Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901)
Joseph Rheinberger was a German organist and composer who lived most of his life in Germany. He was a child prodigy and was already serving as the organist for his local parish church when he was only 7 years old. He also wrote his first composition at the age of 7 or 8. Rheinberger was very particular about the music he liked and the music he disliked. One day, people outside his church noticed smoke coming from the chimney of the church. They went inside the church and discovered Rheinberger tossing sheetmusic into the fireplace.
Rheinberger was a prolific composer. Today he is best known for his elaborate and challenging organ music. He composed 36 solo pieces, 22 trios, 20 sonatas, and several pieces for violin and organ which are quite beautiful. Here is the Praeludium from his Suite for Violin and Organ, Op.166 from a Naxos recording played by violinist Line Most and organist Marie Ziener. Enjoy!
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Frédéric Chopin was a Polish composer and piano virtuoso of the Romantic period who lived most of his life in Paris, France. When he was a young man, he left his native Poland to go to Paris. There he met many of the important artists, writers, and musicians of his day including Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Liszt. Chopin was one of the inventors of a new style of composition for the piano with singing melodies and ornamental flourishes. His melodies are beautiful and often contain a touch of melancholy. Chopin’s compositions are mostly for the solo piano, although he also wrote a cello sonata, two piano concertos, and a piano trio.
One of the first pianists to live long enough to be recorded was Vladimir de Pachmann. Vladimir de Pachmann (1848 – 1933) was a Russian/German pianist especially known for his performances of Chopin’s music. He also had an eccentric on-stage style. He was known for making gestures, muttering, and addressing the audience during his performances (even talking during some of his recordings). Vladimir de Pachmann was one of the top pianists of the 19th century. He died in 1933 at the age of 84.
Here is a recording of de Pachmann playing Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major, Op. 32, No. 1. The recording was made when Vladimir was 78 years old. Notice how expressive and elastic the playing is. This is a complete contrast to today’s pianists who are taught to play a piece in strict tempo without slowing down or speeding up too much during a piece. Enjoy!
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Franz Schubert was an Austrian composer. He composed piano sonatas, waltzes,various other dances, symphonies, string trios, piano trios, quartets, quintets, and more than 600 German Art Songs (or lieder). Today Schubert is known for his ‘Trout’ Quintet, his chamber music, and his more than 600 songs.
In 1826 Schubert was at Mr. Kupelweiser’s wedding. He played a waltz but never wrote it down. The waltz was passed down by ear for several generations. In the 20th century Richard Strauss (a friend of a distant relative of Kupelweiser) was asked to transcribe the waltz. He wrote down the melody and harmonized it adding a few of his own harmonic touches to the music.
Here is the ‘Kupelweiser’ waltz played by a pianist from a youtube recording. I don’t know the name of the pianist who is playing the waltz.
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
Frederic Chopin was a Polish composer and piano virtuoso. Chopin wrote almost all of his compositions for solo piano. He wrote concertos for piano, etudes, preludes, nocturnes, waltzes, impromptus and mazurkas, polonaises, and much more. Most of his music is simple in texture with an accompanied melody. His music is often very expressive and full of ornamental flourishes. There is always a slight melancholic emotion in Chopin’s music.
Jorge Bolet (1914-1990)
Jorge Bolet was a Cuban pianist that was born in America. Bolet has been described by many pianists as a great pianist. It took him a long time to get recognition as a pianist. It wasn’t until a recital at Carnegie Hall in 1974 that Bolet got major recognition. Bolet is especially known for his expressive interpretations of Franz Liszt’s piano music, but he recorded music by many other composers. Here is a recording of Chopin’s Nocturne op.15, no.2 played by Jorge Bolet. The playing is very expressive and full of emotion. He gets colors out of the piano that many pianists (including great pianists) don’t always get in their interpretations (for example Vladimir Horowitz). Jorge Bolet often performed on Baldwin pianos instead of Steinways.
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Franz Liszt was a Hungarian piano virtuoso and composer. He was one of the greatest pianists of the 19th century.
Liszt composed three pieces based on sonnets by Petrarch. The piece based on Petrarch’s 104th sonnet comes from a collection of pieces entitled “The Years of Pilgrimage.” The 104th sonnet by Petrarch is one of three sonnets that describe Petrarch’s love for a woman named Laura.
The pianist in the recording I have selected for this post is the Cuban-born pianist Jorge Bolet. Bolet is not as well known as other pianists, but I think he plays more expressively then a lot of other pianists. Listen to the the different tone colours Bolet gets out of the piano in this recording. Some of the famous pianists don’t even get close to the level of this interpretation. I hope that you enjoy the recording of this piece.
Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993)
Mieczyslaw Horszowski was a Polish-American pianist. He had one of the longest performing and teaching careers in history. As a pianist, Horszowski was known for producing an unforced, beautiful singing tone, and for his skill in balancing the intellectual and emotional qualities of the music he was playing.
His repertoire was very diverse and extensive. It included composers as diverse as Honegger, d’Indy, Martinu, Stravinsky, Szymanowski, Villa-Lobos, and of course Chopin.
Mieczyslaw Horszowski was also a very respected teacher. Anton Kuerti was one of Horszowski’s students. Horszowski taught piano until a week before he died at the age of 100.
When Horszowski was 97 years old he gave a solo piano recital at Carnegie Hall. Here is a clip of him playing a Chopin Nocturne and Etude from that Carnegie Hall recital. Enjoy!
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
A Russian 19th century composer. He is known today by lovers of classical music for works such as his Romeo and Juliet Overture, Violin Concerto, Piano Concerto no.1 in b flat minor, his six symphonies, the Waltz of the Flowers, and the music to the ballet Swan Lake.
Tchaikovsky wrote wonderful lyrical melodies and his music is often melancholy.
Here is a lullaby written for the piano played by the famous Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (the composer’s name is sometimes spelt with a v, but he preferred to spell it with two Fs). As a pianist, Rachmaninoff was renowned for his precision, rhythmic drive, legato (smooth playing), and the clarity of texture. Being a composer himself, Rachmaninoff had a real knack for figuring out what the composer was trying to say in his music. He learned a piece of music by deconstructing it note by note in order to figure out the phrasing of the melody (the contour of the melody) and how the piece fit together as a whole.
Here is a recording of a Tchaikovsky Lullaby transcribed by Sergei Rachmaninoff, and played by Rachamaninoff himself. Note that the recording quality is very good (Rachmaninoff lived from 1873-1943). Rachmaninoff made normal recordings and also recorded piano rolls. I think that this particular recording is a piano roll because the sound quality is extremely good and does not contain any pops or background noise. Enjoy!