Hyperion Records

Characteristic Studies, Op 95
composer
started autumn 1836; published in winter 1837/8; dedicated to Friedrich Rochlitz

Recordings
'Moscheles: Complete Concert Studies' (CDH55387)
Moscheles: Complete Concert Studies
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55387  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Details
No 01: Wrath 'Der Zorn'
Track 1 on CDH55387 [2'05] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 02: Reconciliation 'Versöhnung'
Track 2 on CDH55387 [3'41] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 03: Contradiction 'Der Widerspruch'
Track 3 on CDH55387 [1'58] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 04a: Juno
Track 4 on CDH55387 [3'02] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 04b: [modulation]
Track 5 on CDH55387 [0'11] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 05: A Children's Tale 'Ein Kindermärchen'
Track 6 on CDH55387 [2'52] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 06: Bacchanale
Track 7 on CDH55387 [3'02] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 07: Affection 'Zärtlichkeit'
Track 8 on CDH55387 [6'14] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 08a: Carnival Scenes 'Alla Napolitana' 'Volksfest-Scenen'
Track 9 on CDH55387 [3'29] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 08b: [modulation]
Track 10 on CDH55387 [0'13] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 09a: Moonlight on the Sea-Shore 'Die Mondnacht am See-Gestade'
Track 11 on CDH55387 [4'01] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 09b: [modulation]
Track 12 on CDH55387 [0'21] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 10: Terpsichore
Track 13 on CDH55387 [3'19] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 11a: A Dream 'Der Traum'
Track 14 on CDH55387 [6'52] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 11b: [modulation]
Track 15 on CDH55387 [0'17] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 12: Terror 'Die Angst'
Track 16 on CDH55387 [4'02] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Characteristic Studies, Op 95
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Moscheles began work on the set of twelve Characteristic Studies, Op 95, in the autumn of 1836, beginning with Juno, A Dream and Bacchanale. A Children’s Tale was written in October, a harbinger of the birth of his third and youngest daughter Clara. ‘They are not intended for pupils’, he writes; ‘there are difficulties in them which only a master can overcome. Thalberg, Liszt, all such players will find their work cut out for them.’ He performed some of them in May 1837 in London, though the complete set was not ready for publication until the following winter. Mendelssohn wrote to him in April 1837: ‘You cannot fancy how impatient I am to get them, what a treat it will be to me, and how refreshing it will be to have something new to study. For really the piano music of the present day is such that I cannot make up my mind to play it through more than once; it is so desperately empty and poor that I usually get tired of it on the first page.’ Then in December: ‘I have spent some of my happiest hours with your new Studies, the first proofs of which Kistner sent me. It is a long time since I have had any piano music I wanted to play over and over again; so you can fancy how I enjoy something new, to which I can give my whole heart. I am particularly struck by the difference between these and your former Studies—not that I love the old ones less, but the new ones are for quite a different class of players, far in advance of the former; here the technical difficulties have become of secondary importance, and the intrinsic merits of the work have to be brought out. Once more a thousand thanks, and may you give us many more of the same kind!’ ‘My dearest Felix’, came Moscheles’ reply, ‘your praise of my Studies gives me much pleasure. I did not feel called upon to aim at popularity with the general public, but I dared not hope that my work addressed itself to the select circle of Connoisseurs. That you should welcome me with a Bravo strengthens my faith in myself.’

Moscheles performed some of the new Studies at his London ‘Historical Concerts’ of 1837–9; when Liszt played three of them at the Philharmonic Society in June 1840, Moscheles commented: ‘He played them quite admirably and with faultless execution; but by his powers he has completely metamorphosed the pieces; they have become more his studies than mine. With all that they please me, and I shouldn’t like to hear them played in any other way by him.’

Dedicated to the musician and writer Friedrich Rochlitz, the Studies are inscribed with a motto from C P E Bach’s famous essay on performance: ‘A musician cannot move his audience unless he himself is moved; he must experience the passions that he wishes to impart to his hearers. Only if feelings are understood can they truly be shared.’ In a short Preface Moscheles says: ‘The attainment of the mechanical training of the hand is here considered a secondary object, as the author takes it for granted that much proficiency in that acquirement has already been gained. The player is particularly recommended to use his own ingenuity and reflection in expressing the passions, sentiments and general character which he supposes the author to have felt and intended at the time he composed each piece, and which he has hinted at by the characteristic title and by other musical terms found scattered over the composition. To try to express his innermost feelings in more precise words seems an encroachment on the very nature of music, in whose true devotees he hopes that these pieces may stir the imagination and arouse if not identical, at least similar visions to the composer’s own.’

With these Studies Moscheles immerses himself unreservedly in the early nineteenth-century Romantic style. No 1, Wrath, in A minor, is a jagged, agitato combination of a predominantly staccato theme with a demanding semiquaver accompaniment. The second, Reconciliation, marked Andante placido, displays a rather Gounod-esque sweetness, but its ingenious hand-crossing and increasingly complex web of filigree decoration belie any initial impression of tameness. Contradiction, a moto perpetuo in D flat, was greeted as a favourite by both Mendelssohn and Schumann for its buoyant energy and refined characterization. Echoes of Beethoven and Schubert lead us towards a typically gleeful side-slip into D major (con ilarità) and the irresistible sweep to the final confident chords. The fourth, Juno, is in some ways the most remarkable of the collection: there are many beauties here, and its rhythmic power, sonority and depth of expression strikingly foreshadow Brahms’s music.

A discretional three-bar lentamente transition, the first of four such linking passages, leads gently into E flat and A Children’s Tale. Its immediate appeal ensured it became the most popular piece of the collection—indeed Moscheles would subsequently be moved to say with wry resignation that no-one would suspect that several of the other studies were equally worthy of concert performance. In fact it has rare intimacy and charm, its melody gliding gracefully over a persistent inner dotted-note rhythm. Again one may be reminded of Gounod, especially towards the end where the melody appears in octaves below the dotted accompaniment. No 6, Bacchanale, is a Schumannesque chordal tour de force over a bounding octave bass, with contrasting sotto voce passages in unashamedly operatic style. It could be called ‘musicians’ music’, for like many of the studies it has details of special delight for the performer, who has his work cut out to share them with the audience as the music sweeps along. Affection is an apotheosis of fully Romantic style; marked Andante molto espressivo, its modern-sounding melody on a carpet of demisemiquavers speaks directly to the heart. Echoes of yet unwritten music flicker among the sensuously weaving harmonies. ‘Exactly your own self’, said Mendelssohn—‘as if I heard you talk and play.’ Nothing is self-effacing about Carnival Scenes, a brilliant 24 tarantella headed Alla Napolitana—one can feel the dancers setting new standards of stamina, virtuosity and sheer speed. (Can one really hear snatches of Poulenc?)

No 9, Moonlight on the Sea-Shore, uses the player’s legato and contrapuntal skills to create a rich and haunting tone-picture, with repetitive motifs that pre-echo Hugo Wolf. In the Gottschalkian Terpsichore Moscheles gives free rein to the sense of dance that is never far below the surface of his music. Its ebullience (again con ilarità towards the end) convincingly suggests that in a later age he would have made a great jazz musician. A Dream, the longest of the set, is an extended companion-piece to No 9, and an intimate study in soft sonorities and legatissimo touch. The descending opening notes create a mood of stillness and wonder similar to the beginning of Schumann’s Mondnacht, and a middle section is ushered in by a whispered triplet figure marked come un zeffiretto and later misterioso. Terror (Presto agitato) is of the twelve perhaps the most demanding and technically advanced, and as in Nos 1 and 4 we hear clear echoes of the Brahmsian style.

from notes by Henry Roche © 2003

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

Details for CDH55387 track 7
No 6: Bacchanale
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-03-39407
Duration
3'02
Recording date
17 April 2003
Recording venue
Charterhouse Hall, Godalming, Surrey, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Amanda Hurton
Recording engineer
Arne Akselberg
Hyperion usage
  1. Moscheles: Complete Concert Studies (CDA67394)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: November 2003
    Deletion date: March 2009
    Superseded by CDH55387
  2. Moscheles: Complete Concert Studies (CDH55387)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: July 2011
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
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