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Alkan Anecdote

Posted By: AndrewG

Alkan Anecdote - 07/10/01 11:06 AM

A short story of interest:

"One day I was passing by the small rooms on the first floor of the Maison Erard, reseved only for great pianists, for their practice and lessons. At the time the rooms were all empty except one, from which could be heard the great Triple-Prelude in E flat by Bach played on a pedalier. I listened, riveted to the spot by the expressive, crystal-clear playing of a little old man, frail in appearance, who, without seeming to suspect my presence, continued the piece right to the end. Then, turning to me: 'Do you know this music?' he asked. I replied that, as an organ pupil in Franck's class at the Conservatoire, I could scarcely ignore such a fine work. 'Play me something' he added, giving up the piano stool for me. Although somewhat over-awed, I managed to play quite cleanly the C Major Fugue - the one affectionately known as The Mastersingers because of its similarity to a certain Wagnerian theme.

Without comment he returned to the piano saying 'I am Charles-Valentin Alkan and I'm just preparing for my annual series of six 'Petits Concerts' at which I play only the finest things'. Then, without giving me a moment to reply: 'Listen well. I'm going to play you, for you alone, Beethoven's Opus 110 - listen...' What happened to the great Beethovenian poem beneath the skinny, hooked fingers of the little old man I couldn't begin to describe - above all in the Arioso and the Fugue, where the melody, penetrating the mystery of Death itself, climbs up to a blaze of light, affected me with an excess of enthusiasm such as I have never experienced since. This was not Liszt - perhaps less perfect, technically - but it had greater intimacy and was more humanly moving...

'Without giving me a chance to speak, Alkan shoved me violently over to the window and looking straight into my eyes, pronounced these words - words which are precious to me and whose well-meaning bluntness I have never forgotten: 'You - you're going to be an artist, a real one...farewell, we will not see eachother again...' Indignant, I protested that I would be in the front row at his next 'Petit Concert'. He replied, more sadly: 'No, we will never see each other again'.

Some compulsory occupation connected with my life in Paris prevented me from being present at the first 'Petit Concert'; on the evening of the second I had an engagement in the provinces; other obstacles on the third. In short, several years passed before I managed to find a free evening and then, at the moment I was about to go to one of these concerts, I read in a paper that Charles-Valentin Alkan had just died'.

The preceding was an extract from the recollections of Vincent D'Indy. Not only does it shed light on Alkan's playing and personality as an old man, but, as Ronald Smith says in his Alkan biography, '...it is also psychologically revealing , coming as it does from an avowed anti-semite writing just fifty-five years after the event.'


Any recs of piano works by these two composers?
Posted By: BruceD

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 12:53 AM

Thank you for the anecdote; it made most interesting reading.
You might try listening to Alkan's Concerto for Solo Piano, recorded by Marc-Andre Hamelin (on a Yamaha, by the way) on Music and Arts CD-724. Some pretty amazing pianism on the part of the performer who gets rave reviews for almost everything he has recorded so far (close to 40 CDs by now). And - forgive the plug - he owns a 6'3" Estonia which he bought from Cunningham Piano Co, Philadelphia.

[ July 10, 2001: Message edited by: BruceD ]
Posted By: Alex

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 02:26 AM


Great story. I very much enjoyed the following sentence:

This was not Liszt - perhaps less perfect, technically - but it had greater intimacy and was more humanly moving

Kind of like Liszt's music, a lot of notes and not a whole lot of feeling. cool

Lizst is Overrated Society wink wink
Posted By: CrashTest

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 03:08 AM

Liszt's music has great depth, it just takes more time to find it, its not like Chopin (You love the piece the first time you hear it). It depends on how you look at it, if you think too many notes and virtuosity is what makes a piece shallow, then maybe its not liszt who missed the musical part, but I can see why one would feel that way.

[ July 10, 2001: Message edited by: CrashTest ]
Posted By: Joe

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 03:22 AM

Heh, one word: Consolations laugh

Some Liszt is on the superficial side, some has a great deal of depth. I think generally when he was concentrating on the composing, he created great stuff.

I have a copy of some of those Alkan etudes also, I'm not sure who plays them. They sure are wild.
Posted By: AndrewG

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 11:32 AM

Oh No! Another Liszt-versus-Chopin debate?

Alex, may I join your club? What are the requirements, Mr. President?

BruceD, thanx for the recommendations. I don't have the particular Hamelin CD you mentioned. I'd love to hear that! I'm not sure it's readily available though. I have the solo concerto recording done by J. Ogdon which to me is a jaw-dropping performance. I have about 20 of maestro Hamelin's CDs. While all are excellent I, for one, have found that few are outstanding. Yes, almost everything he ever recorded received rave reviews but I have yet to warm up to his style of playing. His Alkan CD under Hyperion is one of the most talked about recordings. I find Raymond Lewenthal outplayed Mr. Hamelin by a notch or two. Anyway, that's just my feeling towards Hamelin's artistry. Is there any hope for me?

Just curious. Is it hard to get the Solo Concerto CD that you recommended?

Joe, I have Hamelin's 53 Chopin-Godowsky etudes. These're fiendishly difficult finger-breakers. None, however, sounds 'wild' to me. Could you please let me know who the pianist was on your recording. My interest is piqued. Thanks in advance.
Posted By: magnezium

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 12:11 PM

oh no... please don't start another liszt war...
Posted By: Diarmuid

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 01:49 PM

I'm saying nothing!....Except how about showing us some of your compositions Mr. President? wink
Posted By: Brendan

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 02:46 PM

Originally posted by Alex:

Great story. I very much enjoyed the following sentence:

This was not Liszt - perhaps less perfect, technically - but it had greater intimacy and was more humanly moving

Kind of like Liszt's music, a lot of notes and not a whole lot of feeling. cool

Lizst is Overrated Society wink wink

Makes me sad........ frown

Anyone hear the story about how Alkan died? He was reaching for a bible at the top of a heavy bookcase and the whole thing fell on him and crushed him to death.
Posted By: Joe

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 04:58 PM

No war for me, I'm glad I missed the first one, if there was one. I'd have to go to the Chopin camp, but I love a lot of Lizst's music also. Them's just my opinions.
Posted By: Brendan

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 05:08 PM

Yes, there was one all-out war and several skirmishes, the threat of nuclear holocaust happening around this time last year. I remember Cork saying something about things getting boring here on the thread, someone mentioning Chopin etudes followed by me saying they were inferior to Liszt etudes. It was all downhill from there.

Yet, our one flame war was NOTHING compared to the 90,000,000 flame wars happening on the other forum. Many casualties... frown
Posted By: Vid

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 05:58 PM

*rolls up my sleeves and throws down the gauntlet*

In all seriousness I love both composers. They were good friends and I think they fed off of each other a lot. When it comes to performing I find Chopin's music easier to approach. I think for this reason Chopin is more popular because amateur players can actually play his music and it is heard more often. Frankly, I find Liszt's virtuosity a little frightening.

Anyways, I'm sitting on the fence on this one. What do you people think of the Liszt transcriptions. His arrangements for the Betthoven symphonies are pure genius IMO.
Posted By: Alex

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/11/01 06:02 PM

Yea, the List :p vs. Chopin flame wars over here are actually a lot of fun (though we've had our moments!). But heck, let's just blame Cork.

President for Life
Posted By: Joe

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/12/01 03:05 AM

I've seen some pretty ugly flame wars, I'd never have thought it of this board though. Well if it was in any way 'fun' it was probably much less acrimonious than the place I came from. I love a good debate anyway, as long as it doesn't get too personal.
Posted By: Joy

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/12/01 04:43 AM

Brendan said: "Anyone hear the story about how Alkan died? He was reaching for a bible at the top of a heavy bookcase and the whole thing fell on him and crushed him to death."

Well, not to detract from the horror of such a demise, but I think Scriabin's cause of death was even more horrific: infection from a carbunkle on his face. Shades of National Inquirer headlines --- "BACTERIA ATE MY FLESH!!!"

I've nailed all my tall bookcases to my walls early on. Can't be too careful in earthquake-prone southern CA.

Posted By: BruceD

Re: Alkan Anecdote - 07/12/01 10:31 AM

Vid (et al.)
I think the Liszt transcriptions, particularly of some of the Schubert songs, are really some of the finest examples of the art of piano transcription - at which Liszt was a master - that have ever been penned. A few of them are somewhat over-the-top, but many of them are works of pure genius. Liszt manages in so many of them to keep the mood of the original, and with incredible dexterity often weaves the melody line in between the two-handed accompaniment, an accompaniment which almost always remains faithful to the original.
I defy anyone who takes the time to look at and study these works to call them superficial and flashy; they really plumb the depths of the songs of Schubert almost as well - text lacking, of course - as any good vocal performance. To my mind they show what a sincere and profound appreciation Liszt had for the songs of Schubert, and prove how he championed the music of the Viennese song-writer.
Leslie Howard has done the complete works of Liszt on Hyperion, as you Liszt fans will certainly know, and the volumes devoted to song transcriptions are among the favorites in my personal collection. Now, there is a complete Liszt cycle currently emerging on Naxos, using several pianists.
Some of the opera transcriptions and fantasies are stunning, too, if occasionally a little more flamboyant.

[ July 12, 2001: Message edited by: BruceD ]
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