Hyperion Records

Douze Études dans tous les tons mineurs, Op 39
composer
1857

Recordings
'Alkan: Symphony for solo piano' (CDA67218)
Alkan: Symphony for solo piano
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67218 
'Alkan: Concerto for solo piano' (CDA67569)
Alkan: Concerto for solo piano
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67569 
'Alkan: Grande Sonate 'Les quatre âges', Sonatine & Le festin d'Ésope' (CDA66794)
Alkan: Grande Sonate 'Les quatre âges', Sonatine & Le festin d'Ésope
Buy by post £10.50 CDA66794 
Details
No 04. Symphony for solo piano movement 1: Allegro
No 05. Symphony for solo piano movement 2: Marche funèbre. Andantino
No 06. Symphony for solo piano movement 3: Menuet
No 07. Symphony for solo piano movement 4: Finale. Presto
No 08. Concerto for solo piano movement 1: Allegro assai
No 09. Concerto for solo piano movement 2: Adagio
No 10. Concerto for solo piano movement 3: Allegretto alla barbaresca
No 12: Le festin d'Ésope

Douze Études dans tous les tons mineurs, Op 39
EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
After the setback when he failed to gain the post of professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire as Zimmerman’s successor, Alkan again began to withdraw more and more from public life. In 1857, Richault brought out an entire collection of exceptional works which included Alkan’s magnum opus, the twelve Etudes dans tous les tons mineurs, Op 39, dedicated to the Belgian musicologist François-Joseph Fétis, who wrote: ‘this work is a real epic for the piano’. The huge collection sums up all the composer’s pianistic and compositional daring and it comprises some of his most famous works, none more so, perhaps, than Le Festin d’Esope, a set of variations which completes the cycle. We find here the famous Concerto for solo piano, of which the first movement alone is one of the great monuments of the piano repertoire, and the Symphony for solo piano, which constitutes studies 4 to 7 and is written on a far more ‘reasonable’ scale.

The lack of cohesion which might result from the progressive tonality of its four movements is compensated for by the many skilfully concealed, interrelated themes, all examined in great detail by several writers, among them being Larry Sitsky and Ronald Smith. One could discuss ad infinitum the orchestral quality of pianistic writing, particularly in the case of composers like Alkan and Liszt who, moreover, made numerous successful transcriptions. Harold Truscott seems to sum up the matter very well in saying that what one labels ‘orchestral’ within piano music is most often ‘pianistic’ writing of great quality applied to a work of huge dimensions which on further investigation turns out to be extremely difficult to orchestrate.

Jose Vianna da Motta found just the right words to describe the vast first movement of this symphony: ‘Alkan demonstrates his brilliant understanding of this form in the first movement of the Symphony (the fourth Study). The structure of the piece is as perfect, and its proportions as harmonious, as those of a movement in a symphony by Mendelssohn, but the whole is dominated by a deeply passionate mood. The tonalities are so carefully calculated and developed that anyone listening to it can relate each note to an orchestral sound; and yet it is not just through the sonority that the orchestra is painted and becomes tangible, but equally through the style and the way that the polyphony is handled. The very art of composition is transformed in this work’.

The second movement consists of a Funeral March in F minor, rather Mahlerian in style. In the original edition the title page read ‘Symphonie: No 2. Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un Uomo da bene’, words which have sadly been lost in all subsequent editions. Of course one is reminded of the subtitle of the ‘Marcia funebre’ in Beethoven’s third symphony. But might we not regard this ‘uomo da bene’ as Alkan’s father, Alkan Morhange, who died in 1855, two years before these studies were published?

The Minuet in B flat minor is in fact a scherzo that anticipates shades of Bruckner—full of energy and brightened by a lyrical trio. The final Presto in E flat minor, memorably described by Raymond Lewenthal as a ‘ride in hell’, brings the work to a breathless close.

The Symphony does not contain the excesses of the Concerto or the Grande Sonate. But, rather like the Sonatine Op 61, it proves that Alkan was also capable of writing perfectly balanced and almost ‘Classical’ works.

from notes by François Luguenot © 2001
English: Ansy Boothroyd

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67218 track 2
No 5 Symphony for solo piano movement 2: Marche funèbre. Andantino
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-01-21802
Duration
6'06
Recording date
31 August 2000
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Alkan: Symphony for solo piano (CDA67218)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: June 2001
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