Sunday, December 18, 2011

Herz - Piano Concerto No. 1

Henri Herz (1803 - 1888) was born in Vienna but lived most of his life in France. He was a virtuoso pianist and composer, one of the most popular composers of his day.  He published over 200 compositions, eight piano concertos, and the rest mostly for piano and sold more pieces than any other composer for a twelve year period in the 1820's and 1830's.

He was derided in his day by no less of a composer than Schumann for his shallow and showy style of playing and composing. As Herz was selling his music at as much as four times the price of other composers (including Schumann) there was no doubt a hint of jealousy and hurt pride in the criticism. Not that some of the criticism isn't warranted. Herz's music doesn't plumb the depths of emotion, nor is it overly serious. Herz was all about writing music to entertain, and he seems to have done that quite well for his era.

He was on a world tour in 1846-1850  that included South America, Mexico, Russia and was the first major pianist to tour the United States, traveling all the way to San Francisco. He wrote a book about his American tour, My Travels in America.  Between his compositions and his touring, Herz became a very rich man. He built a concert hall in Paris and started a piano manufacturing company.  Herz was also a private piano teacher and taught at the Paris Conservatory after his traveling virtuoso days were over.

Popularity can be a fleeting thing as Herz discovered. The man himself outlasted his music and when Herz died in 1888 his music had been relegated to the back shelf. It wasn't until fairly recently that Herz has been given his due as a composer.  He himself knew he wasn't a Schumann or Chopin, but he did know how to write music that is easy to listen to and enjoy.  And the solo parts of his piano concertos do show that he was a virtuoso with a fine, light touch and critics of his day (at least the ones without bias) also said as much.

The first piano concerto in A major, written in 1828, is  a typical example of Herz's composing style. The first movement has an orchestral exposition and the soloist enters with a flurry of notes. While this music may not challenge the listener, it most assuredly can impress with the virtuosity demanded from the soloist. The second movement is a slow melody first heard in the horns and then delicately picked up by the soloist. The third movement is full of yet more piano fireworks as Herz  sprays notes and runs all through the movement.

Herz - Piano Concerto No. 1

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