Saturday, April 28, 2012

Kalkbrenner - Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor

Friedrich Kalkbrenner is a name that is run across whenever early 19th century pianists  are discussed. He was German, evidently a charismatic performer as well as a teacher, writer, and piano manufacturer. He lived most o f his life outside of Germany, in England and France. He wrote a method of piano playing that was popular until the end of the 19th century.

Chopin fell under his spell when he first came to Paris in 1830, and came close to taking lessons with him. Kalkbrenner told Chopin he would have to study with him for three years and give up performing during that time.  This and the fact that Mendelssohn told Chopin it would be a mistake to study with Kalkbrenner because he already played better than he did.

He was a child prodigy, playing a Haydn concerto by the time he was eight. He also could speak four languages by that time. He grew to be a very good businessman as well as musician, for he was one of the very few piano virtuoso of the time to amass a large fortune.  While in London  used a contraption called the chiroplast to restrict hand movements while practicing the piano, and although he didn't invent the machine his business sense helped him to market it and it became a popular item. He teamed up with the inventor of the machine and opened a piano school that utilized the machine.

He was on tour in 1823-1824 Austria and Germany and was wildly popular.  He settled in Paris in 1825 as a teacher and piano manufacturer. He was at the apex of his popularity about 1836, after which his fame slowly decreased. By then he was quite wealthy, and as he was known for his vain snobbery he entertained and moved in the higher circles of Parisian society until his death from cholera in 1849.

His first piano concerto, written 1823, is what you'd expect from a virtuoso. After a  long introduction by the orchestra, the soloist enters and plays almost without a break for the rest of the movement. Kalkbrenner pulls out every trick in the book of piano technique of the time. The movement is in the usual concerto form of the time, with the piano stating the material already played by the orchestra, and elaborating and expanding on it.

The second movement has the piano remaining in the spotlight as it plays the theme simply to start, then gets more and more elaborate against a gentle orchestral background.

The third movement is a sprightly rondo with theme thrown out by the piano against an orchestral wash of color. Once again, the piano part glistens and dazzles, with very little profundity.  This concerto is worth an occasional hearing just for the piano part's brilliance. But to me, all of the brilliance after awhile gets to be  like an extremely bright light: It may shed illumination on details in the beginning, but after awhile it gets harsh and annoying .

Kalkbrenner Piano Concertos

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