total playing time 72:01
|"The real instrument of the Romantic era," wrote musicologist Alfred Einstein, "is the piano. [It is] the means of presenting the most intimate as well as the most brilliant display at home and in the concert hall." This album is made up entirely of masterpieces of Romantic piano music. All the composers were inspired to write this music in part through non-musical sources such as books, paintings or a person.
About the music:
Pictures at An Exhibition
August 1873 saw the unexpected death of the architect and painter Victor Hartmann, Modeste Mussorgsky's intimate friend. At the suggestion of the well-known music and art critic Vladimir Stassov, an exhibition of Hartmann's works was held the following year in memory of the artist. On visiting this exhibition, Mussorgsky was inspired to compose musical illustrations of some of the drawings and watercolors. The result was the cycle Pictures at an Exhibition for piano, consisting of ten pieces introduced by a promenade and connected by interludes. It had taken Mussorgsky about three weeks to compose.
A significant point is that Mussorgsky , rather than creating a musical fantasy based on a set of impressions or ideas, describes in his music the actual paintings themselves, and saves his moments of reflection for the various promenade sections. In "Bydlo", for instance, the alternating chords in the left hand suggest the rumbling of the approaching ox cart, while in the succeeding promenade the momentary burst of the "Unhatched Chicks" theme illustrates his surprise and delight as he suddenly alights upon the next picture. This strict realism is made quite evident by the fact that he even includes himself among the objects of his observation. Stassov wrote that the Promenade and the interludes show the composer "moving now to the left, now to the right, now wandering aimlessly, now eagerly making for one of the pictures."
1. Promenade - The first of several interludes which show the composer wandering through the exhibition and musing over the paintings. 2. "Gnomus" - A magical dwarf moving awkwardly on his crooked little legs. 3. Promenade 4. "Il Vecchio Castello" - An old castle with a troubadour singing in front of it. 5. Promenade 6. "Tuileries" - An avenue in the Tuleries garden filled with nurses and children arguing after play. 7. "Bydlo" - A Polish cart with huge rumbling wheels drawn by oxen. 8. Promenade 9. "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks" - A scene from the ballet "Tribly." 10. "Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle" - Two Polish Jews, one rich, the other poor. 11. Promenade 12. "Limoges" - Women quarreling at a busy marketplace in Limoges, France. 13. "Catacombae" - Hartmann with a lantern looking at the Parisian catacombs. 14. "Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua" An added note by Mussorgsky reads, "The latin text means 'with the dead in the language of the dead.' What does it mean? The creative spirit of the dead Hartmann leads me to the skulls and calls to them; they become softly lit." 15. "The Hut on Chickens Legs" A witch in Russian mythology, Baba Yaga, lives surrounded by a dark wood in a hut supported by chicken legs. She lures lost people into her hut and eats them. At night she flies through the air on a wooden motar which she propels with a pestle. The music's opening and closing sections depict the witch's ride while the central section is imbued with the mysterious atmosphere of the woods where the hut is. 16. "The Great Gates of Kiev" An architectural sketch for a gate which was to be built for the city of Kiev. The gate is designed in a massive old Russian style with a cupola shaped like a star helmet. Mussorgsky's music, in a final triumphant inversion of the promenade theme, evokes the pealing of the bells from the gate's chapel and the surrounding churches of Kiev.
Variations on a Theme of Paganini
Paganini was such a legend in Europe that it is hard to overestimate his fame. He was a dark mysterious figure who played the violin so strikingly that even serious-minded persons believed he was taught by the devil himself. It was thought that no human being could master such difficulties of execution. Many Romantic composers were inspired by Paganini including Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Schumann. Brahms designed his Paganini Variations primarily with virtuosity in mind. He wrote two books each with the theme followed by fourteen variations. The critic James Huneker wrote, "These diabolical variations, the last word in the technical literature of the piano, are also vast spiritual problems. To play them at all requires fingers of steel, a heart of burning lava, and the courage of a lion."
Vallée d'Obermann, Etienne de Senacour's novel Obermann, inspired Liszt in this lush meditation on the French author's deep mysticism. The piece begins in introspective solitude and despair, and from there runs the gamut of emotions. An accompanying citation from the novel reads, "The unspeakable sensitivity, charm, and torment of our vain years; vast consciousness of a nature everywhere overwhelming and everywhere impenetrable, universal passion, indifference, ripe wisdom, voluptuous abandon; all that a mortal heart can contain of desire and a profound sorrow, I felt them all, experienced them all that memorable night. I made a sinister step towards the age of enfeeblement; I devoured ten years of my life" (Obermann, Letter 4}
Recorded at Studio Works, North Stonington CT Autumn 1992 Robert Kelly, Recording Engineer