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Piano Music of Jakob Rosenhain (1813-94), vol. 2
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD96

Audio sample: Rosenhain: Romance, op 14 no. 4

Price: £13.99. Click the button below to purchase this CD securely online.

Total time: 61 minutes 46 seconds

1. Grand Caprice brillant, op. 23 (11’38’)
Deux Reveries, op. 26:
2. Andantino doloroso (10’06”) 3. Andantino con moto (10’43”)
Quatre Romances, op. 14:
4. Allegro non troppo (2’25”) 5. Andantino (5’26”) 6. Scene suisse au bord du lac de Genève (5’10”) 7. Andante espressivo (2’58”)
8. Etude op 17 no 6 – The Fisher’s Serenade (4’37”)
9. Etude op 17 no 8 – Lied (3’23”)
10. Etude op 17 no 11 – Con passione, tempo rubato (5’11”)

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.

Piano Music of Jakob Rosenhain (1813-94), vol. 1
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD95

Audio sample: Rosenhain: Romance, op 14 no. 4

Price: £13.99. Click the button below to purchase this CD securely online.

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.

The Circle of Brahms, vol. 6
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD94

Audio sample: Rudorff: Impromptu, op. 51

Price: £13.99. Click the button below to purchase this CD securely online.

Total time: 73 minutes 41 seconds

1. August Bungert (1845-1915): Aus meinem Wanderbuch: Unter Palmen (Bordighera), op. 53 no 1 (6’16”)
2. Bungert: Variations and Fugue on an original theme, op. 13 (29’47”)
3. Woldemar Bargiel (1828-97): Nachtstück, op. 2 (7’38”)
Bungert: Albumblätter: Characterstücke, op. 9 book II
4. Allegro moderato, op. 9 no. 4 (4’14”) 5. Andante, op. 9 no. 5 (2’17”) 6. Moderato, op. 9 no. 6 (2’39”)
7. Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900): Eight Variations, op. 3 (16’54”)
8. Ernst Rudorff (1840-1916): Impromptu, op. 51 (3’50”)

Our thanks to Dr Klaus Tischendorf and Peter Cook for supplying scores of these rare works.

The quintessential German Romantic, August Bungert, a pupil of Friedrich Kiel, came to the attention of Brahms when his Piano Quartet, op. 18, was awarded the Florentine Quartet Prize in 1877, the judges being Brahms and Robert Volkmann. This success proved extremely important for Bungert, since it provided him with the means to move to Italy, where he formed significant connexions with Verdi and Friedrich Nietzsche (who was his neighbour). Here also he met the Queen of Romania, known in artistic circles by the name Carmen Sylva, who became his patron, providing him with a Bechstein grand piano, a house, and organising a group of supporters known as the Bungert-Bund. In return, Bungert set many of her poems to music (composing some 362 songs in all), and also began to work on a series of epic operas. Although seen initially as an opposing pole to Wagner, Bungert became increasingly influenced by him, and his operas treat the world of Homer in the same way as Wagner’s own operas on mythic subjects.

Earlier on, it had been Brahms who had been Bungert’s stylistic model. His major set of Variations, op. 13, can be considered a response to Brahms’ own works in that form but attempts a more contemporary symphonic style, with many striking moments and a crowning fugue that is complex both technically and musically. The neglect of this work is difficult to understand; in post-war Germany Bungert was considered the inferior of Wagner, but nowadays we can see his work for its individual qualities rather than merely in comparison with others.

Woldemar Bargiel was not a prolific composer, but his works deserve greater attention than the almost complete neglect they fell into in the years immediately following his death. Similarly, if he is known at all these days, it is as the half-brother of Clara Schumann (as a result of her mother’s second marriage to music teacher Adolf Bargiel), with the implication that not only was the success of his career due to this connexion (which was undoubtedly the case) but also that such reputation that he enjoyed was merely the result of this nepotism (which was certainly not so).

Bargiel studied under Moscheles, Hauptmann, Rietz and Gade at the Leipzig Conservatoire (being noted among the younger generation in Schumann’s Neue Bahnen in 1853) and from 1859 took up a teaching position as a theorist at the conservatoire in Köln. 1866 saw him move to Rotterdam where he concentrated on conducting and musical direction, and 1874 (at the invitation of Joachim) back to Berlin (where he had taught privately throughout the 1850s) as professor of composition at the Royal Hochschule. He attained the peak of professional recognition as a senator of the Akademie der Künste, teaching up until his death at the age of sixty-nine.

Bargiel’s well-crafted and distinctive music enjoyed wide popularity during his lifetime. As well as piano music, he wrote a number of chamber works, songs, and orchestral pieces. His Notturnos date from 1853 and show a command of the Gothic style he had inherited from Schumann, but in the first, particularly, adding a rhetorical element that creates an individual impression.

Ernst Rudorff studied piano under Woldemar Bargiel and then entered the Leipzig Conservatoire under Moscheles, Plaidy and Rietz. He undertook further study with Hauptmann and Reinecke. Appointment as professor of piano at the Cologne Conservatoire in 1865 was followed by the senior piano position at the Berlin Hochschule between 1869 and his retirement in 1910. A prolific composer, arranger and editor, Rudorff was a friend of both Brahms and Joachim.

Heinrich von Herzogenberg studied composition under Dessoff and, influenced by his studies of Bach, became an ardent admirer of Brahms. He married one of Brahms’s piano pupils, and it is suggested by some that Brahms’s resentment of this union played a part in his generally curmudgeonly attitude towards Herzogenberg. In 1872, Herzogenberg moved to Leipzig where, along with Philip Spitta, he founded the Leipzig Bach-Verein, which did much to revive Bach’s cantatas. From 1885 he was professor of composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, and in his last years, although a Roman Catholic, composed extensively for the Lutheran church. Herzogenberg’s works include several important pieces for solo piano and piano four hands. His early Variations, op. 3, show an ambitious young composer with plenty to say, and suggest that he had absorbed much of the Brahmsian style.

The Circle of Brahms, vol. 5
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD93

Audio sample: Rudorff: Capriccio appassionato, op. 48

Price: £13.99. Click the button below to purchase this CD securely online.

Total time: 72 minutes 19 seconds

1. Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916): Variations in E flat major, op. 18 (15’59”)
2. Gernsheim: Variations in C minor, op. 22 (13’02”)
3. Gernsheim: Weihe der Nacht, op. 69 (4’04”)
4&5. Gernsheim: Fantasie (6’25”) und Fuge (8’26”), op. 76b
Ernst Rudorff (1840-1916): 3 Romanzen, op 48:
6. Andante con moto tranquillo (4’23”) 7. Allegro capriccioso (3’39”) 8. Larghetto – Allegro vivace (4’28”)
9. Rudorff: Variazioni capricciose, op 55 (6’35”)
10. Rudorff: Capriccio appassionato, op. 49 (5’11”)

Our thanks to Dr Klaus Tischendorf and Peter Cook for supplying scores of these rare works.

Friedrich Gernsheim was born of a Jewish family in Worms and studied there with Louis Liebe, who had been a pupil of Spohr. Following the 1848 revolutions, his father moved the family to Frankfurt, where he studied with Edward Rosenhain. His debut in 1850 was followed by two years of touring, before he undertook advanced studies with Moscheles. Between 1855-60 he was in Paris, where he met Lalo, Rossini and Saint-Saëns. In 1861 he succeeded Hermann Levi as music director in Saarbrücken, and in 1865 Hiller appointed him to the staff of the Cologne Conservatoire, where he taught Engelbert Humperdinck among others. In 1868 he met Brahms for the first time, and his compositions, which include four symphonies (the third based on the Jewish theme of the Song of Miriam), concertos and much chamber music, show a notable Brahmsian influence. He spent the years 1874-90 as director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Society, before joining the faculty of the Stern Conservatoire in Berlin, finally leaving to teach at the Academy of Arts in 1897, the year he was elected to the senate.

Gernsheim was a talented pianist and composer, and although it is not difficult to see elements of Brahms and Schumann in his work, there is also a personal voice that tends distinctly towards the melancholic. His sets of piano variations on original themes are inventive and ambitious, featuring intricate textural writing and some effective harmonic touches. His Fantasie und Fuge is a transcription of an organ work that begins in the traditional improvisatory style with abrupt contrasts of mood and tempo before building into a noble work that pays homage to the example of Bach. His poetic “Weihe der Nacht” is a transcription of a work originally for piano four hands.

Ernst Rudorff studied piano under Woldemar Bargiel (see previous RDR releases) and in 1859 entered the Leipzig Conservatoire where he studied under Moscheles, Plaidy and Rietz. He undertook further study with Hauptmann and Reinecke. Appointment as professor of piano at the Cologne Conservatoire in 1865 was followed by the senior piano position at the Berlin Hochschule between 1869 and his retirement in 1910. In 1867 he founded the Bach-Verein Köln and from 1880-90 was conductor of the Stern Gesangverein, succeeding Bruch.

A prolific composer, arranger and editor, Rudorff was a friend of both Brahms and Joachim. His original works include three symphonies, overtures, variations and serenades for orchestra, chamber music and vocal music both with orchestra and with piano. He was responsible for orchestrating Schubert’s four-hand Fantasy in F minor.

His compositional style owes something to Brahms but is also relatively forward-looking, at times approaching in its chromatic harmonic style such younger contemporaries as Dohnanyi. His music is characterized by a certain degree of vigour; the extended coda of his Variazioni capricciose being notable for its extroversion. Again, the Three Romances op. 48 might arouse expectations of tranquil works, but the second and third (after a slow introduction) are in fact highly active.

The Circle of Brahms, vol. 4
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD92

Audio sample: Reuss: Andante

Price: £13.99. Click the button below to purchase this CD securely online.

Total time: 70 minutes 35 seconds

Carl Georg Peter Grädener (1812-83): Piano Sonata in C minor, op. 28
1. Allegro molto e con brio (8’15”) 2. Grave assai lento (8’24”) 3. Scherzo finale molto vivace (7’21”)

Heinrich XXIV Prinz Reuss zu Köstritz (1855-1910)
4. Andante (5’01”)

Grädener: Fantastische Studien und Träumereien, op. 52, vol. 1
5. „Immer zu immer zu/Ohne Rast noch Ruh!” (3’52”) 6. Beschaulichkeit (2’58”) 7. Jüngling und Mädchen (3’35”) 8. Kampf, Entsagung, Kampf (4’06”) 9. Resignation (9’21”)

Gustav Nottebohm (1817-82): Six Romanesques, op. 2
10. Andantino (2’41”) 11. Allegro poco agitato (1’08”) 12. Andante cantabile (5’34”) 13. Allegro grazioso (2’00”) 14. Allegro (2’30”) 15. Allegro brioso (3’38”)

Our thanks to Dr Klaus Tischendorf and Peter Cook for supplying scores of these rare works.

Carl Grädener was born in Rostock and spent ten years as a cellist in Helsinki. He was then director of music at the Kiel Conservatoire for ten years, later teaching at the Vienna and Hamburg Conservatoires. His compositions include operas, symphonies and other large-scale works, as well as miniatures for piano and songs. His son Hermann also became a composer. His piano sonata op. 28 is a large-scale and ambitious work that has stylistic parallels with Brahms’ own early essays in the genre. Like Brahms, Grädener’s writing is tightly worked-out and highly pianistic, with a good deal of writing in double octaves and other virtuoso figurations. By contrast, the central slow movement is introverted and, while continuing the overall seriousness of the work, introduces a lyrical element that is otherwise absent. Grädener’s combination of scherzo and finale is an interesting innovation whose stormy character is fully in keeping with the Romanticism of his age without neglect of the essential backbone of Classical form.

Grädener’s first book of Fantastische Studien und Träumereien shows him to have been an effective scene-painter tending particularly towards the intense and dramatic, as in the first and fourth pieces. However, there is contrast here and the second piece, Beschaulichkeit (or Tranquillity) is full of bluff good humour of a slightly boisterous kind. The last of these studies, headed Resignation, is the most extended, with an agitated middle section leading to a long passage of repeated figuration for the left hand.

Martin Gustav Nottebohm is probably best known for his studies of Beethoven’s sketchbooks, but was also well regarded as a composer. After studies in Leipzig, where he met Mendelssohn and Schumann, he settled in Vienna in 1846. His first meeting with Brahms was in 1862 and the two men became close friends, with Brahms caring for Nottebohm in his last illness and making the arrangements for his funeral.

Nottebohm composed on a domestic scale, with most of his works for piano or chamber ensembles. His Variations on a Sarabande of J.S. Bach for piano duet was performed with Brahms as his duo partner. Brahms wrote in a letter to Heinrich von Herzogenberg (see earlier volumes of this series) that Nottebohm was among the modern practitioners of variation form.

Prince Heinrich XXIV Reuss zu Köstritz was born into the younger line of the Princely House of Reuss; his father was an amateur composer. He studied music at Dresden and then entered the Universities of Bonn and Leipzig where he studied with Wilhelm Rust. From 1881 he studied with Herzogenberg and through his good relations with Herzogenberg came to meet Brahms, who offered him some helpful advice on compositional matters.  As well as six symphonies, he wrote a quantity of chamber music, influenced in style by Herzogenberg and Mendelssohn. His works were admired by Reger and other contemporaries, but he fell from favour in the post-war years.

Piano Sonatas of Eduard Franck (1817-93) vol. 3
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD91

Audio sample: Klavierstuck, op. 62 no. 6

Price: £13.99. Click the button below to purchase this CD securely online.

Total time: 71 minutes 31 seconds

8 Klavierstücke, op. 62:

1. Allegretto (8’14”) 2. Allegro molto (3’41”) 3. Andante (4’25”) 4. Presto (2’54”) 5. Allegro appassionato (3’53”) 6. Andante (5’55”) 7. Allegretto (5’03”) 8. Vivace (3’45”)

Piano Sonata in F major, op. 44 no 3:

9. Allegro (10’44”) 10. Allegro (4’24”) 11. Andante – Più tranquillo (12’58”) 12. Allegro vivace (5’26”)

Our thanks to Paul and Andreas Feuchte for supplying scores of these rare works.

Eduard Franck was born in Silesia into a wealthy and cultured family that numbered Mendelssohn and Wagner among its acquaintances. He studied with Mendelssohn as a private student and then began a long career as a concert pianist and teacher. He was regarded as one of the leading pianists of his day and also as an outstanding teacher.

Franck was not forthcoming about his compositions, and failed to publish many of them until late in life. He was a perfectionist and would not release a work until he was absolutely satisfied that it met his standards. Yet what survives is extremely high in quality. Writing of his chamber music, Wilhelm Altmann said, “This excellent composer does not deserve the neglect with which he has been treated. He had a mastery of form and a lively imagination which is clearly reflected in the fine and attractive ideas one finds in his works.”

The Eight Piano Pieces op. 62 are among Franck’s last piano works and were first published posthumously in 1910 as a result of the efforts of Franck’s son Richard. They constitute a large-scale cycle varying greatly in mood and tempo, and with a notably more experimental approach than Franck’s earlier works.

The Piano Sonata in F major op 44 no 3 is the longest of Franck’s published piano sonatas, and although published in 1882  was very probably composed earlier than that date. The ‘Neue Zeitschrift für Musik” of 11 May 1883 reviewed the sonatas of op. 40 and op. 44 with the following words, “In all these works, a rich treasure of good German music is laid down. It is said of our time, that it brings forth no thorough Sonata, here we find a refutation of such a claim. Since Beethoven, only a few talented writers such as Ed. Franck have probably been called into existence. Almost all motives are created vividly before us and are well crafted. It is evident how versatile and diverse they are, especially from the fact that there is an underpinning of good counterpoint as if it were naturally present in the hands. Several of these [sonatas] deserve to be performed symphonically, because a dramatic element predominates in them. This Franck has always kept in mind, just as our classical piano masters treated their instruments, in so far as the piano is an orchestra.”

Piano Music of Algernon Ashton (1859-1937)
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD90

Audio sample: Toccata, op. 127 no 4

Price: £13.99. Click the button below to purchase this CD securely online.

Total time: 75 minutes 5 seconds

6 Pieces, op. 140
1. Rêverie (4’25”) 2. Capriccio (4’27”) 3. Scherzo (1’50”) 4. Ballade (5’40”) 5. Impromptu (2’48”) 6. Romance (6’01”)

3 Traumbilder, op. 83
7. Elegie (3’37”) 8. Intermezzo (2’30”) 9. Ballade (2’42”)

5 Piano Pieces, op. 127
10. Elegie (3’02”) 11. Humoreske (2’25”) 12. Romanze (5’38”) 13. Toccata (2’15”) 14. Berceuse (4’14”)

7 Pieces, op. 125
15. Capriccio (2’51”) 16. Idylle (3’41”) 17. Cavatine (3’13”) 18. Intermezzo (3’06”) 19. Silhouette (2’10”) 20. Nocturne (5’16”) 21. Impromptu (2’58”)

Our thanks to Peter Cook for supplying scores of these rare works.

While some aspects of Algernon Ashton’s life have been unearthed in recent years, and important releases on other labels have begun to reevaluate his piano works, much remains enigmatic. Born in Durham, where his father was a lay clerk at the cathedral, his family moved to Leipzig when Algernon was aged four. It was there that he completed his musical education, studying (on the recommendation of Moscheles) during 1875-79 at the Leipzig Conservatoire with Salamon Jadassohn, Carl Reinecke (see previous RDR releases) and Ernst Richter; this was followed by a year in Frankfurt with Raff and Iwan Knorr.

In 1882, his studies complete, Ashton returned to England, settling in London. Three years later, he was appointed professor of piano at the then newly-chartered Royal College of Music, where his pupils included William Yeates Hurlstone and William Alwyn. Here he remained for thirty-five years, retiring aged 60 but continuing to teach pupils privately.

Here the enigma of Ashton begins. Outwardly, his life would appear to have been one of steadfast teaching activity, doubtless enough for many of his contemporaries. But there were two other aspects to his output. One, the musical, consisted of an enormous output of published and unpublished works, many now lost, that came to include twenty-four piano sonatas and string quartets in all the keys, five symphonies, concerti for piano and violin and many piano works in shorter forms and songs. It is these latter that have mostly survived.  The other aspect of his work (which gives a clue to his personality and which brought him some measure of fame before the general public) was as a voluminous writer of letters to the newspapers, on a wide range of subjects from the profound to the trivial. He became known for correcting aspects of biographical information, and particularly matters concerning graves and cemeteries, on which his knowledge was encyclopaedic, and his letters were published in several anthologies.

Ashton seems to have been – rather like his predecessor Alkan, with whom he shares several traits – compulsively creative, even given the relative indifference of English public reception, such that he could only find a publisher in Germany. Music and written material poured from him at white heat, with most of his works dating from his first forty years. One might expect from this a degree of prolixity or trivial statement, but not a bit of it. Ashton is a highly original composer and as for the relatively small number of his works currently available to examine, there is not a dud among them.

Mentioning Alkan brings two notable qualities of Ashton’s music to the fore. One is its extreme technical difficulty. While Ashton is rarely entirely outlandish or exotic in his demands on the pianist, he is uniformly severe, with the writing often cruelly exposed and leaving nowhere to hide any deficiency. If he wrote for his own performance, as seems likely, he must have been a truly astonishing pianist on the level of his more famous contemporaries. The other quality is Ashton’s intense intellectual command of his material. Like Alkan, he is motivically obsessive at times (see the Silhouette from op 125 for a good example of how the same material can be viewed from slightly different angles), but Ashton is far more influenced by the musical language of Brahms and is thus more retrospective than forward-looking for his era. Yet his music is still as English-sounding as it could be, and the blandness of the titles that the shorter pieces bear is deceptive.

This retrospective trait combines with a set of characteristics that we would perhaps cite as a stereotype of Ashton’s northern stock. His music is tough, wiry, emotionally sincere and at times extremely pessimistic, and in its plainness of utterance lacks any hint of the cheapness or sentimentality sometimes associated with his era. This, perhaps, is the key to Ashton’s personality; that he was in essence an idealist and was unconcerned with any form of acclaim save on his own terms. Others such as Rutland Boughton and Harold Truscott have pleaded his case earnestly, noting that while wholly unacknowledged publically, his compositional style was in fact extremely influential. The works on this disc add to his known legacy and further support his claim to distinction.