Piano Music of Jakob Rosenhain (1813-94), vol. 1
John Kersey, piano
Audio sample: Rosenhain: Romance, op 14 no. 4
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Total time: 60 minutes 47 seconds
Sonata in F minor, op 40:
1. Allegro con fuoco (8’13”) 2. Andantino (6’54”) 3. Scherzo – Allegro molto (4’16”) 4. Rondo – Presto (4’20”)
5. Slavonic Dance, op. 67 no. 1 (4’33”)
6. Poeme, op. 24 (11’52”)
Deux Morceaux de Salon, op. 28:
7. Nocturne (6’20”) 8. Rondo-valse (6’31”)
9. Grande valse de concert, op. 33 (7’43”)
Our thanks to Dr Klaus Tischendorf for supplying scores of these rare works.
The German-Jewish composer and pianist Jakob Rosenhain was born at Mannheim in 1813 and made his debut aged eleven. Piano studies with Jacob Schmitt in Mannheim and Schnyder von Wartensee in Frankfurt followed culminating in final studies with Kalliwoda. By 1832 he was settled in Frankfurt. He subsequently developed a concert career, appearing with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1837 season and also enjoying success with his one-act opera “Der Besuch im Irrenhauses” which was first given in Frankfurt in 1834 and afterwards taken up at Weimar under Hummel. However, he was unable to repeat the success of this work with his second opera, “Liswenna” (1835) even though he reworked this as “Le Demon de la Nuit” in 1851. From at least 1839 he was a friend of Mendelssohn, and also knew Hiller and Moscheles, with whom he stayed. From the autumn of 1837 he settled in Paris, where he worked on writing a school of piano playing with the well-known pedagogue John Baptist Cramer and gave chamber music evenings that were attended by such luminaries as Berlioz, Rossini and Cherubini. Continuing to hope for another operatic success, his third opera, “Volage et Jaloux” was given at Baden in 1863, but again failed to make the desired impression, and after this time Rosenhain concentrated on instrumental music. In 1870 the Franco-Prussian War forced him to relocate to Baden, where he had a villa. He received honours from Holland, France, Spain, Portugal and Baden and was elected an honorary member of the St Cecilia Society of Rome.
Rosenhain’s output includes three symphonies, one of which the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed in 1854. The second symphony, his op. 43, was performed by Mendelssohn in Leipzig in 1846; the first had been given by the same forces in 1840. There is a piano concerto in D minor, four piano trios, Lieder, and a quantity of solo piano music including three known sonatas, of which that recorded on RDR CD 95 is the first. Several works were reviewed by Schumann in his capacity as a critic.
The two disc set of piano works by Rosenhain comprising RDR CD 95 and 96 represents a cross-section of his output for which scores can be sourced at present. The F minor sonata is the largest-scale work here, and in the dramatic gestures and taut structure of its first movement suggests a composer of considerable accomplishment. After this, the other movements represent a significantly calmer and more optimistic outlook, with a scherzo that features bell-effects in its trio section and a rapid finale with something of a rustic character. Evidently, Rosenhain intended through this contrast to demonstrate his full range of expressive writing; at times he certainly recalls his contemporary Mendelssohn, particularly in the latter movements, but in the first movement there is a tougher quality to his gestures that suggests a more Beethovenian spirit.
The other works in extended forms are the Poeme, op. 24, the Two Reveries comprising op. 26 and the Grande Caprice brillant, op. 23. These are ambitious concert works that develop a subtle but individual voice, characterized by an able and varied approach to structure and a convincing handling of chromatic harmony. While there are demanding passages in some of Rosenhain’s music, particularly in the extrovert Grande Caprice brillant, he is not generally concerned with virtuoso display and adopts a more Chopinesque style in which the achievement of expressive effect is paramount.
Rosenhain’s Parisian world was one where the salon was central to the life of the pianist, and his shorter works, even where not explicitly designated as morceaux de salon, were likely intended for performance in these intimate, atmospheric surroundings before poets, artists and fellow musicians. The Quatre Romances are striking examples of this genre, with one of their number depicting a rustic scene at Lake Geneva, complete with alpine effects.
Rosenhain’s Etudes, op. 17, achieved recognition in his lifetime as worthy examples of the concert etude, and his Fisher’s Serenade was probably the best known of this set. Equally notable, however, is the etude op. 17 no 11, which is a passionate and effective study in octaves and chords.