Sunday, 8 January 2012

Thalberg, 3 hand piano playing - Fantasia on Rossini's Moses

Thalberg 200th anniversary
Mention the name Thalberg, to just about anyone, and they'll probably say ThalWho? 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of Austrian composer and pianist Sigismond Thalberg's birth - January 8, 1812. Thalberg was a contemporary of Franz Liszt and even had a legendary piano duel with him. His playing was divisive, his technique and playing was admired by Mendelssohn but not so much by Schumann nor Chopin. Schumann even used the term 'a la Thalberg' do denote compositions with little musical depth. Storycompositions note the differences in taste perhaps between Thalberg and Chopin in this annecdote:
Chopin gave a recital of his own compositions in Paris, which Dreyshock attended in company with Thalberg. They listened with delight throughout the performance, but after the performance Thalberg began shouting at the top of his voice.
‘What’s the matter?’ asked Dreyshock, in astonishment.
‘Oh,’ explained Thalberg, ‘I’ve been listening to piano all the evening, and now, for the sake of contrast, I want a little forte.’(William Mason, Memories of a Musical Life, 1901)
Thalberg's Legacy - Operatic Transcriptions
Thalberg's piano compositions were played by American piano students in the 1840s. Thalberg's compositions, mainly in the form of operatic transcriptions survive today.

Chopin (middle) + pianists  (Paris circle) J. Rosenhain, T. v. Döhler, A. Dreyschock, Sigismond Thalberg, Pierre E. Wolff, Adolf v Henselt and F. Liszt. src [Chopin Museum]

In 2011, the 200th anniversary of Franz Liszt's birth, in addition to a Liszt recital, Liszt expert Dr. Kenneth Hamilton, author of After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance performed a recital in London's King's Place with the theme" How Sigismond Thalberg invented cocktail music: A Fantasy on Rossini’s Moses." [sheet music - IMSLP].  So let's here some of this light cocktail music, improvised and embellished 'hit tunes' of the romantic era.

 Thalberg's Fantasia on Rossini's Moses [Audio Only with Score]

Sigimond Thalberg, 3 handed piano player!
I'm sure many of you are familiar with Schubert's Impromptu in Gb, where the right hand produces an appegiated accompaniment to a melody with the pinky of the same hand, which sounds like two hands playing. Thalberg, I dare say, goes a step further, and plays appegios with both hands and melodies with both thumbs, therein creating an effect of three hands. You can hear this effect in the climax of Thalberg's Fantasia on Rossini's Moses. Just listen from time index 2:20 in part 2, and you can see on the score this fantastic technical and musical feat! Surrounding the theme with elaborate scales and appegios was a 'trick' Thalberg got from Parish Alvars, a famous harpist at the time, writes Moriz Rosenthal, In Words and Music.

  Thalberg's Fantasia on Rossini's Moses Part 2 [Audio Only with Score]

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