EXPLORING MUSIC: Dash, Bravura, and Precision

EXPLORING MUSIC: Dash, Bravura, and Precision

EXPLORING MUSIC ''Dash, Bravura, and Precision''

The MHS Review 411, VOL. 12, NO.15• 1988

by Paul Kresh

 

 

Looking back at the musical life of England in the early 19th century, one gets the impression that the entire country was thronged with pianist-composers celebrated in their day--and a great many of them not Englishmen at all, but imports from the Continent. Their names nowadays are more likely to be found in historical books about music than in concert programs, but in their time both their frequent appearances and the works they composed for themselves to display their spectacular keyboard techniques were considerably popular. This program provides a rare opportunity to become acquainted with this English music by non-Englishmen, all interpreted with just the right amount of dash, bravura, and precision by California-born Mary Macdonald, who especially enjoys exploring little-known corners of the piano literature.

The Variations on "Rule Britannia" are made up of a composite of pieces by four composers, each section based on the famous theme by Thomas Arne composed in 1740. The variations were written about a century after the theme, probably for a concert tour of Europe undertaken by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, whose once vast public was already beginning to desert him for the flamboyant Paganini. Like all the music in this program, the style is what has been called preromantic, providing a kind of transition between classical and romantic music. The composers who contributed to the joint effort were Ignaz Moscheles, Johann Baptist Cramer, Frederic Kalkbrenner, and Hummel.

Moscheles, born in Prague, was regarded as the greatest pianist of the day after Hummel himself. He once arranged a piano edition of Beethoven's Fidelio, settled in London after a highly successful debut there as a pianist, and wrote a piano concerto in G minor that is still highly regarded, along with 24 etudes and some other piano works. Following 20 years in England, Moscheles accepted an invitation from Mendelssohn to supervise piano instruction at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he once amazed an audience by improvising for 15 minutes straight on themes suggested from the floor.

The second variation heard here is by Cramer. Born in Mannheim, Germany, he was brought to England as an infant and grew up to become an influential member of the musical establishment as composer, pianist, and founder of a publishing house. He turned out a huge amount of music no longer played, including 105 piano sonatas.

The third variation was written by Hummel, who studied under Mozart and Salieri as well as Haydn, whom he succeeded as Kapellmeister to Prince Esterhazy. Hummel wrote his variation on "Rule Britannia" during one of four visits to England. The fourth and final variation was contributed by Kalkbrenner, a child prodigy whose playing drew high praise from Chopin but who, despite a genius for self-promotion, was not too highly regarded as a musician by most of his contemporaries.

Another musical visitor to England and an actual Englishman round out the program. Jan Ladislav Dussek, whose father, a famous organist, taught him music, first achieved fame in 1781 in Amsterdam as a concert pianist. Invited to teach music to the sons of William V in the Hague, he found time to compose three concerti and 12 sonatas. Later he was encouraged by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, toured Europe, and fled from France to England just in time to escape the French Revolution. He stayed in England 12 years, married a young singer he later abandoned when a music business he started went bankrupt, and composed some 100 piano sonatas in all. The one heard on this program was written in 1800, shortly before he left England.

George Frederick Pinto was the "natural son" of an Englishman named Sanders; Pinto was the maiden name of his mother, who came from a family of Italian musicians who lived in London. Before his untimely death in 1806, when he was not yet 21, Pinto made a name for himself as a pianist, composer, singer, and violinist. The Sonata in E-flat minor heard on this program was written when he was 16 or 17. Only a few of his pieces have survived.

Mary Macdonald, who studied under such great masters and mistresses of the keyboard as Leo Smit and Lili Kraus, grew up in Southern California, was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California at Los Angeles, and made her debut as a pianist with the San Antonio Symphony in Texas in 1967, winning high praise for her solo work in a Beethoven piano concerto. She has been in demand ever since for concert engagements all over the world.

EXPLORING MUSIC: Dash, Bravura, and Precision

EXPLORING MUSIC: Dash, Bravura, and Precision

EXPLORING MUSIC ''Dash, Bravura, and Precision''

The MHS Review 411, VOL. 12, NO.15• 1988

by Paul Kresh

 

 

Looking back at the musical life of England in the early 19th century, one gets the impression that the entire country was thronged with pianist-composers celebrated in their day--and a great many of them not Englishmen at all, but imports from the Continent. Their names nowadays are more likely to be found in historical books about music than in concert programs, but in their time both their frequent appearances and the works they composed for themselves to display their spectacular keyboard techniques were considerably popular. This program provides a rare opportunity to become acquainted with this English music by non-Englishmen, all interpreted with just the right amount of dash, bravura, and precision by California-born Mary Macdonald, who especially enjoys exploring little-known corners of the piano literature.

The Variations on "Rule Britannia" are made up of a composite of pieces by four composers, each section based on the famous theme by Thomas Arne composed in 1740. The variations were written about a century after the theme, probably for a concert tour of Europe undertaken by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, whose once vast public was already beginning to desert him for the flamboyant Paganini. Like all the music in this program, the style is what has been called preromantic, providing a kind of transition between classical and romantic music. The composers who contributed to the joint effort were Ignaz Moscheles, Johann Baptist Cramer, Frederic Kalkbrenner, and Hummel.

Moscheles, born in Prague, was regarded as the greatest pianist of the day after Hummel himself. He once arranged a piano edition of Beethoven's Fidelio, settled in London after a highly successful debut there as a pianist, and wrote a piano concerto in G minor that is still highly regarded, along with 24 etudes and some other piano works. Following 20 years in England, Moscheles accepted an invitation from Mendelssohn to supervise piano instruction at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he once amazed an audience by improvising for 15 minutes straight on themes suggested from the floor.

The second variation heard here is by Cramer. Born in Mannheim, Germany, he was brought to England as an infant and grew up to become an influential member of the musical establishment as composer, pianist, and founder of a publishing house. He turned out a huge amount of music no longer played, including 105 piano sonatas.

The third variation was written by Hummel, who studied under Mozart and Salieri as well as Haydn, whom he succeeded as Kapellmeister to Prince Esterhazy. Hummel wrote his variation on "Rule Britannia" during one of four visits to England. The fourth and final variation was contributed by Kalkbrenner, a child prodigy whose playing drew high praise from Chopin but who, despite a genius for self-promotion, was not too highly regarded as a musician by most of his contemporaries.

Another musical visitor to England and an actual Englishman round out the program. Jan Ladislav Dussek, whose father, a famous organist, taught him music, first achieved fame in 1781 in Amsterdam as a concert pianist. Invited to teach music to the sons of William V in the Hague, he found time to compose three concerti and 12 sonatas. Later he was encouraged by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, toured Europe, and fled from France to England just in time to escape the French Revolution. He stayed in England 12 years, married a young singer he later abandoned when a music business he started went bankrupt, and composed some 100 piano sonatas in all. The one heard on this program was written in 1800, shortly before he left England.

George Frederick Pinto was the "natural son" of an Englishman named Sanders; Pinto was the maiden name of his mother, who came from a family of Italian musicians who lived in London. Before his untimely death in 1806, when he was not yet 21, Pinto made a name for himself as a pianist, composer, singer, and violinist. The Sonata in E-flat minor heard on this program was written when he was 16 or 17. Only a few of his pieces have survived.

Mary Macdonald, who studied under such great masters and mistresses of the keyboard as Leo Smit and Lili Kraus, grew up in Southern California, was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California at Los Angeles, and made her debut as a pianist with the San Antonio Symphony in Texas in 1967, winning high praise for her solo work in a Beethoven piano concerto. She has been in demand ever since for concert engagements all over the world.