I suspect that much
of Zemlinsky’s piano music will be unfamiliar
even to the more assiduous cultivators
of the fin de siècle Viennese
muse. It’s hard to think that anyone
hearing his Op.1 Ländliche Tänze
would possibly guess its composer from
the enjoyable, through impossibly derivative,
hints of mid-century worthies of the
pantheon. This was his first piece accorded
an opus number and dates from 1891.
The results are certainly pianistic
but the obvious echoes of Chopin in
the second and of Schumann in the third
show Zemlinsky trying on cloaks rather
than cutting some of his own cloth.
The salon certainly called in these
early works, though there’s lyric ease
in the fifth dance, a big, bold Brahmsian
nudge in the sixth and some attractive
metrical games in the tenth.
That he could spin
an affecting melodic line should come
as no surprise of course. He does it
with the simplest of means in the Schumannesquely
entitled Albumblatt but one should
really turn to a much more engaging
work, his Op.9 Fantasien über
Gedichte von Richard Dehmel for
evidence of bigger, more prescient things.
This is a four-movement work enshrining
Dehmel’s poems - and they’re little
poetic gems. The second alternates the
gravity of a simple chordal chorale
with more lyrically engaging material.
The last of the four has a brisk lightness
after the headier intensity of the third.
I appreciate it might have necessitated
another booklet page but Zemlinsky’s
writing certainly intrigued me enough
to want to read Dehmel’s poems. Dating
from 1892-3 the Ballads are appropriately
tensile and apt to burst into Romantic
life with a flourish. Certainly there’s
a strong Brahmsian lineage but there’s
enough Zemlinsky to keep the attention
firmly focused as well.
was a mime drama with piano accompaniment
for which Zemlinsky wrote the music
in 1901 though there was in the end
no performance. The piece itself lay
unperformed for many years, for most
of the century in fact, and whilst it’s
no masterpiece it’s a well-crafted,
rather roguish and melodramatic piece
of romantic writing – variational, light,
somewhat derivative but seemingly well
suited to its original function.
Silke Avenhaus never
does too much with these pieces, never
tries to over-inflate the rhetoric,
instead allowing them to find their
own level. She seems to have enjoyed
the more roguish elements of Ein
Lichtstrahl but her playing of the
Fantasien is especially noteworthy
– and fortunately she’s been accorded
a good acoustic in which to display
her sensitive musicianship.