Hyperion Records

Le carnaval de Venise 'Grand caprice et variations', RO45 Op 89
composer
1850; published in Mainz in 1877

Recordings
'Gottschalk: Piano Music, Vol. 6' (CDA67349)
Gottschalk: Piano Music, Vol. 6
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'Gottschalk: The Complete Solo Piano Music' (CDS44451/8)
Gottschalk: The Complete Solo Piano Music
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Details
Track 1 on CDA67349 [12'21] Last few CD copies remaining
Track 1 on CDS44451/8 CD6 [12'21] 8CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

Le carnaval de Venise 'Grand caprice et variations', RO45 Op 89
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Paganini heard O mamma, mamma cara, a popular Venetian song, during one of his visits to the Queen of the Adriatic. His dazzling Op 10 of 1829 was the first use of the tune in variation form. Many other composers followed suit, among them Chopin (his insipid Variations in A, Souvenir de Paganini, of 1829), Herz and Schulhoff for piano, Ernst for violin, Bottesini for double-bass and Briccialdi for flute. Victor Massé’s 1856 opera La Reine Topaze introduces the tune as an air varié (‘Venise est tout en fêtes, / Car voici le carnaval’), while the following year Ambroise Thomas wrote an opera entitled Le Carnaval de Venise, basing its overture on the theme. In England the tune was long popular to the words ‘O come to me, I’ll row thee / O’er across yon peaceful sea…’.

Of all the myriad sets of piano variations on the tune, Gottschalk’s is, arguably, the most spectacular, flashy and finger-numbing. He introduced the piece in Geneva at the third and final concert he gave there in September 1850. A reviewer in Madrid’s El Orden (15 June 1852) described the variations as ‘filled with the most original and daring caprices, many played on a single hand’. Though forgotten now, Gottschalk’s showstopper was part of the repertoire for many years and he himself seems to have kept it under his fingers for the rest of his career, though he never wrote it down. Like Paganini, he preferred to keep the notation secret rather than let it be copied by some unscrupulous rival. The score, in the key of G flat and published posthumously, survives in the hand of his friend and chronicler Nicolás Ruiz Espadero (for notes on Espadero, please refer to CD 4 of this series and the notes on La Gitanella). The frequent martellato furioso, con impeto e strepitoso and similar imprecations can doubtless be considered as authentic evocations of the composer’s performances.

In 1857, while touring Cuba with the fourteen-year-old prodigy Adelina Patti, Gottschalk composed a set of vocal variations on the same Carnival of Venice theme for the future world-famous soprano. Unfortunately, the music for this has not survived.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2003

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