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8.553701 - THALBERG: Piano Concerto in F Minor / Souvenirs de Beethoven
Sigismond Thalberg (1812-1871)
Some mystery surrounds the birth and parentage of the virtuoso pianist Sigismond Thalberg, popularly supposed to have been the illegitimate son of Count Moritz Dietrichstein and the Baroness von Wetzlar, born at Pâquis near Geneva in 1812. His birth certificate, however, provides him with less distinguished but relatively legitimate parentage as the alleged son of a citizen of Frankfurt, Joseph Thalberg and a certain and possibly pseudonymous Fortune Stein. There seems, therefore, no particular reason to suppose the name Thalberg an invention. Legend, however, provides the story of the Baroness proclaiming him a valley (Thai) that would one day rise to the heights of a mountain (Berg). Thalberg's schooling took him to Vienna, where his fellow-pupil the Duke of Reichstadt, Napoleon's son, almost persuaded him to take up a military career. Musical interests finally triumphed and he was able to study with Simon Sechter and with Mozart's pupil Hummel. In Vienna he performed at private parties, making a particular impression when, as a fourteen-year-old, he played at the house of Prince Metternich. By 1828 he had started the series of compositions that were to prove an important and necessary concoruitant of his career as a virtuoso. In 1830 he undertook his first concert tour abroad, to England, where he had lessons from Moscheles. In 1834 he was appointed Kammervirtuos to the Emperor in Vienna and the following year appeared in Paris, where he had lessons from Kalkbrenner and Pixis.
Paris in the 1830s was a city of pianists. The Conservatoire was full of them, while salons and the show-rooms of the chief piano-manufacturers Erard and Pleyel resounded with the virtuosity of Kalkbrenner, Pixis, Herz and, of course, Liszt. The rivalry between Thalberg and Liszt was largely fermented by the press. Berlioz became the champion of the latter, while Fétis trumpeted the achievements of Thalberg. Liszt, at the time of Thalberg' s arrival in Patis, was in Switzerland, where he had retired with his mistress, the Comtesse Marie d' Agoult. It was she who wrote, under Liszt's name, a disparaging attack on Thalberg, to which Fétis replied in equally offensive terms. The so-called revolutionary princess, Princess Belgiojoso, achieved a remarkable social coup when she persuaded the two virtuosi to play at her Patis salon in a concert in aid of Italian refugees. As in other such contests, victory was tactfully shared between the two. Thalberg played his Moses Fantasy and Liszt answered with his new paraphrase from Pacini's opera Niobe. The Princess declared Thalberg the first pianist in the world, while Liszt, she said, was unique. She went on to commission a series of variations on a patriotic theme from Bellini's I puritani from the six leading pianists in Patis, a project to which Liszt, Thalberg, Chopin, Pixis, Herz and Czerny contributed. This composite work, Hexameron, remained in Liszt's concert repertoire.
Musical journalism has created a legend of Thalberg's defeat and departure from Patis and of continuing rivalry between him and Liszt. An element of competition remained, although there seems to have been no open animosity, and Liszt wrote a letter of condolence to Thalberg's widow after her husband's death in 1871. Thalberg enjoyed a career of the greatest distinction, touring as far as the Americas, where Liszt never went, with recitals in Brazil and Havana and an extended stay with the violinist Vieuxtemps in the United States, where, in the space of two years, he gave 56 recitals in New York, with a repertoire chiefly but not exclusively devoted to his own compositions. Liszt, meanwhile, included some of Thalberg's operatic paraphrases and fantasies, which, through Marie d' Agoult, he had once publicly seemed to disparage, in his own repertoire.
In 1843 in Paris, Thalberg had married Cecchina, a daughter of the famous Italian bass Luigi Lablache, widow of the painter Bouchot. Attempts at operatic composition proved unsuccessful, with Florinda, staged in London in 1851 and Cristina di Svezia (Christina of Sweden) in Vienna four years later. His career as a virtuoso continued until 1863, when he retired to Posilippo, near Naples, to occupy himself for his remaining years primarily with his vineyards. He died there in 1871.
Thalberg's Piano Concerto in F minor, Opus 5 is a relatively early work. The first movement opens with the expected orchestral exposition, presenting two contrasting subjects, before the entry of the soloist with an elaboration of the material. There is much scope for virtuosity in what follows, in particular in a demanding and varied cadenza. There is a brief orchestral introduction to the Adagio, with continued suggestions that the music comes from a period when Chopin too was starting to make a name for himself, although Thalberg is said to have found the latter's relatively subdued nuances too underplayed. There is here, however, a similar use of embellished operatic melody. The soloist offers immediate contrast in the mood of the principal theme of the final Rondo, with its varying episodes.
Souvenirs de Beethoven: Grande fantaisie pour le piano sur la 7' Symphonie de Beethoven, Opus 39 was written in the 1830s and finally published in 1840. It starts with a passage that, in its figuration, seems to justify Liszt's apparent reference to Thalberg as the Chevalier de Tremolo. There are distant suggestions of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, duly transformed, before the emergence of the principal theme of the Allegretto of the second movement, here marked Andante, material which is then subject to pianistic embellishment of increasing brilliance and intensity. The A major section, transformed from its original, follows, before a due return to A minor and further delicate display. Reminiscences of the last movement of the symphony lead to other territory, now the final movement of the Fifth Symphony, but it is to A minor and the second movement of the Seventh Symphony that the Fantasy finally returns.
Thalberg's Nocturne in E major, Opus 28 dates from a similar period. This, no doubt, was the kind of music to which the London critic James William Davison took such strong exception, in an extravagantly alliterative review of 1842, referring to Thalberg's Andantes as 'pitifully puling and positively paralytic… wishy-washy, wallowing and warm-waterish'. In fact the Nocturne is of particular interest as an example of the form by a contemporary of Chopin, a composer that Davison with similar ineptitude described as 'a morbidly sentimental flea'.
The Canzonette italienne, Opus 36, No.5 is also a work of the later 1830s. It starts with a flourish, before the lyrical melody emerges, with its gently lilting accompaniment and subsequent elaboration.
Un Soupir, Mélodie variée offers a melody of some charm, a musical sigh, as its title proclaims. This material is lyrically developed, without recourse to unnecessary display, an appealing postscript to music of more oven brilliance.
Razumovsky Symphony Orchestra
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