Brahams: Hungarian Dances, Book I, Transcribed by Moszkowski
Moszkowski: Vingt Petites Etudes Pour Piano, Op. 91
Esther Budiardjo, Piano
World Premiere Recording
Liner Notes and Description of Pieces
Playing Time 55:58
"I can play billiards, chess, dominoes and violin," Moritz Moszkowski once boasted in a letter to a friend, then added that he could imitate canary birds. Although he often played first violin in ensembles and even wrote a Violin Concerto, Moszkowski was more famous for his enormous success as a concert pianist, conductor, distinguished teacher, and composer whose appealing piano music was found a century ago in nearly every parlor.
This man of many accomplishments was born in East Prussia in 1854 and received his first music lessons at home. He went on to attend three of Germany's finest music schools. At the Dresden Conservatory, he created his first compositions. When the family moved to Berlin in 1869, he studied in turn at the Stern Conservatory and at Germany's largest private institution for music education, the Kullak Academy. Founded by one of Czerny's pupils, the Academy specialized in piano instruction and Moszkowski later served on the faculty for many years.
Moszkowski's impressive debut as a pianist in 1873 in Berlin was followed by the first in a long succession of triumphant European concert tours. At the peak of his celebrity, he left Berlin in 1897 to settle permanently in Paris with his wife, the sister of French composer-pianist Cecile Chaminade, and their two children. He remained active as performer and composer and was a much sought-after teacher. He counted among his pupils Wanda Landowska, Josef Hofmann, Joaquin Nin, and Joaquin Turina and coached the young Thomas Beecham in orchestration.
In contrast to the great successes scored in his prime, tragedy beset Moszkowski's later life. In the years before World War I, he suffered ill health and the loss of his wife and daughter. When his style of composing and playing became overshadowed by the likes of Debussy, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, he became a recluse. Then, came the crushing blow. A diversified portfolio being a thing of the future, Moszkowski had earlier sold the copyrights of his music for a sizeable sum and invested his entire fortune in German, Polish and Russian bonds--all of which became worthless with the outbreak of war.
To assist him in his final years, colleagues in the United States staged a hugely successful benefit on his behalf on December 22, 1921 in Carnegie Hall. It was a multi-piano spectacular featuring more than a dozen prominent pianists, among
them: Harold Bauer, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Percy Grainger, Josef Lhevinne and Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler, the so-called "Sarah Bernhardt of the Piano." The program included Schumann's Carnaval, with each performer playing a section. The funds eased some of Moszkowski's burdens before his death in Paris on March 4, 1925.
Though he composed several symphonic works, an opera and a ballet, Moszkowski was celebrated for his audience-pleasing piano works--etudes, morceaux, dances--first-class salon music of great grace and charm that was effective, exciting and entertaining. Many pieces bear witness to his own prodigious technique at the keyboard. His music was much in vogue in its day with both amateurs and professionals, for it fit perfectly under the hand. Indeed, Paderewski once stated that after Chopin, Moszkowski best understood how to compose for the piano. Such luminaries as Horowitz, Rachmaninoff and Bolet regularly included Moszkowski's music in their repertoire.
Moszkowski produced several sets of etudes, the most familiar being the fifteen Virtuosic Etudes of Op. 72. An interesting volume is Op. 92, twelve studies for left-hand alone. Lesser known are the elegant miniatures of Op. 91, dedicated to Madame M. T. Amirian. These twenty short technical studies provide more than finger-limbering exercises. Though lacking the profundity of Chopin and Liszt, they brim with playful spirit, innocent charm and sonic poetry. Divided into two books, the first appear as Czerny-like essays, but soon the series evolves into sophisticated character pieces.
Aimed at the effective independence of each finger, Etude #1 possesses a lightness, exuberance and sense of fun usually lacking in technical studies, as both hands scurry up and down the keyboard in a happy mix of contrary and parallel motion. Etude #2 requires smooth, swift movement of right-hand fingers while the following study focuses on the left hand. Although high notes naturally ring out more clearly than low ones, Etude #3 challenges the pianist to produce bass-note runs as transparent as their treble counterparts.
By the fourth etude, Moszkowski's musical poetry and gift for melody have transcended purely didactic aims. The piece unfolds in a breathless flow of trilling sixteenth-note patterns in the left hand (transferred to the right hand in the more richly textured central section) against a serene Pachelbel-like chorale. In the suave fifth etude, smooth wrist movement is a must as both hands work together as gracefully and seamlessly as possible, with chordal movement in right hand versus linear movement in left. Etude #6 exudes the warm euphony of thirds and sixths in flowing triplets, left and right hands ever-balanced in a perfect duet. A well-articulated touch in the seventh study offers bold brilliance with glittering right-hand arpeggios, pointed left-hand staccatos, agile leaps, and a many-voiced accompaniment divided between hands within an ever-changing texture.
It's rare to find a technical study of such bittersweet beauty as the eighth etude with its haunting echoes, evanescent inner voice, and delicate bell-like phrases balanced by a cantabile legato bass. A fitting companion, the soulful tenth etude soars in melancholy song with lucent two-voiced accompaniment. In between, the right hand negotiates a web of spidery triplets, each consisting of thirds framing most often a thumb-anchored pedal-tone D, in Etude #9.
As Book Two opens, rippling arpeggios stealthily slip up and down the treble staff, cascading at times, settling at last around middle C in Etude #11. Scintillating sixteenth-note patterns in right hand, underpinned by melodious multi-voiced accompaniment in left, comprise Etude #12, a toccata calling for total independence of hands. In moody contrast, #13 unfolds as a quiet lament tightly woven from slowly expanding and contracting chords tinged by chromatic inflections. A playful drama with boiling bass ensues in #14.
The spirit of Schumann touches Etudes #15 and #17. The former sports a sturdy melody at keyboard's center, surrounded by a ceaseless stream of sonic filigree. The latter offers a tender keyboard song which soars to the upper reaches of the keyboard at its climax. A pair of fleet fantasies abides in #16 and #18. The whirling, swirling #16 flies like the wind, both hands locked an octave apart until the final two punctuating chords, while #18 offers whirring, knuckle-busting triplet action for both hands.
The presto tempo of Etude #19 demands the lightest of touches as the fingers of one, then the other hand sprint through series of broken thirds and sixths. Though it provides practice for legato thirds and sixths, the true glory of the final etude lies in the simple tranquil beauty of its melody, harmony and expression--a respite from war, financial worries and daily strife--as welcome today as it must have been eighty or ninety years ago.
In addition to the plethora of original piano music which Moszkowski conceived, the composer occasionally turned to arranging. One of the happiest products of this pursuit is his version for solo piano of Brahms' first ten Hungarian Dances. On relaxed days in Vienna, Johannes Brahms enjoyed strolling through the Prater and often whiled away the time listening to Hungarian gypsy bands which performed there and at the cafes he frequented. Brahms' first taste of this exhilarating music came when he toured as the twenty-year-old piano accompanist for a fiery violin virtuoso, Eduard Remenyi, who regularly dazzled audiences with renditions of gypsy violin music. Enchanted by the exotic melodies and fascinated by the irregular rhythms of this music, Brahms published his first set of ten Hungarian Dances in 1869 in the form of piano duets. The volume became an instant hit and launched the deluge of national dances for piano four-hands which flooded music stores across Europe. Brahms issued his own version for solo piano in 1872.
Moszkowski's arrangements preserve the character of Brahms' original version for piano duet in that he approaches the dances as duets between left and right hand. Where Brahms' own solo version features bold chords, Moszkowski counters with a lighter, more arpeggiated style. Where Brahms favors a succession of pure octaves, Moszkowski colors the texture with interspersed octaves, thirds and sixths. No matter how the various versions differ in detail, Moszkowski captures all the sparkle and spontaneity of the originals with their capricious alternations of mood and tempo, and thrilling rhythmic momentum.