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8.550168 - ROMANTIC PIANO FAVOURITES, Vol. 5
Romantic Piano Favourites, Volume 5
Domenico Scarlatti (1685 - 1757): Sonata
in E Major, K. 162
The fifth volume of Romantic Piano Pieces covers a relatively wide range of well known music, some of it popular rather than Romantic in any strict sense. The age of the piano began in the nineteenth century, although a form of pianoforte had been developed much earlier. Technical changes, however, and changes in society, made the piano the favourite instrument of a growing middle class. There was an enormous demand for piano teachers and for piano music suitable for domestic performance by the ambitious. Until recently, indeed, learning music, in England at least, has been synonymous with learning the piano.
The present collection opens with a charming, delicate and characteristic sonata by the Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti, son of the distinguished Alessandro, composer of Neapolitan opera, and himself, for much of his career, in the service of the Portuguese Maria Barbara, Queen of Spain, for whom he wrote some 550 Esercizi, Exercises later known as sonatas, short pieces of remarkable invention.
Boccherini's Minuet comes from a set of ten Minuets published in 1788 by a composer who, in his time, rivalled Haydn in popularity. Italian by birth, Boccherini, like Domenico Scarlatti, spent much of his career in the service of the Spanish royal family. He came from a family that won distinction in ballet as well as in music and was himself a cello virtuoso, an accomplishment that led to a brief period of employment by the cello-playing King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II.
Franz Schubert's three Marches militaires, written for piano duet, were probably composed during the summer of 1818 for the composer's pupils, the daughters of Count Johann Karl Esterhazy, a member of the noble family that Haydn had served for half a century. The son of a Vienna schoolmaster, Schubert helped his father for a time, but in the course of his short life never held any musical appointment, employing his talent rather on music for a loyal circle of friends than for grander musical occasions. The Count spent the summer at his estate at Zseliz, in Hungary, and Schubert found his two pupils, Marie and Karoline, aged 15 and 12 respectively, congenial.
It seems to have been the French composer François Couperin who, early in the eighteenth century, first made use of the title Bagatelle. It was to prove a useful label for later composers, writing genuine trifles or modestly deprecating their own work. Beethoven composed and published three sets of Bagatelles. Fuer Elise, all too well known from infant attempts to master its opening bars, was not published until fifty years after the composer's death. It seems to have been written in 1810, and dedicated to Therese Malfatti, to whom Beethoven proposed in the same year, with no success.
Robert Schuman, whose career as a pianist had been cut short by a physical weakness in the fingers, as Beethoven's had been by his deafness, excelled in the composition of short pieces, often of literary inspiration. He wrote the 43 1ittle sketches that make up his Album fuer die Jugend in 1848, when he and his wife, the pianist Clara Wieck were living in Dresden. Married in 1840, after a law suit against Friedrich Wieck was decided in Schumann's favour, the couple had by 1848 four children, two of them old enough to make use of the present pieces, the first originally bearing the title Erinnerung an Mendelssohn, a composer who had died a year before, and the second the self-explanatory Sir Rupert.
Mendelssohn himself had encouraged Schumann by arranging performances of his work in Leipzig with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, which he directed. A man of diverse talents, sociable and broadly educated, he retained an element of classicism in his work, an ability to use again old forms, coupled with an economy of means, while nevertheless providing music of contemporary Romantic appeal. The Venetian Boat Song included here, not the only one he wrote, appeared in the second volume of his genre pieces, Songs without Words, graceful vignettes calculated to bring a blush of delight to the cheeks of any young person.
Wedding-day at Troldhaugen appears among one of the sets of Lyric Pieces that Grieg was to write throughout his life, the first group appearing in 1867, and the group of which the present piece forms a part thirty years later. It is typical in its way of the colourful and illustrative writing of the Norwegian composer, the leading nationalist composer of his time and country.
The French composer, Maurice Ravel, claimed to have chosen the title of his Pavane pour une infante défunte on grounds of euphony rather than for any other reason. Written for the piano in 1899, the piece won immediate popularity in its original form, extended by the later orchestral version made by the composer. 'Whether the nostalgic music, based on an old dance form, mourns a Spanish princess or not, it has about it a characteristic fin de siecle air of yearning for an unattainable and ideal past, a quality Ravel shared with his teacher Gabriel Fauré.
The world of Johann and Joseph Strauss was a very different one. The former followed his father into the business of providing light music for the Viennese public, in spite of his father's attempt to provide all his sons with a more satisfactory career. The younger Johann involved his younger brothers Joseph and Eduard with the activities of the Strauss orchestra, which became identified with the very spirit of the city. The Pizzicato Polka was a collaboration between two of the brothers.
François-Joseph Gossec enjoyed a successful career in France before the Revolution, turning his attentions in 1790 to the Corps de Musique de la Garde Nationale and supplying the new republic with music for public occasions and assuming a leading position in the Conservatoire in 1795, a place that he retained until the dissolution of the institution on the Bourbon restoration. He was not reinstated in the establishment that took its place. The Gavotte 'Rosine', a popular little piece, is taken from his 1786 opera of the same name.
The Merry Widow, the most popular of operettas, was the work of Franz Lehár, a Hungarian-born bandmaster, who made his career in Vienna. The work was first staged at the Theater an der Wien in 1905 and deals with the marital complications involving the widow herself and her lover and suitor.
Claude Debussy, a pianist of ability, if never the virtuoso he had once hoped to become, was relatively late in developing his own characteristically poetic piano style. The two Arabesques, of which the G major is the second, are early works, written between 1888 and 1891, are well known, and were to become an established part of contemporary domestic repertoire. Debussy's later piano music increases in complexity and in its evocative content from about 1905, with the publication of the first set of Images and the revision of the Suite Bergamasque.
Staendchen, one of the best known of songs by Richard Strauss, was written in 1887, as the composer was embarking on the remarkable series of tone-poems that formed the major part of his output for the years immediately following. The Serenade is a setting of words by Adolph Friedrich von Schack and becomes, in Walter Gieseking's transcription, an evocatively brilliant piano solo.
The music of the Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin is at the heart of the Romantic repertoire. Favouring delicacy of nuance, coupled with a considerable technical facility in his own playing rather than the bravura of contemporaries like Liszt, he was to extend the range of piano music in his own way and in his own instantly recognizable idiom, of which the E flat Nocturne, written at the time when he was leaving his native country to settle in Paris, is a well known example.
Parade of the Tin Soldiers must be one of the better known pieces by the German composer Leon Jessel, who produced a number of similar short character pieces for an immediately welcoming public, at the same time winning himself a contemporary reputation with his operettas.
Tchaikovsky is not generally associated with piano music, although he played the instrument and wrote for it throughout his life, from 1854, when he composed a Valse, now lost, to the year of his death, in which he published a set of eighteen short piano pieces. The Romance in F minor belongs to 1868, at a time when the composer, having graduated at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, was employed on the teaching staff of the parallel institution in Moscow. It is dedicated to Desiree Artot, a singer with whom the composer fancied himself in love.
The Little Postilion by Lange is a brief and insubstantial piano piece based on the once-familiar sound of the post-horn, source of galops designed for Viennese ball-rooms and exhibitions of pianistic panache, such as the postscript to the present release.
Balázs Szokolay made an early international appearance with Peter Nagy at the Salzburg Interforum in 1979, and in 1983 substituted for Nikita Magaloff in Belgrade in a performance of the Piano Concerto No.1 of Brahms. He is now a soloist with the Hungarian State Orchestra and has given concerts in a number of countries abroad, including Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Poland, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia. In September, 1987, he made his recital debut at the Royal Festival Hall in London. He has won a number of important prizes at home and abroad, including, most recently, in the 1987 Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians Competition.
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