Piano concertos almost forgotten


This site was set up originally for matters concerning our book on singing and discussing vocal music, but things have been slightly changing all through our lives. Having listened to a lot of classical music over half a century, I’ve got used to looking for new recordings of well-known music and also new music, about which the Hungarian classical radio channel, Bartók Rádió, has always been very good. However, living away from Hungary for years now, I feel that what sources I’ve amassed is not enough, and, not having access to a radio, listening to the Dutch classical television channel is completely dissatisfying. What can I do?

Dissatisfaction seems to be a great way to find new things. When I discussed the apparent lack of serious Dutch musicians and composers compared to other small nations (where is the Dutch Liszt, or Grieg, or Sibelius?) with a friend, he mentioned a name as that of a Dutch composer, which for me was familiar from the sciences. Röntgen. But this was Julius Röntgen, I was informed and given the suggestion of listening to his piano concertos. Which can be done on YouTube. Brilliant.

Röntgen turned out to be a German composer, pianist and teacher who moved to Amsterdam after 26 years, did a lot for Dutch music, and can be partially regarded as Dutch, as much as Händel is English, I think. But the music he composed is very well worth a couple of listenings.

From that point, I went about this great site looking out again for new music, this time for names I hardly ever heard. It’s easy as one name leads to several similar, but different pieces, composers and performers randomly. I’ve listened to music by Moszkowski, Clara Schumann, or Arnesky and a few others earlier for that matter, but I’ve never heard the concertos that I started to be enthusiastic about now. Most people don’t ever hear names like Balakirev, let alone Sergei Bortkiewicz, Kalkbrenner, or Ludwig Thuille, and not only because most people listen only to pop, rock, or jazz and the like. But this piece, by Moszkowski, for one, may be considered by many as entertaining as anything in music:

I believe that the very academia that lifts Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, or Tsaikovsky to the concert podiums is the cause of neglecting other music, mostly without reasons. How can there be reasons in matters aesthetic in the first place? The only reasonable reason can be found in accessibility, and that’s where academia is in serious arrears. But how could it be otherwise? One reads, looks at and listens to art first as a result of the influences from school and family, the latter being even more confined than the first. But school can’t provide everything either, what with time and curricular constraints, individual interests of teachers and our own modern tendencies and resistances. The teacher herself/himself is also the ‘product’ of education, with the same constraints. When one has to wrestle with the greatest works first, there is hardly any more time for ‘lesser’ ones. Then we run out of time, start a career with what we have learned and only rarely have the time or urge to do further research on the personal level. We’ve read War and Peace, Hamlet, Don Quixote, or A Hundred Years in Solitude, Die Erlkönig, but how about Michel Tournier’s The Erl-King? We run into a wall of the academically promoted mass of knowledge. What is not documented well and cross-referenced at least a few times, what has rarely, if ever, been published is almost forgotten and, in the case of music, can no longer be heard. A case in point may be Bortkiewicz’s second piano concerto, which was composed for the left hand of the same pianist for whom Ravel’s famous piece was composed, but this piece has been mostly forgotten as the composer’s name was not Ravel:

Another reason could be that a performer today has to try to stand out either as a modernist who takes up the latest, or almost very latest pieces (seen enough promoted on TV) that very few people would be willing or hardy enough to sit out, or as an outstanding classicist who performs the same great masterworks, hopefully with some new colours and feelings added. The first case would be very tedious, the second could also become tedious for the audience.

Enter the internet and YouTube. Of course, there always are and probably remain copyright problems, but we have to face the fact that without the net, we would have next to a snowball’s chance in hell to listen to these composers. If ever. And even less likely every day. We would need a ten-volume lexicon even to discover names like I mentioned above if we have the time to open such work to begin with. But if the (not always outstanding) musicians willing to play the music live, once in a life-time, do not come in our neighbourhood, and if we say, OK, I have absolutely no idea who Paul Pabst, Hanns Wolf, or Ignacy Paderewski was, so I’ll miss that concert tomorrow evening … , well, in that case we’ll die without ever hearing that music. This music. Because now we can embrace this possibility and learn not only that Paderewski was the first prime minister of the newly independent Poland for a short time in 1919 (like the famed writer Havel a president for the Czech recently), or an exceedingly popular pianist, but also a composer of good, or shall we say? excellent music:

This is enough of me. Below, please find links to those piano concertos I’ve found exceedingly interesting and beautiful over the last few weeks. They are almost exclusively 19th century music, or from the late romantics, the romantic period being my favourite. From each link, you can also find other links to other pieces of the same composers or to other composers, as usual. I’d particularly recommend following links to various compositions of Julius Röntgen, Moszkowsk, Balakirev, and Clara Schumann, but here I start with a link to Bortkiewicz’s 3rd Piano Concerto, a very serious one, but one of my greatest personal favourites:

However, because of the varying quality of the original recordings and the unfortunate limits of computer loudspeakers, I’d recommend any listening with outside loudspeakers attached.

Of course all my guests on these pages are more than welcome to comment on the pieces here or on the original sites. Have a swell time!

The following Moszkowski concerto comes in three pieces, not in one video:

One piece that may have served Chopin as a pattern to be followed:

And finally, now, a surprise by Marx:

By P. S. and S.Z.J.

p.s.: Apologies for those pieces that have since been taken down by youtube.

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