 31. The left hand, a kind of mirrored inversion of the right, is full of stretched chords. The music accelerates (agitato ed inconsolabile – affrettando) to its gloomy, exhausted conclusion. The Peters edition of No 6 (‘Danklied nach Sturm’/ ‘Thanksgiving after a storm’) opens lento, with a richly harmonized chorale, sixteen bars long. This is followed by a repeat of the melody in the right hand over rapidly flowing accompanimental scales in the left, to which are connected single bass notes at appropriate points, to give a solid pulse to the foundation. The central section, a beautiful variant of the opening chorale in D flat, is repeated, accompanied by rapid scales which merge into the increasingly elaborate restatement of the opening. One should note that the chorale section is omitted from the Augener Edition (but included on this recording).
No 7 (‘Elfenreigen’/‘Elves’ Dance’) is a spectacular tour de force whose difficulties derive from Chopin’s F major Étude, Op 10 No 8. The arpeggios have a wider sweep thanks to Henselt’s access to a keyboard with a larger compass, which enabled him to extend the torrents of semiquavers higher and lower, over a rhythmic three-note figure in the bass which provides a dance element. This is perhaps the most virtuosic of all the Henselt studies. The rather stern ‘Romance’, No 8, opens quietly with that type of four-part writing found in other Henselt studies. The ‘Chor-Refrain’ consists of a doubling of the soprano and bass voices, leaving the two inner voices to provide chordal accompaniment. The tension rises near the end (grandioso – imperioso, a favourite marking of Skryabin) as if Henselt were ordering his troops before sinking into silence.
The ninth étude is a rapid finger study for both hands. One can imagine Henselt sitting at his piano soon after he had seen Chopin’s Étude in F major, Op 10 No 8, seizing on bar 26, displacing it by half a beat and out of it developing his own variation – transferring the inversion of the central section to the left hand. No 10 (‘Entschwundenes Glück’/‘Lost happiness’) is a lovely study which embodies Henselt’s conceptions of arpeggios and broken chords. In the opening and closing sections, a mournful melody, full of woe, develops constantly over an undulating arpeggiated bass which has a distinctive way of turning the thumb under the index finger at the top of each arpeggio (Lyapunov employed a similar pattern in his Piano Sonata). The modulation to the key of D flat (the much-favoured flattened sub-mediant) is effected with the utmost grace, and the mournful opening statement is transformed into a hymn-like melody – later employed as such by C H Purdey (1860) – over which play figures reminiscent of Chopin’s Étude in E minor, Op 25 No 5, but greatly magnified in terms of stretch and colour. The return of the opening is followed by a quiet murmuring coda.
There is little difference between No 11, in B major, and the Étude in B flat, ‘Repos d’amour’, Op 2 No 4. Henselt’s skill at joining an inner part to the outer voice in the same hand and combining with the left hand and sometimes introducing a duet is first to be found in the fourth of the ‘Donizetti Variations’, Op 1. Some editions printed at the turn of the twentieth century were transposed into B flat, presumably for easier reading.
A demanding conclusion to the Op 5 studies, No 12 (‘Nächtlicher Geisterzug’/‘Nightly ghost-ride’) commences with a melody, high in the treble, displaced at the end of each group of rising broken chords which are paired between the hands. The procedure is modified and reversed in the central section. The return to the opening resembles a similar amplification of the descending thirds in bars 31–34 of Chopin’s Étude in G sharp minor, Op 25 No 6. The editor, Emil von Sauer, proffers the suggestion of transferring every second of the semiquavers of the right hand to the left. Godowsky or Wittgenstein might have seen the potential for creating out of this a study for the left hand. As it stands, it calls for a firm bass and speed for its message to be fully appreciated.
from notes by Richard Beattie Davis © 2005