About this Recording

The Maiden's Prayer
Leaves from Grandmother’s Piano Album

The nineteenth century was the age of the piano. The newly developed instrument, decorated in the domestic taste of the time and strengthened by the use of an iron frame, making maintenance much easier, proved an admirable centre of home entertainment. The piano enjoyed also a social cachet. Young ladies with any pretension to gentility were expected to play the instrument, which had the additional advantage of being self-sufficient and a useful adjunct in the accompaniment of singers or other instrumentalists.

Composers and music publishers were quick to realise the importance of the new market for short piano pieces that were not too demanding. Tekla Badarzewska-Baranowska's well known Maiden's Prayer was an aptly named response to just such a maiden need for playable and attractive repertoire, ensuring the otherwise unknown composer a measure of immortality. The genre produced attractive compositions from more distinguished composers than this. The Czech Antonín Dvorák, no great pianist himself, sketched his famous Humoresque in America, where he spent a few years as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, writing it up in the tranquillity of his native Bohemia in 1894.

In Vienna at the turn of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth the presiding genius, Ludwig van Beethoven, also turned his hand to sets of dances for the piano, music that had an obvious practical application. Among such compositions came several sets of minuets, published in the mid-1790s, with the Minuet in G the best known of all.

The French composer Camille Saint-Saëns had no intention of publishing his famous Carnival of the Animals, a jeu d'esprit designed for the private entertainment of his friends. The carnival, after all, brought a rare collection of animals, including fossils, critics and pianists. The Swan, however, originally a cello solo, was published, and has continued to please ever since, not least in soulful accompaniment to languishing ballerinas.

It has been the fate of some composers to be remembered , popularly at least, by relatively trivial compositions. Rubinstein, founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and one of the most famous virtuoso pianists of his time, as well as a prolific composer of operas and symphonies, is known above all as the composer of a Melodie in F, an undemanding little piece.

Jacques Offenbach, son of a cantor from Germany, established himself in Paris as a cellist and, in particular, as a composer of light opera. His Tales of Hoffmann, derived from the work of the writer of the title, includes a scene in Venice, with the scene aptly set by that most Venetian of songs, a Barcarolle.

The Russian composer Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky is represented on the present release by two pieces. The first is a transcription of a song, None but the lonely heart, while the second, in similar vein, is a sad song conceived for piano solo, the Chanson triste in G minor.

Mendelssohn's particular contribution to the piano album lies in his Songs without Words. The title is in apt description of these little pieces, which have the form and melodic content of songs, but require the services of no singer. Strangely enough, On Wings of Song, for all the world a song without words, was actually written with words and is a setting of a poem by Heine. It is, however, familiar enough in arrangements such as the present one.

Luigi Boccherini, a cellist who spent much of his career in Spain, produced music of great charm, leading to the description of him as 'the wife of Haydn', a reference to certain similarities of style with his great contemporary. His Minuet, from one of his many string quintets, is familiar from various arrangements.

Among the great violinists of the twentieth century Fritz Kreisler occupies a special position. His compositions, chiefly for the violin, included a deceptive series of pastiches, pieces attributed to great if forgotten composers, but in fact his own work. He was able to acknowledge openly his Liebesleid (Pain of Love), here performed in a transcription by the great Russian pianist and composer Sergey Rachmaninov, and his Caprice viennois, a recollection of the city of Vienna, where he spent his youth.

The Rustle of Spring, a piece that sounds rather more difficult than it really is, has delighted amateur pianists anxious to impress their audience. The Norwegian composer Christian Sinding was a more substantial figure than this piece might suggest, with Wagnerian operas and symphonies to his credit, and a formidable number of songs, some 250 in all, ensuring him a place as a successor of Grieg in the musical history of his country.

Music and politics seem a world apart. The great pianist Paderewski, however, was to become Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in newly independent Poland in 1919, positions from which he retired in the following year, later resuming his international career as a performer. Although he did not write exclusively for the piano, Paderewski's works include a number of smaller scale piano pieces, among which the Minuet in G major enjoys particular favour.

Gustav Lange's Edelweiss is familiar in many arrangements, as is the Moravian František Drdla's Souvenir, originally written for violin and piano by this violinist composer. Grieg is a composer of greater stature, an important figure in Norwegian musical nationalism. In a series of albums of Lyric Pieces he added significantly to domestic piano repertoire, as in his very Norwegian Wedding Dar at Troldhaugen.

With the French composer François-Jospeh Gossec we return to an earlier period of musical history. He enjoyed fame in France before the Revolution, after which he turned his attention to the provision of acceptable music for his new masters, only to lose his position when the Bourbon monarchy was restored. His Gavotte 'Rosine' is taken from an opera of that name, written in 1786.

Edward Elgar's Salut d'amour was written in response to a poem from the middle-aged spinster who was to become his wife, and was followed at once by his proposal of marriage. Originally entitled Liebesgruss, it sold very much better under the publisher's new French title than it had under its original German, a source of great profit to them and of very little to the composer.

The Merry Widow returns us to the world of Viennese operetta and the music of Franz Lehár, a Hungarian-born bandmaster who made his career in Vienna. The work deals with the marital complications involving the widow of the title herself and her lover and suitor.

The name of Zdenek Fibich may be joined with those of Dvorák and Smetana, the founders of Czech musical nationalism in the second half of the nineteenth century. His Poème is taken from a set of Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences, published in 1894.

The album closes with Leon Jessel's Parade of the Tin Soldiers, one of the better known pieces by this German composer, 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.

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