Thursday, November 19, 2015

Louis Gregh's 'Élégie Pastorale' - the title page and verse quotations

This piece, recorded by me twice on YouTube on , and also on has one of the saddest underlying stories and cover art that I have seen.  Here is the cover:

Note the swain on the left offering flowers to his bride - on the right-hand picture he is paying respects to her grave.  The piece is prefaced by an extract from 'Souvenirs Intimes' by the French poet Antoine Queyriaux:

"Quand le soleil d'avril ôtait a la nature
Son lourd manteau d'hiver flétri, par les autans,
Nous allions admirer sa nouvelle parure,
Ecoutant les oiseaux qui fêtaient le printemps.
L'automne vint ravir ma douce fiancée,
Nos serments échangés se sont évanouis! ..
Dans les sentiers ombreux où nous rêvions ensemble
Tout est triste et muet, le soleil est voilé.
Je la vois près de moi ...le cœur ému, je tremble...
Je crois saisir sa main... rien! .. je reste accablé! .. "

Here is my attempt at a translation (corrections welcome!):

"When the April sun has deprived nature
Of his heavy winter coat withered by impetuous winds,
We would admire her new dress,
Listening to the birds celebrating spring.
-------------------------------------------------- -----
Autumn came to rob me of my sweet bride,
Our exchanged vows have vanished! ..
In the shady paths where we dreamed together
Everything is sad and silent, the sun is veiled.
I see around me ... the emotional heart, I tremble ...
I think I am holding her hand ... nothing! I remain overwhelmed ..! "

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cover art for Pessard's 'Le Mendiant'

I meant to include this in my video performance of the piece, but forgot - so here is a reproduction:

The video can be found here on my YouTube channel.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How do I produce my piano videos?

I am often asked how I produce my YouTube piano videos (on my channel PSearPianist), so here is a description of how I am doing it just now.  I have used different procedures in the past, and may do in the future, but this works for me at the moment.

I film my performances on an Olympus LS-20M linear PCM recorder - basically a sophisticated stereo recorder with a fairly basic video camera attached - which sits on a Manfrotti tripod about six feet from the piano. 

I record the video at 640x480, 30fps - not HD but good enough I hope for the sort of video I make, which is really about the music.  The sound is recorded in MP3 at 320kbps, the best quality available on the camera.  I could certainly work in HD, but that would raise issues of computer processing power and bandwidth availability for uploading.

On most videos I play from digitized scores which are viewed on my 22" LG picture frame-style monitor (attached to a laptop by an extra-long VGA cable).  I view the scores on Foxit Reader 7, a Windows program which allows dual page display, and also allows you to choose which page shows up on the left-hand side.  I turn the pages with an AirTurn pedal set operated by Bluetooth.  Getting the connection right can be fiddly (as the computer operates on Xubuntu Linux and gives no choice of Bluetooth manager software), but would probably be more straightforward with a Windows setup.  I sometimes use paper scores (mainly for music that is still in copyright, for which I have the music), and edit out the page turns.

I do two or three takes (at least) of each piece.  Usually the final video is based on the last, with the odd patches from earlier takes, and I may repeat passages within a take if needed.  I am surprised by how often I think I have done a perfect recording, only to find that an important note is inaudible on playback - which is why multiple takes are valuable.

I then attach the camera by USB to the laptop and edit the footage using the excellent free Kdenlive video editing software.  This does everything needed: the cutting and pasting using thumbnails of the audio, adding opening and closing title sequences, and overlaying images and section titles on the footage.  I also usually put a 0.2 second fade at the end of each piece to eliminate the creaking of my piano stool or noise of the pedal coming off!  If you are on Windows, VideoPad is a good alternative (a freeware version is available from ), and this is also available in an Android version.  I render my videos in QVGA widescreen 29.97fps, saving them in MP4 format with MP3 audio at a fixed video bitrate of 4000 and an audio bitrate of 192 (the highest available on the program)

As soon as the video is made and saved to file, I upload it to YouTube as 'Private' so I can store it until I want to release it by making it 'Public', at which point I add the description etc.  I learned to do this the hard way - I lost one or two videos when a hard drive failed!

You can actually set up Kdenlive with a bootable Linux operating system on a USB flash drive.  I have tried to do this for some time, but only recently succeeded, owing the the number of elements needed in a system to make Kdenlive work.  Here's how I did it, but I am sure there are many different routes:

1 - get a USB drive with at least 8Gb of storage.
2 - download the PuppEX Linux Live CD (as an ISO) from here:
2 - download and run the Yumi Multiboot USB Creator available from here: (Windows program - but Linux versions are available) with the USB drive connected.
3 - Use YUMI to install PuppEX from the ISO to the USB drive (it will fall under the 'Other' category, as it doesn't appear in the list of supported operating systems - and you should use Syslinux).  Then shutdown your computer.
4 - Turn the computer on with the USB drive still in, and set your computer to boot first from USB if it doesn't already do that (you do this from the BIOS).
5 -  You will see the Multiboot menu.  Choose PuppEX from the 'Other Linux' distributions menu and then run it and set it up to your liking.
6 -  Run the Puppy Package Manager, on which you will find Kdenlive in the lists of available packages (I think you will need to install Kdenlive and also the Kdenlive data package).
7. - That's it - you can then use the USB drive with any modern computer set to allow booting from USB, which could be useful if you are making videos 'on the road'.

I hope that will be helpful - and would welcome any suggestions for better ways of achieving the same result with modest hardware and bandwidth requirements.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

William Charles Levey (1837-94)

Here is a biography of the interesting Irish composer and stage conductor, William Charles Levey, extracted from 'British Musical Biography' (Brown & Stratton, 1897):

"Levey, William Charles, composer and conductor, born in Dublin, April 25, 1837.  Studied under his father (noticed below), and from 1852, in Paris, under Auber, Thalberg, and Prudent.  While there he was elected a member of the Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs. On his return to London he held positions as conductor at Covent Garden; Drury Lane, 1868-74 ; and again, later, Haymarket, Princess's, and Adelphi, etc. He died in London, August 18, 1894

Operas, etc . Fanchette, Covent Garden, January 4, 1864 , Claude ; Nazarille;
Punchinello, Her Majesty's, December 28, 1864; Fashion, Wanted a Parlour Maid; Music to Antony and Cleopatra, Amy Robsart, Rebecca; King o' Scots; Lady of the Lake, Esmeralda, Jack in the Box, etc.  Music to various pantomimes.

Cantatas: The Man of War, Robin Hood (for boys voices); The Ride to Ware

Many songs:
Esmeralda; Here stands a post; Unfading
beauty ; King and the beggar maid , Maritana,
Gay Gitana ; Lullaby, etc.

Pieces for pf , etc.
Irish overture for orchestra.

His father, RICHARD MICHAEL LEVEY, born in Dublin, October 2, 1811, violinist, was apprenticed to James Barton, leader at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in 1826.  In 1830 he succeeded to the post, and was afterwards musical director. On his fiftieth annversary of office he received a handsome testimonial.  As a violinist he was well known at the Crystal Palace Handel Festivals, etc.  He was
also professor of the violin at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and is still living. The violinist known as "Paganini Redividus" is his son, RICHARD M LEVEY. He first appealed in Paris, in 1850, and was for some time principal violin at Muzard's Concerts at the Hôtel d'Osmond. Then he came to London, and at the Royal Polytechnic Institution, gave a wierd impersonation entitled
"Paganini's Ghost" He has given recitals in the provinces and on the continent, but no particulars are available concerning his biography."

I should add to this that the father gave the precocious eight-year-old Charles Stanford his debut as a composer when he conducted a pantomime of his at the Theatre Royal in Dublin.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hans von Bülow's preface to his edition of Cramer's piano studies

You are wondering: why I am posting such a dull-titled text to my blog.  Well, this is one of the most fascinating guides to 19th century piano teaching methods that I have ever come across, and since it is buried in a two column format at the front of a lengthy volume of music, I doubt if it have ever been digitized before.

The really valuable things in this are:
  • a list of the studies that von Bülow used in his teaching, ranked in order of difficulty (he rated Alkan the hardest of all).
  • thoughts on fingering.  It is daunting to think that HvB expected his students to be able to play Beethoven's sonata Op. 57 as easily in F# minor as in F minor

It is nevertheless worth scanning through all of it, just to get an idea of the thought processes of one of the greatest musicians of his day (and, for a while, Liszt's son-in-law).

The English translation used is by Constance Bache, and I have retained the antiquated grammar, capitalisation, abbreviations etc. to keep the period flavour!

Here is the full text:

It is not the object of the following lines fully to descant on the merits, universally known and acknowledged, and the priceless value and lasting importance of J. B. Cramer’s Pianoforte Studies. It is a work surpassed by no other, with the exception of Muzio Clementi’s “Gradus ad Parnassum “, for which Cramer’s Studies form the best possible preparation, as well as a means of education in the “technique” and “interpretation” of pianoforte playing. If Fétis, the romantic musical authority of the day, describes them as “éminemment classiques”; if his German colleague Franz Brendel, in his “Musik_geschichte”, calls them “an epoch-making foundation for all solid study”, and another colleague, C. F. Weitzmann, in his “Geschichte des Klavierspiels” (Stuttgart—Cotta), reckons them “according to their form and contents among classical pianoforte literature”, and so on, the agreement of these most noted æsthetic and theoretic writers only establishes a fact which, in the universal spread and popularity of the work, testifies most forcibly to its great importance;—a work which is here once more offered to the public in a specially instructive edition. It may however perhaps not be superfluous to justify the appearance of the new edition by a few words, although the editor’s intention can only be fully understood by a closer insight into his work itself. The need for an instructive edition of this kind has already been often felt. Ludwig Berger, who was born in 1777, and was Clementi’s pupil about 1806, thought it necessary to edit the first twelve studies with a more complete fingering; Julius Knorr, later on, did the whole work; and Louis Kohler quite recently published, as the opening number of his ‘Klassische Hochschule des Pianisten”, a selection of thirty studies with explanatory notes which are, to some extent, very useful. 

It is idle to criticise the above-mentioned editions, as the present one is only the outcome of the criticism of them. The old want remains indeed still unfulfilled: he who observes attentively the doings of the piano-playing world cannot help seeing how seldom, in proportion to its wide circulation, the real studying material contained in Cramer is exhaustively employed. A well-conceived and methodical use of this would, on the other hand, lay a firm foundation for the discipline of the virtuoso in the best sense of the word, and would in the end develop some amount of technical and intellectual maturity in the pupil. Yet with what superficiality, what thoughtless routine, do both teacher and taught generally proceed!  Either the teaching consists of a more or less pedantic “wading” through the first part, and possibly also the second, which is then naturally finished quicker; or else the entire 84 studies are taken one after an_other and literally scrambled through, with the unsatisfactory result that, in nine cases out of ten, the player who has gone through the 84 and is suddenly set down to No. 1 cannot play the first arpeggio common chord of C major rightly,—not to mention other surprises for the examiner!  The frequent practical failure of the study of Cramer’s work rests on causes which it is the aim of this edition to remove. Among these the first and foremost is the non-observance of a systematic order of succession; this, at least, has not been carried out by the author in a consistent manner.  Moreover, the English edition gives the studies in a different order from the German. The English edition, which was before us in our work, was indeed a copy in which there were Cramer’s own corrections made by himself; and this copy, which belongs to Herr Spitzweg, the present head of the firm of Aibl, was considered conclusive for the exact settlement of all indications of time and expression.  It contains also those sixteen additional studies, not very widely known, which appeared in Vienna (and were pirated in Hamburg), the chief object of which was apparently only to make up the formal number of 100: that they are not included in the present edition is therefore not due merely to their being private property. Our attempt to remedy this evil does not demand absolute concurrence, as individual considerations will always play a certain part in teaching, if the teacher does not do his work in a pedantic manner.

A further reason why Cramer’s studies have had, comparatively speaking, so little result is because of their superabundance. A similar consideration with regard to Clementi’s “Gradus ad Parnassum” induced Herr Carl Tausig (imperial Prussian Court - pianist) to bring out a selection from that work with valuable directions how to practise them properly. These were published by Bahn (Trautwein) in Berlin, and every intelligent pianoforte teacher is recommended to adopt them. Herr Tausig has with great tact cut out, for instance, those pieces which, although very valuable in themselves, arc written in strict contrapuntal style. The pianoforte fugues and canons of Clementi, far from being a suitable preparation for Bach’s “Wohltemperirtes Klavier”, would rather prove a drawback. To play Bach requires previous studies which must only be sought in other compositions of this master himself, possibly also in those of Handel (Note 1).

The author of this edition of Cramer has in like manner ruled the rejection of all those studies which do not pursue some definite technical aim. Possibly we may even be accused of not having carried this out sufficiently, and of having devoted too much space to the repetition of similar things. To this we might reply that practical experience has shown us the advantage of such various readings. Just as one must gain by perseverance a special technical facility, so the charm of a certain amount of variety in similar work acts with a stimulating and refreshing effect, and at the same time strengthens and advances the pupil, and is sometimes useful also as a test. After playing several exercises of the same sort the player should turn back again to the first of that particular kind.

With regard to some other studies, the technical aim of which is perhaps still more systematically developed in Clementi’s “Gradus”, but certainly in conjunction with greater difficulties, we may remark that in a regulated succession of studies for a complete education in pianoforte playing J. B. Cramer is the true precursor of Clementi.

It may perhaps not be unwelcome to pianoforte teachers if we take this opportunity to mention the sequence of technical studies which the editor has adopted in his own teaching. It includes all branches of studies, ranging from the beginner to the virtuoso.

As soon as the first rudiments have been learned, for which we warmly recommend the first part of the Lebert and Stark Pianoforte School (Stuttgart—Cotta, new edition) as the most solid help, the following may be taken:

I. a) The Studies of Aloys Schmitt, Op. 16 (Berlin—Simrock), besides the “Exercises préparatoires” which serve as an introduction to the first part;—to be practised in all the twelve keys. It is worth mentioning that Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, so eminent as a pianist, laid the foundation of his admirable technique with this work.
b)    To counterbalance the comparative dryness of Schmitt’s Studies, Stephen Heller’s Op. 45 may be also used at the same time.
II. (See Note 2) a) J. B. Cramer’s Studies.
b)    Stephen Heller’s Ops. 46, 47.
c)    C. Czerny’s “Daily Practice”; also his Studies entitled “The School of Legato and Staccato”, which, up to now, has been surprisingly undervalued.
III.    a) Clementi’s “Gradus ad Parnassum”, selected and edited by Carl Tausig.
b)    Moscheles’ Op. 70. 24 Studies: a work better known in north Germany than in south, and which unreservedly merits the title of “classical”.
IV.    a) Henselt’s Studies selected from Ops. 2
b)    Next to, and as a preparation for, these: Haberbier’s “Etudes-poésies” (Hamburg— Cranz); a kind of continuation of S. Heller.
c)    Selections from Moscheles’ Characteristic Studies, Op. 75.
V. Chopin’s Studies, Ops. 10 and 25; and together with them, certain Preludes from his Op. 28 which have a special technical aim.
VI.    Liszt’s 6 Etudes de Paganini (Leipzig—Breitkopf & Härtel).
3 Conzert-Etuden (Leipzig—Kistner).
12 grand “Etudes d’exécution transcendante” (Leipzig—Breitkopf &
VII.    a) Rubinstein: Selected Studies and Preludes.
b)    V. C. Alkan: Selection of 12 grand Studies (Paris—Richault), for the most part more difficult than any of the foregoing.

On entering the 3rd stage Theodor Kullak’s ‘School of Octave Playing” (in 3 parts —Berlin) should be taken in hand, and continued without haste but also without intermission. This is a most meritorious work, and in our opinion no other can take its place: it fully deserves the often misapplied title “l’indispensable du pianiste”. It would lead us too far to specify other useful studies of a subordinate character for special technical objects.

Finally there is a third point to adduce in justification of our instructive edition, which seems to us the most important of all. It refers to the fingering, which is indicated by the author as inconsistently as it is sparingly, and which needed both amplifying and altering in order to help the player to attain the technical end in view. To prevent misunderstanding we will explain more fully this apparently disrespectful reproach to J. B. Cramer. His active time came just at the boundary between the ancient and modern period of pianoforte playing. The modern period, keeping pace with the increasing improvement of the instrument and the increasing demands on the player, has in the course of time arrived at a system of fingering which is in many points diametrically opposed to the old style. Nowadays we note, as an essential mechanical hindrance in pianoforte playing, the inequality of the ground which the fingers have to traverse, owing to the difference in the black and white keys, and it is our chief aim to make the fingers independent of this inequality, and to enable them, by continued “gymnastic” practice, to play as lightly and freely, as safely and clearly, on the black keys as on the white, and to stumble at none of the many possible combinations of white and black keys. According to the editor’s opinion, which may perhaps be considered somewhat audacious, that fingering is the best which allows of transposing the same piece into any other key without mechanical preparation and without previous trouble of deliberation. A modern virtuoso of the right kind should be able to play Beethoven’s Op. 57, for example, just as well in F# minor as in F minor. A fingering intended to promote this must naturally overthrow all the rules of the old method; as it must be based simply and solely on a correct rendering of the musical phrase, without regard to the relation of black to white keys, or of the longer fingers to the shorter. But that old method appears chiefly to have aimed at evading the obstacles which threaten the immobility of the hand in the alternate use of the black and white keys, as it also ignored, among other things, the necessity for a different fingering for different kinds of touch, such as legato, staccato, &c. It further rejected the freedom of the thumb, which is indispensable for polyphonic playing and for avoiding difficulties in transposition, and naturally considered those composers the best, whose inspiration was always led by the outward vision of the twelve semitones of the octave on the keyboard as seven broad and flat keys with five small and raised keys. According to this idea Clementi’s Pianoforte Fugues might certainly have claimed an undoubted superiority over these of a J. S. Bach.

J. B. Cramer (born at Mannheim 1771, died in London 1858) certainly understood the necessity for breaking with that old method, far better than did his predecessor Clementi, (born at Rome 1752, died in England 1832), a more important representative artist, whose teaching Cramer enjoyed as a boy in Vienna from 1783 to 1784 only. In Cramer’s studies many traces of a reform in fingering are to be found, especially also in regard to the old restriction, already alluded to, about the employment of the thumb. But, as though alarmed at his own daring, and afraid to carry out his ideas in a consistent manner, and finally yielding to the tyranny of earlier-established custom, he frequently lapses into the old beaten track.

The editor of the present edition has thought it his duty to merge the composer who looked backwards in him who looks forwards; but he has never gone so far as to enforce another fingering for pieces in which the invention of passages seems to have been induced by practice in the old method. The Hummel Concertos, for instance, (we mean the original, and not their antiquated form) must be played with Hummel’s own fingering, which is satisfactorily pointed out in his “Pianoforte School”, without attempting either to simplify or to complicate according to modern ideas: this remark does not however altogether apply to the Mozart Concertos.

The instructive footnotes added to each study spare us the necessity of making a general explanation of things which will be duly pointed out in their own particular place in connection with their practical application. Yet we may remark by the way that, as regards the marks of dynamic expression, we have thought fit to enlarge on the somewhat sketchy indications given by the author, and similar help seemed requisite in the legato slurs and staccato dots. We have taken special care to make the text as clear as possible, and have adopted the modern principle of writing all the notes to be played by the right hand on the upper stave, and all the notes for the left on the lower stave, and also of avoiding the surplus of double lines in similar motion of two parts, and so on. With regard to the metronome signs, which have been copied exactly from the original, we cannot conceal that many of them appear to us exaggerated in speed, not merely as regards the pace for practising, but also for their tempo as a piece of music. It is possible that, as in the case of Beethoven and Schumann, the latter of whom used a defective “Mälzel” during the whole of one of his creative periods, the compass of J. B. Cramer’s metronome stood to our normal pyramid as Fahrenheit to Réaumur.

Regarding the life and works of Cramer particulars may be learned from Fétis’ “Biographic universelle”, second edition, 1866, Gassner’s “Universal - Lexikon der Tonkunst”, &c. C. F. Weitzmann’s “Geschichte des Klavierspiels” has already been referred to at the beginning of this Preface,. and we fully concur in what he there says about the relation Cramer bears to his predecessors and. successors.
Unfortunately we have not, in spite of many efforts, been able to ascertain anything certain as to the dates of the successive publication of Cramer’s Studies, the fixing of which would be of not merely historical interest. Part II was published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1810, (when was it published in England?) and in the notice of it in the “Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung” it was mentioned that Part I had already gone through five editions, and might be counted amongst the very best studies that had appeared in those last five years (from 1805 to 1810).


1 - Just as there used to be a Dante Faculty at Florence and other Itahan Universities (Bocaccio was the first occupant of this Professor’s chair), the members of which limited their philological activity solely to the enigmas of that great Sphinx, so in music-schools there might be a similar speciality made of the study of the giant spirit of Bach—the only one that can be compared with Dante. To play Bach’s Pianoforte works in a really finished manner is a task which, apart from the intellectual powers they demand, can only be expected fiom pianists who have gained a complete mastery of their subject, and who also, for example, no longer stammer over Beethoven’s latter P. F. Sonatas. Whither the attempts to assimilate Bach’s works lead, regarded from the standpoint of a special Pianoforte chair, is shown in the most startling manner in the celebrated Czerny edition of them, the transitory usefulness of which we do not dispute, but against the indiscriminate employment of which we must strongly warn our readers, if they would gain a true conception of Bach. The above remarks do not, however, imply that an insight, depending on individual data, into the playing of Bach (Inventions and Preludes) may not be begun at the same time as the study of Cramer.

2 - The two-part Canons (not exceeding the Compass of a fifth) by Conrad Max Kunz, Op. 14, which were published not long ago by the firm of Joseph Aibl, will prove, at this elementary stage, an excellent means of education in polyphonic playing and in the gradual furthering of the independence of the two hands.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Benjamin Godard

Several works by Godard are included in my piano channel - for the very good reason that he was an excellent composer.  I thought I would reproduce this interesting 1899 biography by Charles Leonard-Stuart (editor of 'Everybody's Cyclopaedia') that appears at the head of a Schirmer collection of 18 of his piano works:

"GODARD, BENJAMIN-LOUIS-PAUL, one of the most prolific of modern French composers, and a brilliant violinist, was born in Paris on the eighteenth of August, 1849. His father, a well-known and successful business man of Paris, possessed strong musical tastes, and his mother also was a talented musician. Irish blood flowed in Godard's veins, his great-grandmother having been an Irish lady.  From an early age he commenced the study of the violin under the direction of Richard Hammer, and at the age of nine he played in public. In 1863 he entered the Paris Conservatory as a pupil in Reber's harmony class, and also continued his violin studies under Vieuxtemps. One of his youthful ambitions was to become laureate of the Grand Prix de Rome, and he took part in the annual competitions of 1866 and 1867, but was unsuccessful. In the latter year he quitted the Conservatory, and thenceforward devoted himself to composition. An incentive to this course had been given him during two concert-tours he made through Germany with Vieuxtemps, while still a pupil of that eminent virtuoso. At sixteen he had published his first work, a Sonata for violin and piano. This was followed by a number of mélodies set to words of ancient classical poems, a  Berceuse, Je ne veux pas d'autres choses. Chanson de Florian, Ni- non, Viens, Automne, Chanson du Berger, Fille à la blonde chevelure, Suis-je belle?, Printemps, Menuet, Vaudeville, Chanson de Malherbe, J'ai perdu ma tourterelle, etc. Compositions for the pianoforte succeeded. Première Mazurka, Première Valse, and he became better known by a Violin Concerto and a.Concerto romantique, Op. 35 with orchestral accompaniment, performed at the Concerts Populaires by Mademoiselle Marie Tayau. The Prix Chartier for merit in the department of chamber-music was bestowed upon him by the Institut de France for a series of chamber works, violin sonatas, a trio for pianoforte, violin and violoncello, and quartets for stringed instruments. These compositions exhibited qualities of a more serious and highly develeloped character, which were further exemplified in his symphonies.  Amongst these may be mentioned Le Tasse (Tasso), Op. 39, a dramatic symphony with soli and chorus which was awarded the prize of the city of Paris in 1878, and the Symphonic orientale, Op. 84, performed under the personal conductorship of the composer at a Pasdeloup concert on the twenty-fourth of February, 1884. This consisted of five parts, Les Éléphants, Chinoiseries, Sarah la baigneuse, Le Rêve de la Nikia, et Marche turque, having for themes poems of Leconte de Lisle, Victor Hugo, and verses by the composer himself.

With his dramatic taste and symphonic aptitude, Godard subsequently turned to the theatre, and encount- ered the usual difficulties which beset most young composers. For years he essayed in vain to find a theatre in Paris to accept his principal works. He had already produced the one-act opera Les Bijoux de Jeannette at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in 1878, but he was compelled to seek a foreign stage for the production of his first important dramatic work. This was Pedro de Zalamea, an opera in four acts, to the libretto of Detroyat and P. A. Silvestre, produced at the Théâtre Royal, Antwerp, on the thirty-first of January, 1884.   For Jocelyn, an opera in four acts, to a libretto by P. A. Silvestre and Capoul, founded on a poem of Lamartine's, he again found a fatherland in Belgium, where it appeared on the twenty-fifth of February, 1888, at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels. It was transferred to the Théâtre du Château d'Eau, Paris, on the eighteenth of October following. Later, on May 28th, 1890, the French Institut awarded Godard the Prix Monbine of 3000 francs for this opera. He also received the decoration of Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. The first representation of Le Dante, a lyrical drama in four acts and six scenes, libretto by Edouard Blau, he succeeded in bringing out at the Opéra-Comique, Paris, on the twelfth of May, 1890, "mais il a tenu peu de temps l'affiche" (it figured but a short time on the notice board).

The future promised the brilliant harvest of a matured and ripened experience, but while in the plenitude of his powers, he contracted a serious malady of the lungs by passing suddenly from a heated atmosphere to a cold. Excessive bicycling, of which sport he was inordinately fond, aggravated the disease, which was accompanied by an irritating cough. Lingering consumption supervened, and in 1894, kv the advice of his physicians, he went to Cannes to seek the benefits of a southern climate. He was unmarried, and at the end of the year, his sister, who was nursing him, wrote: "No one can have any idea of the strength of will put forth by the sick man to finish his work. He says that in all his life he never had such a facility of musical writing. His Christmas effort was an additional solo, for which Eugère had expressed a wish." Although in failing health, he had worked indefatigably at his new opera La Vivandière. He completed the three acts, and had already sent in the orchestration of the first act, when, on the ninth of January, 1895, he died. 

Godard exhibited decided individuality in his works. At the same time, among native contemporaneous composers he was one of the most distinguished exponents of the high ideals and revolutionary orchestral methods of the modern French School, founded by Berlioz. Endowed with extraordinary facility of production, his talents were spread over a large area. He achieved great success in his choral writings, which were effective and brilliant. His dramatic poem Le Tasse, a work of considerable importance, reveals an undoubted personality. He was perhaps greater in small things than in large. There is an exquisite charm in his graceful songs, such as Ninon, and Te souviens-tu ?, while many of his pianoforte pieces possess a peculiar and distinctive fascination. His operas were less successful, but in his extremely clever chamber-music, such as the Concerto romantique for violin, the Symphonie legendaire, the piano trio among others, his talent found its highest expression. Besides the works already mentioned may be enumerated Les Guelfes (in MS.), Paris, 1888; Diane et Actéon, lyric scene; Symphonie gothique, op. 23; Symphonie legendaire (Le Châtelet, Paris, 1886-87), Scènes poétiques, suite for orchestra, op. 46; Solitude, for orchestra ; two valses for orchestra; pianoforte concerto with orchestra, op. 31 ; Introduction and Allegro, for orchestra, op. 49; two string-quartets, op. 33 and 37, two trios for pianoforte and strings, op. 72 ; four sonatas for pianoforte and violin, op. 1, 2, 9, 12; Légende et Scherzo for ditto, op, 3; 6 duettini for two violins with pianoforte, op. 18; Deux morceaux for violoncello with pianoforte, op. 36; Suite de trois morceaux for violin with pianoforte, op. 78; twenty-four Études artistiques for pianoforte ; Six Contes de la Veillée à quatre mains, op. 67; Nocturnes, op. 68; Premier Mai; Trois Scènes Italiennes, op. 126, and other pianoforte music and many songs."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Daniel Steibelt

I am including in my YouTube channel one or two pieces by the German pianist-composer Daniel Steibelt (1765?-1823).  I thought it would be interesting, to supplement the excellent Wiki page on him - by reproducing here the preface by the New York music critic W.J. Henderson (1855-1937) to an 1890s compilation of sonatinas and rondos.

"Daniel Steibelt was at one time regarded as a rival of Beethoven as composer and pianist. He was born in Berlin, but the date of his birth is uncertain. It is generally said that he was born in 1755 or 1756, but the French historian Fétis says he knew Steibelt to be 36 years old in 1801. It will readily be understood from this uncertainty as to the date of his birth that little is known about his early life. His musical gifts reached the ear of the Crown Prince Frederick William, who became his patron and placed him under the instruction of Kirnberger. There is no record of the length of time during which young Steibelt studied under Kirnberger, and nothing is known of any other instruction which he may have received at this period. His studies were interrupted by a term of service in the army, and in 1784 he left Berlin.

In 1788 he was in Munich, and in 1789 he gave concerts in Saxony and Hanover, in 1790 he took up his residence in Paris, where he made his advent as a matured composer and performer. Hermann was the popular pianist of the day, in the French capital, but Steibelt speedily displaced him. Hermann was an old-fashioned harpsichordist, but Steibelt, whose father was a piano-maker, thoroughly understood the resources of the instrument of his day and wrote for it accordingly in a style far in advance of that of Hermann. The newcomer was in a short time the reigning virtuoso.   But of course no composer could be regarded as great in Paris, unless he wrote for the stage. So Steibelt wrote a "Romeo et Juliette", which was produced at the Theatre Feydeau, Sept. 10, 1793. The work pleased the public, and it was successfully performed outside of France. 

Steibelt's position in Paris was now assured, and his pupils were numerous and of high social position. But he sold to Boyer, the publisher, as new works, some sonatas previously published in Berlin, and the discovery of the fraud made it necessary for him to leave Paris. In 1796 he went to London, where he wrote his third concerto, containing the once famous "storm rondo", and where he learned to prefer the English piano. In 1799 he returned to Germany, where he met with a warm reception. He challenged Beethoven to a public competition in playing, and met with a sound defeat. He returned to Paris in 1800, and procured the first performance there of Haydn's "Creation". He produced a ballet of his own, but he was not comfortable in Paris, and in 1802 went again to London. For six years he oscillated between the two cities, producing works for the stage and piano music, including the two concertos in E-flat and several of his best sonatas. He also published his Method and his " Etude", a collection of 50 studies, probably his best piano-works. In 1809 he went to St. Petersburg, where he wrote additional works for the stage, and his sixth, seventh, and eighth piano-concertos. He died, after a lingering illness, on Sept. 30, 1823.

Steibelt was unquestionably a remarkable man. He was arrogant, vain, affected, and even dishonest; yet his abilities were so great that he was welcomed everywhere. It is not at all surprising to find that the best qualities of his piano-playing were those dependent upon dash, vigor, and brilliancy. He was a dazzling performer; but it is beyond doubt that he was deficient in the deeper and subtler power of art. He seems to have been aware of his own weakness, and seldom played an adagio, and even more seldom wrote one. Most of his sonatas consist of an allegro and a rondo. When he does write an andante or adagio, it is usually very brief, and often constructed on the theme of some popular song of the day. In his sonatas for violin and piano the melodies of the slow movements are given to the violin, while the piano generally has a facile tremolo accompaniment. 

Indeed, the critics of the day censured him for excessive use of the tremolo. It may be added that his technic was not fully developed, his left hand being weak. Pedals were just coming into use, and Steibelt studied their effects, which he was prone to exaggerate. It is generally conceded, however, that despite all its faults, Steibelt's playing had a good deal of originality and was very influential with audiences. His writing follows the general bent of his inclinations as a performer. The decline of the popularity of his works is inevitably attributed to their lack of high organization. One searches in vain among Steibelt's sonatas and concertos for the compact, closely knit, intellectually developed structure conspicuous in all Beethoven's compositions. Steibelt had the fatal gift of facility.  Many of his movements show a fine gift for melody, but the bulk of his composition seems to have been the product of the fancy of the moment, and not the result of careful thought.

The critics of his day declared that the "Etude" was his best work, and this judgment seems to have been well grounded. It has been noted as an interesting fact, that Nos. 3 and 8 are a close approach to the style of Mendelssohn's " Lieder ohne Worte". Like almost all other composers, Steibelt has been accused of a lack of originality. It appears, however, that his modulations were much more free than those of his predecessors. He is credited with the invention of the tremolo for piano, which he used to excess. He also made very free use of the pizzicato in chamber-music. He showed some boldness for his day in his orchestral writing, and in his eighth piano concerto he introduces vocal parts.  All that he did, however, bears the stamp of superficial brilliancy. There is nothing profound or moving in Steibelt ; but he made some steps in the progress of piano-playing. He wrote 81 sonatas and sonatinas, 117 rondos, 8 concertos, and a large number of other compositions.
W. J. Henderson.