About this Recording
GP769 - Piano Recital: Filipec, Goran - HAMBOURG, M. / BUSONI, F. / ZADORA, M. / FRIEDMAN, I. / PAPANDOPULO, B. (Paganini at the Piano)
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PAGANINI AT THE PIANO

 

The Italian violinist and composer Nicolò Paganini (1782–1840) became an icon of instrumental virtuosity already during his lifetime. He seduced many pianists of the 19th century who composed variations, arrangements and fantasies on his most popular themes. The French National Library contains scores of numerous, and as yet, mostly unknown piano works from that era which reproduce, with more or less success and musical taste, the ‘diabolic’ virtuosity of Paganini’s violin.

Paganini influenced the art of piano in an unsurpassed way: Franz Liszt, after hearing his performance in 1832 in Paris, reformed his pianism entirely, he looked for new expressive resources, and expanded the limits of piano performance in a measure which was unknown until then. He arranged five of Paganini’s Caprices, Op. 1 and composed variations on Paganini’s Rondo from the Second Violin Concerto titled La Campanella (which I recorded for Naxos on 8.573458). He was the pianist who mainly contributed to the formation of the Romantic performance culture known as the ‘grand manner’, marked by big musical lines, a declamatory character and brilliant, bold pianistic effects, which remained present (arguably) until the mid-20th century.

The present album is devoted primarily to the works of pianists from the turn of the 20th century who followed Liszt and who were exponents of the ‘grand manner’. Boris Papandopulo is in this context an exception: his arrangements date from 1981 ( 6  8 ) and are an example of a different stylistic approach to Paganini, abandoning the compositional and pianistic traditions of Romanticism.

If Liszt reformed his pianism after hearing Paganini perform, Busoni did the same after becoming familiarised with Liszt’s piano works. Liszt’s pianistic language became a guideline for Busoni, and in his Introduzione e capriccio (Paganinesco) ( 2 ) Busoni mainly follows the model of Liszt’s arrangements of Paganini’s Caprices. Busoni combines materials from two Caprices (Nos. 11 and 15), just as Liszt did in his first Grande étude de Paganini, and produces a work of rare beauty and remarkable pianistic invention.

Michael Zadora, a pupil of Leschetizky and later one of the most loyal pupils of Busoni, continued his master’s tradition of creative arrangements. He arranged Caprices No. 4 and No. 19 ( 3  &  4 ) following the models of Liszt and Busoni. The complexity of the writing in the pieces reveals Zadora’s pianistic mastery.

Mark Hambourg and Ignaz Friedman, both pupils of Theodor Leschetizky, in their cycles of variations on the popular theme of Caprice No. 24 ( 1  &  5 ), were most likely following the model of the earlier set of variations on the same theme given by Brahms: Paganini’s original variations are omitted and new variations are proposed instead. Hambourg’s and Friedman’s works differ greatly in style and the applied pianistic forms: if Hambourg uses transitions and attacca between variations and tends towards a large form and bold pianistic contrasts, Friedman’s piece resembles a cycle of colourful miniatures of rare finesse, combined with the highly demanding pianistic quests of the toccata-like variations.

All of the works presented on this album—arrangements and variations—are the fruits of highly creative transformations of Paganini’s music, all generally marked by supreme virtuosity and the pronounced individuality of their composer’s pianism. They are all seldom heard, and I do believe that they could become part of the standard piano repertoire—works which can sit alongside those written after Paganini by Liszt or Brahms.

Goran Filipec

***

Even after two centuries, the fame of Nicolò Paganini as the most celebrated violin virtuoso of all time remains more or less unchallenged. During the 1830s, almost every major European city (and many a lucky country town along the way) was treated to a show of his theatrical sensationalism. He regaled the public with dazzling showmanship that ranged from the serious to the frivolous, and virtually all his audiences went home spellbound. Perhaps the key to Paganini’s enduring appeal lay in his ability to write catchy tunes that closely resemble the melodies one finds in bel canto operas of the period. These tunes lend themselves quite naturally to variation treatment. They can be elaborated, manipulated and twisted, yet their original artlessness survives almost any amount of musical contortion.

Without doubt, the most famous of Paganini’s shorter compositions is his Caprice No. 24 in A minor for solo violin, which is a set of variations. The popularity of this piece surely stems from its tonal simplicity and its reliance on the circle of fifths (which is all that the second half of the tune consists of). Straightforward though it is, this material is pregnant with endless possibilities for further variation treatment, and ever since the Caprice was first published in 1820, countless composers have been inspired to make their own transcriptions.

Many have written entirely new sets of variations on the theme, including Sergey Rachmaninov, who in 1934 immortalised the tune in his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra. Earlier in the century, stellar concert pianists such as Ignaz Friedman and Mark Hambourg took Paganini’s theme and stamped it with their own musical personalities.

Born in Russia, Mark Hambourg (1879–1960) was encouraged by Padereweski to study in Vienna with Theodor Leschetizky, under whose tutelage he made a very favourable impression on Brahms as well as the conductors Hans Richter and Felix Weingartner. Some years later, Ferruccio Busoni told Henry Wood that he considered Hambourg to be the greatest pianistic talent of his generation. After taking British citizenship at the age of 17, he rapidly established himself as a permanent fixture in the musical calendar of his adopted country. Although he was a pianist in the uninhibited ‘grand manner’ of 19th-century giants like Anton Rubinstein, Hambourg was one of the first concert artists to embrace the new technology of gramophone recording and he made his first records as early as 1909. Debussy, Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Falla, Arne, Handel and Domenico Scarlatti are but a few of the varied composers who appear in his extensive list of recordings. In 1902, Schott in Mainz published Hambourg’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini, which is dedicated to Leschetizky. The theme in question is again from the Caprice No. 24, and this is followed by 16 variations in a wide variety of moods and tempos that explore the theme’s boundless potential for being treated gently, dramatically, majestically and passionately. The Polish-inflected mazurka that forms the 13th variation may well have been included in homage to his former teacher, for Leschetizky had grown up in what was then Austrian Poland.

The Tuscan-born composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924) was one of the towering musical intellects from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. His interests spanned the contemporary works of Sibelius, Nielsen, Bartók and Debussy on the one hand, and the older music of the Baroque masters on the other. He was also fascinated by recent advances in the emerging science of electronics and he wrote enthusiastically about the musical capabilities of the Telharmonium or Dynamophone, the world’s first synthesiser, which appeared in 1896. This machine, weighing many tonnes and costing a fortune to build, was praised in Busoni’s Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, a radical manifesto published in 1907 that presents a compelling case for producing new music free from dogma, rules and hang-ups. The powerful Fantasia contrappuntistica from 1910 is one of Busoni’s many piano works inspired by composers from the past, in this case J.S. Bach.

Paganini was another composer from an earlier age whose output was, in Busoni’s view, ripe for transformation in the new century. The Introduzione e capriccio (Paganinesco), is the final number from a sequence of four works with the collective title An die Jugend, which Busoni dedicated to his friend and colleague the Belgian pianist Louis Closson in 1909. The work was subsequently published posthumously in 1925, without the Epilogo, in the second edition of the Klavierübung (more precisely in the 10th book). The material is elaborated from Paganini’s Caprice No. 11 in C and Caprice No. 15 in E minor, and Busoni created a piece that is a supreme example of music from the past being viewed through the lens of a later time. Busoni’s harmonic language and tonal ambiguities, though sometimes far removed from the simplicity of Paganini’s original, were admirably suited to Closson’s phenomenal and highly individual technique.

Michael Zadora (1882–1946) was an American pianist and composer of Polish extraction who studied in Europe with both Leschetizky and Busoni. One of his trademarks in performance was the emphasis he placed on speed, a characteristic that did not always endear him to the critics, who frequently slated him for missing out musical details. He maintained a close professional relationship with Busoni, who entrusted him to prepare the piano score of the opera Doktor Faust. Zadora wrote original works under the pseudonym of Pietro Amadis, and also made many arrangements of works by composers ranging from J.S. Bach to Offenbach. In 1911, the Leipzig publisher Wilhelm Hansen issued Eine Paganini-Caprice, which Zadora freely transcribed from Paganini’s Caprice No. 4 in C minor. Two years later, the same company brought out Zadora’s elaboration of Paganini’s Caprice No. 19 in E flat, in which the violin’s ghostly opening octaves are thickened into six- and seven-part chords.

Another of the great pianists from the early 20th century to pass through the formative hands of Leschetizky was the Polish-born Ignaz Friedman (1882–1948). Famed as a performer who brought colour and vibrancy to anything he played, he was also a composer and arranger of considerable repute. His Studies on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 47b are a set of 17 variations on the Caprice No. 24. Without losing any of the appeal of Paganini’s original, they successfully transfer the world of the violin to the piano keyboard in a manner that is entirely felicitous.

The multi-faceted career of Boris Papandopulo (1906–1991) means he could justifiably be crowned ‘Mr Music, Croatia’, yet beyond the boundaries of that country he is scarcely heard of. Among other things, he was a composer, conductor, pianist, arranger, educator, broadcaster and journalist. His ancestry was equally varied: he was born in Germany of Russian descent, and was the son of a Greek nobleman and a Croatian opera singer. Operas, ballets, film scores, orchestral music, chamber music and pieces for solo piano feature prominently in his output of original works, while his many transcriptions include folk songs from south-eastern Europe in addition to homages to composers from the past. Papandopulo was a highly resourceful composer, as his reworkings of Paganini demonstrate so perfectly. His versions of the Caprice No. 18 in C, Caprice No. 14 in E flat and Caprice No. 5 in A minor, for instance, go far beyond mere note-for-note transcription. They skilfully combine an infectious punchiness with the pungent flavours of mid-20th-century neo-Classicism to produce delightful re-imaginings of the original pieces. After hearing them, one is left pondering whether this is how Paganini might have composed had he lived a century or so later and been a pianist rather than a violinist.

Anthony Short


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