Audio sample: Ce jour-là, sous son ombrage, op 54 no 9
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Total time: 61 minutes 12 seconds
Sonata in A flat major op 72 no 2: Spring
1. Moderato espressivo (6’39”)
2. Am Waldbach: Romanze: Allegretto (4’26”)
3. Allegro vivace (4’53”)
Three Salon Pieces, op 21
4. Humoreske (7’25”)
5. Polonaise (5’53”)
6. Waltz (7’08”)
Twelve French Folk Songs, op 54
7. La bonne aventure (2’09”) 8. En revenant de Bâle en Suisse (00’55”) 9. Air de la pipe de tabac (1’17”) 10. Fournissez un canal au ruisseau (3’41”) 11. Eh! lon lon la, Landerinette! (2’38”) 12. Air de la ronde-de-camp de Grandpré (1’40”) 13. Une fille est un oiseau (1’14”) 14. La Vivandière (2’06”) 15. Ce jour-là, sous son ombrage (2’32”) 16. Le bruit des roulettes gâte tout (1’32”) 17. La marmotte a mal au pied (2’27”) 18. Epilogue: J’ai vu partout dans mes voyages (2’23”)
Our thanks to Peter Cook for supplying scores of these rare works.
Notes on the music
The Swiss composer Johann Carl Eschmann was born to a family of musicians in Zurich. He studied at the Leipzig Conservatoire between 1847 and 1849 with Mendelssohn, Moscheles and Gade, and thereafter pursued a career as composer and teacher initially in Kassel. From 1850-59 he taught in Winterthur but found competition with his friend Theodor Kirchner difficult, and between 1859-66 based himself in Schaffhausen. The latter year saw him return to Zurich where he spent the remainder of his days.
In 1871, Eschmann published his “Wegweiser durch die Klavierliteratur”, a graded survey of the piano repertoire suitable for teachers. This was republished in several editions, but by the tenth edition in 1925, Eschmann’s name as compiler and reference to all except his most basic didactic works had been entirely removed.
Eschmann was a reasonably prolific composer of piano and chamber music. His style is firmly in the mould of Mendelssohn and Schumann, and is concerned primarily with the expression of character and mood within well-defined structures. At the same time, some of his earlier works are more experimental and more technically varied that this would suggest, with some exploration of cyclical forms.
Eschmann knew Richard Wagner, and indeed Wagner referred to him on one occasion as a friend. There is a suggestion that Eschmann may have been involved in the first performance of the “Wesendonk-Lieder” and a copy of one of these songs exists with a dedication from Wagner to him. In his work “Richard Wagner’s Zurich: the muse of place”, Chris Walton suggests that Eschmann’s song “Mittags” may have provided Wagner with one of the themes from “Das Rheingold” (pp 141-148). Walton also provides much further information on Eschmann’s work. In July 1853, Liszt invited Eschmann and Kirchner to meet him at Wagner’s apartment and presumably to bring their latest compositions; unfortunately no details of the meeting have been recorded.
Later on, however, Eschmann developed an affinity with Brahms and became sharply critical of Wagner in his “100 Aphorisms” (1878). His output tended to become more conservative after his earlier works, and by and large he was content to compose within established boundaries rather than seeking to innovate, with many of his later piano pieces intended for pupils.
The cycle of four sonatas inspired by the seasons seems to have been written with able women pianists in mind, for although they contain some demanding passages, they carefully avoid the use of passages in octaves. Such music was a requirement of the period, since many women attained a high standard of piano playing while being unable to pursue a public concert career. Rather like Czerny before him, Eschmann writes in such a way as to make technical points while maintaining musical interest; the sonatas are attractive and confident in their compositional approach, with plenty of melodic inspiration and a lively spirit throughout.
The three salon pieces that form op 21 were dedicated to Eschmann’s teacher Alexander Muller in Zurich, and are more adventurous in their piano style, with something of the typically showy technique of the salon genre but at the same time a distinctive and rather subtle individuality, particularly in the opening Humoreske, whose slow introduction leads to a tarantella central section.
Transcriptions of folk songs are common in the Romantic era, but Eschmann’s set of twelve French songs treats the material in a characteristic and effective way that marks it out from the run of the mill. The set is designed to be played as a cycle, with plenty of contrast within and an effective Epilogue to round it off.