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
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