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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga


Ignace Moscheles

'... To satisfy the craving which I felt, when a boy of nine or ten years old [c 1803-04], at Prague, for the best musical productions of the time, I subscribed to a library which afforded me the compositions of Dussek, Steibelt, Woelffl, Kozeluch, and Eberl - works of no insurmountable difficulty to me; though, indeed, so far from mastering them, I only ran through them, without particular attention to finish, enjoying in each its particular style. I had been placed under the guidance and tuition of Dionysius Weber, the founder and present [1841] director of the Prague Musical Conservatory; and he, fearing that, in my eagerness to read new music, I might injure the systematic development of my Piano-forte playing, prohibited the library; and, in a plan for my musical education which he laid before my parents, made it an express condition, that for three years I should study no other authors but Mozart, Clementi and S. Bach. I must confess, however, that, in spite of such prohibitions, I visited the library, gaining access to it through my pocket-money. It was about this time that I learnt from some school-fellows that a young composer had appeared in Vienna, who wrote the oddest stuff possible - such as no one could either play or understand; crazy music, in opposition to all rule; and that this composer's name was Beethoven. On repairing to the library to satisfy my curiosity, I found there Beethoven's Sonate pathetique. This was in the year 1804. My pocket-money would not suffice for the purchase of it [2 florins], so I secretly copied it. The novelty of its style was so attractive to me, and I became so enthusiastic in my admiration of it, that I forgot myself so far as to mention my new acquisition to my master, who reminded me of his injunction, and warned me not to play or study any eccentric productions until I had based my style upon more solid models. Without, however, minding his injunctions, I seized upon the piano-forte works of Beethoven as they successively appeared, and in them found a solace and a delight such as no other composer afforded me.

In the year 1809 ... I chose Vienna for my residence to work out my future musical career. Above all, I longed to see and become acquainted with that man who had exercised so powerful an influence over my whole being; whom, though I scarcely understood, I blindly worshipped... In the year 1810 ... the longed-for opportunity presented itself. I happened to be one morning in the music-shop of Domenico Artaria ... when a man entered with short and hasty steps, and, gliding through the circle of ladies and professors assembled on business or talking over musical matters, without looking up, as though he wished to pass unnoticed, made his way direct for Artaria's private office at the bottom of the shop. Presently Artaria called me in, and said, "This is Beethoven!" and, to the composer, "This is the youth of whom I have just been speaking to you." Beethoven gave me a friendly nod, and said he had just heard a favourable account of me. To some modest and humble expressions which I stammered forth he made no reply, and seemed to wish to break off the conversation. I stole away with a greater longing for that which I had sought than I had felt before this meeting...

... I made up my mind that the more I was excluded from the private intercourse which I so earnestly coveted, the closer I would follow Beethoven in all the productions of his mind. I ... heard him play several times, which however he did but rarely, either in public or private. The productions which made the most lasting impression upon me, were his Fantasia with orchestral accompaniment and chorus [Op 80], and his [third] Concerto in C minor...

... [Beethoven] conquered, not by winning over his hearers to the soft Cantilena alone, but by speaking in sounds unearthly, thrilling, penetrating, filling the soul, and carrying along - not individuals, but cities - even the whole of Europe. As to the art of piano-forte playing, that too gained a new aspect under him; running passages were set aside; the Toccata style took unexpected forms in his hands. He introduced combinations of distant intervals, original in their very aspect, and heightened by peculiarities of rhythm and staccato's, absorbing in their sparkling brilliancy the Cantabile, to which they formed a glaring contrast. Unlike Steibelt, Dussek, and some of their cotemporaries [sic], in their endeavours to draw out the tone (filez le son), Beethoven would throw it out in detached notes, thus producing the effect of a fountain gushing forth and darting its spray on all sides, well contrasting with the melodious episodes which he still preserved... Let us ... bow to him, as the inventor, par excellence, of our era. The cotemporaries [sic] who vied with him at the beginning of the new century - Eberl, Haak, Hummel, Liste, Stadler, Tomaschek, Weyse and Woelffl; but he towered above them all ... We name Feska, Hummel, Onslow, Reicha, Ries, the two Rombergs, Spohr, C.M.v.Weber; and of a yet later date, Kuhlau, Tomaschek, and Worzischek: these have been joined in the last few years by Carl Czerny and Moscheles. Thus do we live in an era fertile in genius, fertile in productions - an era, regenerated by the master spirit - Beethoven!'

- Ignace Moscheles, Pianist to his Royal Highness Prince Albert,
3 Chester Place, Regent's Park, London, January 1841,
preface to the first English translation of Anton Schindler's The Life of Beethoven (Henry Colburn, Publisher, 13 Great Marlborough Street, London 1841)


The last Classicist

The German-Bohemian Ignace [Ignaz] Moscheles (1794-1870) lived in London from the mid-1820s to 1846, teaching piano at the Royal Academy of Music. As pianist, conductor ('at the piano' claims a late 19th century source, Myles Birket Foster) and composer (he wrote a symphony and eight concertos between 1819 and 1838), he was closely associated with the Philharmonic Society from 1821 to 1861, becoming co-director in 1832. In 1846 Mendelssohn, a close family friend, invited him to become first professor of piano at the recently founded Leipzig Conservatory. Here he remained for the rest of his life. An intellectual classicist fired by Beethoven, graced by romantically elegant bravura and bewitched by Schumannesque Geist, he was the Schnabel, the Arrau of his day. As pianist-turned-conductor, the Barenboim, the Ashkenazy, the Eschenbach. As teacher, the Godowsky, the Hofmann, the Lhevinne, the Goldenweiser...

'... a virtuoso who transcended virtuosity ... guided only by the nobility of his art ...' (Harold C. Schonberg), paternalistic, amiable and self-effacing, Moscheles edited Beethoven's piano concertos, piano trios, piano sonatas and piano variations, as well as the violin and cello sonatas. Under Beethoven's supervision ('he gave me many instructive hints, and even played to me such parts as he wished to have arranged in a particular manner for the piano-forte'), he famously undertook the first published vocal score and (textless) piano arrangement of Fidelio (Vienna, August 1814). He was just twenty. He also arranged the Egmont Overture for piano, violin, flute and cello (London, 1824). Later, around 1845/46, he published a first movement cadenza for Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, subsequently misattributed to Brahms. It was to Moscheles, March 18th 1827, that Beethoven, eight days before his death, sent a list of metronome marks relating to the Ninth Symphony.


Philharmonic Society appearances

Beethoven's music was the pillar of Moscheles's programming. In London for the Philharmonic Society Monday concerts at the King's Theatre (1832) and Hanover Square Rooms (1833-45) he conducted, chronologically:

Egmont Overture April 9th 1832; April 11th 1836; May 30th 1842; May 12th 1845
Violin Concerto April 9th 1832 , soloist: Edward Eliason
Symphony No 5 April 15th 1833
Symphony No 3 (Eroica) June 2nd 1834; April 22nd 1839; May 25th 1840
Fidelio Overture June 2nd 1834; June 17th 1839
Symphony No 4 April 27th 1835; June 18th 1838; June 17th 1839; July 7th 1846
Symphony No 9 April 17th 1837; April 23rd 1838; May 3rd 1841; April 24th 1843
Symphony No 7 March 23rd 1840
Symphony No 2 June 14th 1841; May 12th 1845
Choral Fantasia April 24th 1843, soloist Lucy Anderson, piano teacher to Queen Victoria
Symphony No 8 May 26th 1845
Symphony No 1 June 9th 1845
Overture in C (unspecified) June 23rd 1845
Fidelio, duet ‘Jetzt Alter’ June 9th 1845, soloists Johann Baptist Pischek and C.T. Oberhoffer

He appeared as soloist in:

Piano Concerto No 5 (Emperor) February 22nd 1836, conductor George Smart
Piano Concerto No 3 February 27th 1837, conductor Smart [his own first movement cadenza?]

And he accompanied:

Adelaide June 14th 1841, partnering Johanna S. Loewe;
June 23rd 1845, partnering Pischek


Thomas Alsager's private concerts,
Queen Square, London

Alsager of The Times, 'a complete fanatic in his Beethoven worship' Moscheles reminds us, was renowned for hosting ambitious private concerts 'in his large music room.' Moscheles was a favourite visitor, his appearances as conductor and pianist of striking historical importance, including performance of the 'colossal' Missa Solemnis (Christmas Eve 1832, the UK premiere no less), and the Sonatas Opp 109 and 111 (1833).


Queen Square. ~ Select Society.

Sunday March 9th 1845
1/2 past 2 o'clock
High Priest - M. Moscheles

Sonata No 2, Op 29 [sic: D minor, Op 31 No 2]
[thematic incipits of the three movements]
Sonata Op 90 [E minor]
[thematic incipits of the two movements]
Grand Sonata Op 106 [B flat, Hammerklavier]
[thematic incipits of the first three movements,
and of the introduction to the last]


At a SECOND OFFERING TO BEETHOVEN a month later (April 6th 1845), Moscheles programmed the two Op 14 Sonatas, the E flat Les adieux Op 81a, and the C minor, Op 111.


'Historical soirees'

Precursing the initiatives of Alkan, Anton Rubinstein and Busoni, Moscheles's 'historical soirees' were celebrated for championing baroque composers on the harpsichord - as well as presenting the best of the classics and the new: the first such event (February 1837) included Beethoven's 'intelligible' D minor and Les adieux Sonatas, together with music by Weber and Mendelssohn.


The Moscheles Tradition

Adored as teacher in London and Leipzig, Moscheles trained or guided a host of celebrated pianists - Thalberg, Litolff, Grieg, Marie Pleyel. From Edward Dannreuther through Harold Samuel to Howard Ferguson and Angus Morrison. From Joseffy through Rosenthal to Charles Rosen. From Michalowski through Neuhaus to Richter, Gilels and Lupu. His legacy coninues. 'As a pianist,' Dannreuther recorded, 'Moscheles was distinguished by a crisp and incisive touch, clear and precise phrasing and a pronounced preference for minute accentuation. He played octaves with stiff wrists and was chary in the use of the pedals.'

'The influx of pianists is as great as ever. I confess I am annoyed when such birds of passage come picking sentimentally at my Erard, or boldly smashing a chord or two. They show no curiosity to hear how I would play the poor thing. In fact, to them I am simply dead. They do not see that music is still to me as my own life blood, and while they are burying me, I am quietly feeding on the toccatas and fugues of old Bach; and the moderns, too, furnish an occasional meal.'

Copyright © Ates Orga, April 9th 1999

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