The only piano piece for which Felix Mikhailovich Blumenfeld (1883-1931)
is remembered today, is the well-known Etude for the left hand, Op. 36 which
is occasionally played as an encore and is still in print. But what sort
of music did he write for two hands? This piqued my curiosity and I decided
to try and track down more of his music. It was not an easy task.
Blumenfeld, like many of the Russian composers for the piano of the late
19th and early 20th century, such as Antipov, Bortkiewicz, Cui, Kopylov,
Pachulski, Wihtol and others, has fallen into undeserved obscurity. The scores
of his piano music, which run into more than 50 opus numbers, are no longer
in print and not easily available, which is one of the reasons why he is
rarely recorded. And yet he wrote beautifully for the piano, with a rare
understanding of the capabilities of the instrument.
Of Polish descent, he was born in Kovalovka, Ukraine in 1863 into a musical
family. Both his older brothers Stanislaus (1850-97) and Sigismund (1852-1920)
were also accomplished musicians. Displaying an early interest in music,
he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory and studied composition under
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and piano with Alexander Stein. Immediately after
his graduation in 1885 he taught there, being appointed a professor in 1897.
In 1905 he resigned in protest at the dismissal of Rimsky-Korsakov from the
Conservatory during the 1905 uprising, and took on the post of conductor
of the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.
He went back to the Conservatory in 1912 and continued teaching there till
1918. Blumenfeld was a handsome man and a great skirt-chaser and it is not
surprising that during this period he contracted syphilis which left him
partially paralysed, so that he could no longer perform as a virtuoso.
Nevertheless he was accepted as a professor of piano at the Kiev Conservatory
and taught there until 1922. Amongst his pupils was Vladimir Horowitz who
went on to greater fame but showed little gratitude to his teacher. There
is no recording of Horowitz playing any piece by Blumenfeld, though the composer
dedicated his Opus 52 to his thankless student. In 1922 he moved on to the
Moscow Conservatory where he was a professor until his death in 1931.
Blumenfeld was well known as a conductor of operatic and symphonic music
and in addition to premiering several of Rimsky-Korsakov's operas, he gave
the first performance in Russia of Scriabin's Third Symphony, "The Divine
Poem" in 1906 and also conducted "The Poem of Ecstasy" in 1907. He himself
composed a symphony titled "A la memoire des chers defuncts", Op. 39, as
well as a string quartet, but the bulk of his compositions were for the piano,
most of which I have listed below.
It is surprising to find that Blumenfeld's music is rarely played considering
how well written it is by a master of the piano, who exploited the capabilities
of the instrument fully. It may be that most of his piano compositions require
a fairly advanced technique to play successfully. Just as in the case of
Liszt, very little of what he wrote can be described as "easy" and the average
pianist might not feel comfortable with his music initially. But this feeling
lasts only for a short time as one realizes the pianistic quality of Blumenfeld's
music and its captivating melodies.
It is easy to discern the influence of the great romanticists like Chopin,
Liszt and early Scriabin in his piano writing. At the same time one must
admire his originality and his invention even in his shorter works. The set
of the 24 Preludes, Op. 17 can easily stand comparison with the 24 Preludes,
Op. 28 of Chopin and it is hard to understand why they are not performed
as often as Chopin's. © Bhagwan N Thadani
WORKS FOR SOLO PIANO
Below you'll find a fuller listing of Blumenfeld's oeuvre with dates of
publication which I have checked with the scores in my collection. In many
cases, the cover page was missing or had no date on it so that I am unable
to fix the time of publication. A little interpolation may be necessary.
I have 20 of van Dalen's autographs with me, dated 1962-65, obviously composed
when van Dalen was an old man. He may have thought he was composing something
when in reality he was transcribing the works of Bortkiewicz, or Blumenfeld.
Nowadays we'd call that "plagiarism" No wonder he never sent any of his
compositions to Bortkiwiecz, though Bortkiewicz repeatedly requested him
to do so.
WORKS FOR SOLO PIANO
2 4 Morceaux (1883)
3 3 Etudes (1885)
4 Valse-Etude (1887)
6 2 Nocturnes (1887)
7 Allegro de Concert avec orchestre ( 1888)
8 Variations caractéristiques (1888)
12 4 Préludes (1888)
13 2 Impromptus
14 Surmer. Etude
16 Valse impromptu (1892)
17 24 Préludes (1892)
20 Nocturne Fantaisie (1895)
21 3 Morceaux
22 2 Morceaux
23 Suite Polonaise
24 Etude de concert
25 2 Etudes-Fantaisies
27 10 Moments lyriques (1898)
29 2 Etudes
31 2nd Suite polonaise
32 Suite lyrique (1902)
33 2 Fragments caractéristiques (1902)
34 Ballade (en forme de variations) (1903)
35 3 Mazurkas (1903)
36 Etude pour la main gauche (1905)
37 2 Morceaux (1905)
38 Près de l'eau. 6 Morceaux (1906)
40 Cloches. Suite (1909)
44 4 Etudes (1912)
45 2 Impromptus (1913)
46 Sonata-Fantaisie (1913)
50 Deux moments dramatiques
51 Trois Nocturnes
52 Episodes dans la vie d'une danseuse
53 Zwei Klavierstücke
Most of Blumenfeld's works were published by M.P. Belaieff in Leipzig. Op.
52, 53 and 54 by Universal Edition in Vienna. Blumenfeld composed only a
few large scale works for the piano: the Allegro de Concert, Op. 7, Variations
caractéristiques, Op. 8, the Ballade, Op. 34 again in the form of
variations, and the last great three-movement Sonate-Fantaisie, Op. 46, composed
in 1913 and dedicated to Nicolas Terechtchenko.. He seems to have been unsure
of the title because the first page bears the different caption Sonata-Fantasia
and the metronome marking is missing.
1. Bowers, F., Scriabin, Kodansha International, 1969.
2. Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya.
3. Plaskin, G. Horowitz- A Biography.
4. Asafyev, B. Russkaya Muzyka, Leningrad, 1968