Sunday, December 18, 2011

Moscheles - Piano Concerto No. 7 ' Pathétique '

Ignaz Moscheles (1794 - 1870) was a Bohemian composer and pianist. He was born in Prague and showed a remarkable musical aptitude early on. Upon the death of his father he moved to Vienna in 1808 where he completed his studies and became a well-known pianist around town. He developed a long-lasting relationship with his idol Beethoven and was given the task of creating a piano reduction of Beethoven's opera Fidelio.  Moscheles remained lifetime friends with Beethoven and championed his music. He became friends (and rivals) with the other piano virtuosos in Vienna at the time. Moscheles also acted as an intermediary for the Royal Philharmonic Society and Beethoven. He got the society to send Beethoven some much-needed funds and to commission a symphony for them, but Beethoven died before he finished the commission.

He embarked on a European concert tour and especially enjoyed his stay in London in 1822.  He accepted an invitation from Abraham Mendelssohn Bartholdy in Berlin to give his two children, Felix and Fanny, music lessons. He was quite taken with the children, especially Felix and was instrumental in getting Felix his first exposure in London in 1829.  He said of Felix shortly after he began to teach him:

"This afternoon... I gave Felix Mendelssohn his first lesson, without losing sight for a moment of the fact that I was sitting next to a master, not a pupil."

He remained friends with Mendelssohn and taught at the Leipzig Conservatory Mendelssohn had founded. After Mendelssohn's death in 1847 he took over as leader of the Conservatory.  While Moscheles was not close to Wagner because of Wagner's attack on Mendelssohn in a pamphlet titled "Jewry in Music", (Moscheles was also Jewish) he was on friendly terms with Liszt and Berlioz, even though he had little understanding of their compositions. His own later compositions were looked upon as old-fashioned in their time, as was his method of piano playing. He was of the old school that used primarily finger work and very little body or arm weight to play, and he disliked the increased use of the pedals.

He composed 142 opus numbers, and had written pieces in most forms that were popular in  the early 19th century. He wrote eight piano concertos, with the seventh being subtitled 'Pathétique'.  It was premiered in 1835 in Leipzig. The first movement opens with an ominous bass. The piano and orchestra play off each other and key changes create a blurred kind of sonata form in which we're not sure what section we're in sometimes. The second movement is a combination scherzo-slow movement which leads to the final movement which is thematically related to the second.

Moscheles shows a mastery of orchestration and solo piano writing in this concerto that can once again be appreciated without being called old-fashioned. It is a product of its times to be sure, but there is no longer the  great divide in music as there was in the middle and late 19th century, where composers, critics and listeners were often part of a traditional conservative camp or a modern progressive camp. We can enjoy Moscheles' music for what it is; well-constructed, interesting and beautiful.

Moscheles - Piano Concerto No. 7 ' Pathétique '

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