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Ignaz Moscheles and the Changing World of Musical Europe
by Mark Kroll
Published 2014
Hardback, 410 pages
ISBN: 978 1 84383 935 4
The Boydell Press

Since first understanding that Ignaz Moscheles spent much of his career in the United Kingdom, I have regarded him as an honorary British composer. Other contenders for this title are Felix Mendelssohn, J.C. Bach, Muzio Clementi, Johann Baptist Cramer and George Frideric Handel. This is not to deny their respective nationalities: only to point out the major contribution these men made to British musical life.

In recent years Moscheles has had something of a mini-revival. The first intimation was back in 1970 when Vox Records released Michel Ponti’s performance of the Piano Concerto on G minor, op.58 coupled with a selection of Studies. Over the following years there has been a steady trickle of CDs featuring mainly piano but also some chamber music. In 2000 the Zephyr label announced the first volume of the complete piano concertos, played and conducted by Ian Hobson. Three years later Howard Shelley began another cycle for the Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto project (1/6/7, 2/3, 4/5). This featured all seven extant concertos as well as the two fantasias Anticipations of Scotland and the Recollections of Ireland. In 2003 Piers Lane recorded the Complete Concert Studies on Hyperion Helios (CDH55387).

During this period, there has been little literature produced concerning Moscheles. Listeners and historians have had to rely on articles in Grove, the standard histories of the period and contemporary biographies and memoirs of some of the key players in his story. There were a number of books published in the Victorian period which provided ‘primary’ source material. Charlotte Moscheles’ Recent Music and Musicians As Described in the Diaries and Correspondence of Ignaz Moscheles, Edited by his Wife. Adapted from the Original German by A.D. Coleridge. (1873) was the first book to examine the composer’s life and times. During 1888 the Letters of Felix Mendelssohn to Ignaz and Charlotte Moscheles were published in London by the composer’s son, Felix Moscheles (1833-1917). Felix also published Fragments of an Autobiography (1899) and In Bohemia with Du Maurier (1897) which provided material about the composer.

In 1989 Emil F. Smidak issued Isaak-Ignaz Moscheles: The Life of the Composer and His Encounters with Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin and Mendelssohn. This consisted of extracts from the diaries and letters and a catalogue of works.

There are also a few theses such as John Michael Beck’s Moscheles Re-examined (1986) and Carolyn Denton Gresham’s Ignaz Moscheles: An Illustrious Musician in the Nineteenth Century (1980). Copious reviews of Moscheles’ concerts are found in contemporary newspapers and journals.

Ignaz Moscheles and the Changing World of Musical Europe by Mark Kroll is the first full-length examination of the composer to be published.

A short sketch of the composer’s life will be helpful. Ignaz Moscheles was born on 23 May 1794 in Prague to a family of Jewish merchants. He attended the Prague Conservatory between 1804 and 1806 with the composer and musicologist Bedřich Diviš Weber (1766-1842). Further studies were made with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736-1809) and Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) in Vienna. One of his earliest achievements was creating the piano score of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, under supervision from the senior composer. There followed a ten year period of European tours which included London in 1822 and 1823. In 1824 he gave piano lessons to Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn.

In 1826 Moscheles made the United Kingdom his home until his appointment as professor of piano at the newly-founded Leipzig Conservatory in 1846. He remained in this post until his death, aged 75, on 10 March 1870.

In London, he led a busy life composing, conducting, playing and teaching. He gave the London premiere of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in 1832 and the first ‘successful’ British performance of Symphony No.9 at a Philharmonic concert in 1837.

His catalogue is extensive: there are eight piano concertos (No.8 piano part only), a symphony and much chamber music. Works for the piano feature a number of sonatas, many pedagogical studies and a wide range of variations, fantasies and pot-pourris of national airs. In 1841 Moscheles published an English translation of Schindler’s biography of Beethoven.

The present volume is not just a biography. It is also an investigation into certain critical historical events and periods relative to the composer. The book opens with three major chapters describing Moscheles’ life and times. It is a ‘story of a life well-lived’ which traces the journey from middle class Jewish family to ‘one of the most beloved, revered and influential pianists of the nineteenth century.’ Of especial interest is Chapter 2 which explores the 21 years that he spent in London. Mark Kroll examines all the facets of Moscheles’ career: conductor, pedagogue, composer and pianist.

The ‘second-half’ of the book is really a set of five standalone essays that relate to the main biographical narrative.

The first looks at Moscheles’ vocation as a concert pianist. It examines the methods he used to develop his undoubted mastery of his instrument. This explores his style of ‘a ‘round full tone…perfectly equal touch, abundance of execution, wonderful readiness, and a style which, adapting itself to every exigency, is always classical and pure.’ A ‘student evaluation’ of Moscheles by a certain William Frederick Pecher gives a ‘glowing’ first-hand account of his technique of piano playing. The chapter considers Moscheles’ pupils in Leipzig, London and Paris. Specifics of his teaching methods are given as well as an examination of the pedagogical Studies, op.70 and op.95. This important chapter concludes with a section on the pianos the composer played, including those manufactured by Clementi, Broadwood, Érard and Pleyel.

An important chapter on Ignaz Moscheles’ relationship with Beethoven begins with a review of the young man’s work on the piano score of Fidelio as requested and supervised by Beethoven. The facts of his final meeting with Beethoven in Vienna in 1823 is extracted from his diaries. This chapter discusses his performance of Beethoven as a conductor and as a pianist. There is considerable research into his critical role in the establishment of the Ninth Symphony in England. Finally, notice is made of Moscheles’ edition of selected Beethoven Piano Sonatas and his translation of Schindler’s biography of the composer.

Kroll points out that it would be ‘difficult if not impossible to find another friendship throughout musical history that was so close, both personally and professionally’ as that between Moscheles and Felix Mendelssohn. Chapter 6 explores this relationship in detail.

It came as something of a revelation to me to discover that Ignaz Moscheles was a promoter of the music of Bach and Handel before it became a popular and fashionable thing to do. When the composer’s library was auctioned it was found to contain a huge amount of ‘early music’. A list of this music is printed at the end of the chapter. This included William Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices, madrigals by Weelkes, Wilbye, Gibbons and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and King Arthur. Moscheles played Bach and Handel and was the first person to perform on the harpsichord in England since the eighteenth century. Interestingly, he was opposed to the then popular practice of performing selections of ‘purple passages’ from Handel’s oratorios and insisted on the complete work. This chapter concludes with a survey of Moscheles’ contribution to the development of the piano recital.

The final essay, Chapter 8 scrutinises the ‘challenges of anti-Semitism and assimilation’ that was the lot of many Jewish artists of this period such as Stephen Heller, Jacques Offenbach and Ferdinand Hiller. What they had in common was that they were born Jews but were baptised as Christians. In spite of this ‘baptism’ Moscheles never eschewed his Jewish background. The author concludes that it may never be possible to ‘explain fully … [his] attitude to his Jewish religion.’ Neither Ignaz nor Charlotte discussed this in their extant diaries.

The all-important list of works has been generated from the Thematisches Verzeichniss im Druck erschienener Compositionen von Ignaz Moscheles published in Leipzig in 1858 and reprinted in London in 1966. The author has provided a number of helpful annotations and has translated most of the titles and subtitles into English. There are essential cross-references to the relevant pages in the present book. Works discovered since the original list was published have been included. However, Kroll has not indicated publishers, nor specified dates of composition/publication where known. Helpfully, he has rearranged the catalogue by genre rather than opus number as presented in the original. Details of key, tempo and title (where appropriate) of individual pieces within an opus number have typically not been shown, for example in the Studies. Titles of songs are given, but often with no reference to the author of the text.

The book presents an exceptionally useful index. Bearing in mind that Moscheles seemed to know all the important musical personalities of the first 70 years of the nineteenth century in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe and that he played and conducted a huge range of contemporary and historical music during his career, this is an essential reference tool. It allows us to get our bearings in the composer’s long and busy life. The entry for Beethoven, for example, cites references to the composer, his playing technique, his improvisation skills and some two dozen of his works. This is then cross-referenced to a section under the entry for Moscheles – ‘And Beethoven’ which lists many of the work played, conducted or edited. Naturally there are copious references to Moscheles’ own music.

The extensive bibliography include primary sources located in many archives around the world. A helpful list of contemporary periodicals is given. There is an exhaustive listing of ‘secondary literature’ from Moscheles’ time to the present.

There are many excellent illustrations throughout this volume: examples of the composer’s music, tables of concerts given in London, Vienna and Leipzig and other ‘German speaking’ lands. The plates are grouped together and feature drawings, paintings, and early photographs of the musician and his family. The front cover of the book is illustrated with Felix Moscheles’ wonderful oil painting of his father.

USA-based Mark Kroll is a musical polymath. His webpage show that he is a performer, teacher, concert administrator, conductor and artistic director of Opera New England, and last, but certainly not least, a scholar. In this last field Kroll is a ‘noted authority on performance practice and period instruments and has written on a wide range of subjects, including French harpsichord music, 17th-century keyboards, historical performance practice, contemporary music, the art of transcription, the music of Avison, Couperin, Geminiani, Beethoven, Hummel, (the present subject) Moscheles and Liszt, and music for film.’

Ignaz Moscheles and the Changing World of Musical Europe will be of hugely significant interest to a wide range of musical historians and listeners. Primarily, as noted above, this is the first major study of the composer to be published in the 20th/21st centuries, so there is the general interest of discovering Moscheles’ life, work and achievement in composition and performance. Historians majoring on Beethoven, Bach and Handel will discover detailed information about their subjects. The examination of Moscheles’ friendship with Mendelssohn is inspiring and is the underpinning of much further investigation.

To the growing interest in British music during the nineteenth century, when we were deemed a land without music, this book provides foundational material for a deeper understanding of the framework that was being erected during the early Victorian years which would lead to the so-called English Musical Renaissance. This was led by men who were born during Moscheles’ lifetime and would have been aware of his reputation as a composer, pianist and teacher. A direct line of succession came through Sir Arthur Sullivan who was one of his prize students at Leipzig. Moscheles wrote in his diary that Sullivan ‘was a lad of great promise.’ It was a judicious assessment.

John France
 


 

 




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