IGNAZ MOSCHELES (1794 - 1870)
Distinguished for much of his life as a pianist, composer and conductor, Ignaz Moscheles, during the course of a long life, seemed to be on friendly terms with almost anyone of importance in the world of music. Born in 1794, three years after the death of Mozart, he met Beethoven, survived Mendelssohn, Chopin and Berlioz, and lived into the age of Liszt and Wagner.
The son of a cloth-merchant, Moscheles was born in Prague in 1794 and showed sufficient musical interest and talent to become a pupil of Dionys Weber, starting to fulfil his father’s musical ambitions for at least one of his five children. As a child Moscheles had been fascinated by Beethoven, but under the stricter discipline imposed by his new teacher, Weber, he turned instead to a musical diet based on Bach, Mozart and Clementi. His idolisation of Beethoven continued, but his future career as a pianist was decisively influenced by Weber’s early teaching. His father’s death in 1808 led Moscheles to his first public concert in Prague and then to move, with his mother’s encouragement, to Vienna, where he was able to study with Beethoven’s former teachers Albrechtsberger and Salieri, and to accept help as a pianist from Johann Andreas Streicher, while remaining loyal, as he insisted, to his old teacher in Prague. Vienna remained a base for Moscheles, to which he returned after various concert tours that took him to Munich, Dresden and Leipzig, establishing himself as one of the leading pianists of the time and winning particular success with La Marche d’Alexandre with Variations, Op. 32, for piano and orchestra, a piece well timed to entertain participants in the Congress of Vienna in 1815. It remained for years in his concert repertoire. Vienna provided opportunities to associate with many of the leading musicians of the time, a pattern that was to be repeated by Moscheles elsewhere in the course of his life. In Vienna he was entrusted with the provision of a piano arrangement of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, in place of Hummel, and under the composer’s supervision. Later he attempted to alleviate the difficulties of Beethoven’s final days by helping to arrange payments for compositions from London.
In Vienna Moscheles was on good terms with many of the important musicians of the day, the guitarist Giuliani, the violinist Mayseder as well as Meyerbeer and Spohr. This set a pattern for his future career. In the 1820s he embarked on a series of concert tours and in 1824 met Felix Mendelssohn in Berlin, establishing a lasting friendship with the Mendelssohn family and particularly with Felix, who exercised a strong influence over him, in spite of his youth. In 1825 Moscheles married Charlotte Embden in Hamburg. Basing his career in London, he taught at the Royal Academy of Music and served as director of the Royal Philharmonic Society. From 1822, indeed, Moscheles had regarded London as his second home, welcoming there visiting and resident musicians. His pupils included Litolff and Thalberg and among his friends were Johann Baptist Cramer, Kalkbrenner and Ferdinand Ries. In 1826 he was able to welcome Weber, approaching the end of his life, in London for the first performance of his opera Oberon. In the following years Moscheles did much to foster musical activities in London, introducing music ranging from Scarlatti to Beethoven, his home a centre of musical activity. His own concert activities generally included improvisations as well as old and new compositions, and detailed accounts of his activities are preserved in the posthumous biography based on his diaries, assembled by his widow and published in 1872.
The later part of his career found Moscheles in Leipzig, where he settled in 1846, at the invitation of Mendelssohn, to teach at the newly established conservatory. In Leipzig he was able to enjoy briefly enough his friendship with Mendelssohn, who died in 1847, shortly after the death of his sister. His colleagues, however, included the violinist Ferdinand David and Joseph Joachim and pupils included Grieg and Arthur Sullivan. Although Moscheles represented an earlier tradition, both as a pianist and as a musician, he was open to contemporary music, to Schumann and Chopin, and even to Berlioz and to Liszt and Wagner, with some reservations. His widow’s biography of her husband contains an account of musical life over a course of some fifty years, a period during which Moscheles was for many years at the social and musical heart of music in Europe.