Mendelssohn and Moscheles

Jonathan Bellman

Almost twenty months ago I wrote the blog Reconstructive Surgery, but did not divulge the piece to which I referred and on which I was working. The secret is now out, by way of the orchestra website, so you can see what I was referring to here. It is a concerted work: a prelude, theme, and variations on a popular Gypsy-style march of Carl Maria von Weber, jointly composed (on a very tight schedule), for a particular concert in 1833, by Felix Mendelssohn and Ignaz Moscheles. The re-premiere gig is 21 February 2009. Everyone is invited to Austin.

It’s interesting to read what I wrote earlier, because my understanding of the piece has changed. So it’s not, say, the Bach Chaconne or Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. It is expert as hell, though, and what’s more—more apparent as I practice it than when I was pushing notes around on paper—it is so grateful to play. Mendelssohn was 24, and Moscheles almost 40, and the piece feels gloriously exuberant. To practice it is to remember the pure joy of playing, of tearing off one’s childhood repertoire WAY too fast. It’s brilliant (stylistically it is the post-classical brilliant style, with fairly heavy doses of style hongrois), and while display-oriented it is eminently playable. So I think I’ve gained a greater appreciation of the piece; imagine two top players of the time (close pals; Moscheles’s son would be named Felix) writing, for themselves, music they would have a good time playing. To be honest, I like it better than I like Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto, which one hears fairly regularly, and this one deserves publication and a firm place in the repertoire (though the joint authorship is an interesting wrinkle). Art is all very well, but now let’s have a knees-up!

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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4 Responses to Mendelssohn and Moscheles

  1. Lisa Hirsch says:

    What a great project! Congratulations, and will be there be a broadcast or recording?
    I have some Moscheles on CD and like his music. I would be so happy if Moscheles and Hummel found a place in the concert repertory. They’re part of the great repertory gap of interesting and underplayed – or unknown – composers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. How are we supposed to understand Beethoven, Schubert, and the generation of 1830 without them?

  2. Jonathan says:

    Can’t really say about a broadcast; I’m not the Arrangements guy. Prof. J. Michael Cooper at Southwestern would be the person to ask. I completely agree with your comments about the generation of 1830—and there are some really good recordings now available.

  3. Marie says:

    Hey, I look away from the blog for a few days and suddenly everyone is into relatively obscure composers from the 1830/40s?! That’s great!
    If you like Moscheles, Mendelssohn, and Hummel, you should definitely look into Norbert Burgmüller (younger brother of one Friedrich Burgmüller who apparently wrote a lot of piano ephemera) and George Onslow. I’ve been plugging Onslow for a while now, and most people I know who’ve heard some of his chamber music are pleasantly surprised by how well-written it is. It also seems to be incredibly playable, to pick up Jonathan’s comment about how comfortable and fun this reconstructed piece is.
    Burgmüller was a contemporary of Schumann and Chopin (born, like them, in 1810), and Schumann lamented his early death with almost as much fervor as he did Schubert’s. Burgmüller’s quartets have been released in fine recordings by the Mannheim Quartet– the fourth is particularly good, IMHO.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Oh. Related to THAT Burgmüller? He of the Spinning Song in every Piano Anthology published before 1960?
    I wonder about cases like Norbert and Onslow–I don’t know their music as well as I hope to, when a certain promising young scholar starts talking more publically about them, but I don’t believe either was a pianist. Is that a bias in musical reception? The non-pianists seem to have been at a decided disadvantage.

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