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Johan Peter Emilius HARTMANN (1805-1900)
Piano Music - Volume 1
Thomas Trondhjem (piano)
rec. 2019, Concert Hall, Holstebro Music School and Music Academy, Denmark

The rule of thumb for listening to this disc of J.P.E. Hartmann’s charming piano music is clearly stated in the last paragraph of the liner notes. I paraphrase: do not listen to this album at a single sitting. Pick out a selection, enjoy them (or otherwise) and later come back for more. There is a danger that 32 tracks all in a row will create a ‘confused, kaleidoscopic impression, which in no way does justice to these fine miniatures’. I chose to select tracks in chronological order, beginning with the wistful Canzonetta in E major (1840) and concluding with the lively Fantasy Piece in C major (1875).

A few notes about the composer may be helpful. Johann Peter Emilius (J.P.E.) Hartmann was born in Copenhagen on 14 May 1805. He was originally destined to study Law but was convinced by this teacher, the Danish composer C.E.F. Weyse (1774-1842), to embark on a musical career. He succeeded in both disciplines.

His debut as a composer was the opera The Raven (1832) with libretto by his friend, fellow Dane, Hans Christian Andersen. Hartmann was also a successful organist with some 70 years in office at the Garrisons Kirke and later the Cathedral. In 1836 Hartmann visited Austria, Germany, France, and Switzerland on a study tour. There he met many significant composers and musicians including Frédéric Chopin, Gioachino Rossini, Luigi Cherubini and Louis Spohr. In the same year, he founded the Danish Musical Association. In 1867, Hartmann, along with Nils W. Gade and Holger Simon Paulli became a co-director of the new Conservatory.

Hartmann belonged to a musical family. His grandfather, Johann Ernst (1726-1793) had been a composer, as was as his son Emil (1836-1898). His great grandson was the contemporary Danish composer Niels Viggo Bentzon (1919-2000).

J.P.E. Hartmann died in Copenhagen on 10 March 1900, aged 95 years. It is hard to believe that Haydn was still alive when he was born, and in the year when he died Aaron Copland and Kurt Weill were born.

Hartmann composed several symphonies, overtures, incidental music, a violin concerto, as well as operas and cantatas. On a smaller scale, he wrote many piano pieces and songs.

What does this piano music sound like? I will refrain from writing a detailed discussion of each piece but it is fair to say that most of them are conceived for the drawing room or salon rather than the recital room. I guess an exception to this would be the more substantial Nine Studies and Novelettes. Exemplars for this music are Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn and, in the later works, Edvard Grieg. Another inspiration is the Hungarian teacher, composer and pianist, Stephen Heller: few aspiring pianists will have avoided his captivating music at some stage in their studies.

There are at least four piano sonatas in Hartmann’s catalogue. These will no doubt be included in subsequent volumes in this series which promises to be a complete edition of Hartmann’s piano works. The second volume is slated for release in the late autumn of this year.

The CD liner notes (in Danish and English) by Claus Byrith give a good introduction to the life and times of the composer, as well as a very brief overview of the music. The texts of the poems alluded to in ‘Novelette in six little pieces with a poem in six verses’ and ‘Four piano pieces with poems by Hans Christian Andersen and Carl Andersen’ are included in both languages.

The playing by Danish pianist Thomas Trondhjem is always sympathetic and never condescending, even in the less demanding numbers that are in the gift of amateurs. As always with Danacord, the sound quality of the recording is excellent.

This CD of pleasant, if not demanding, piano music is certainly enjoyable. All these pieces display charm, romantic melodies and harmonies, and are characterised by ‘joie de vivre, intimacy and gaiety’.

John France
Novellette in six little pieces with a poem in six verses by Hans Christian Andersen (1852) [9:08]
Fantasy Piece in G major (1871) [3:24]
Fantasy Piece in C major (1875) [3:18]
Album Leaf in F major (1871) [2:33]
Album Leaf in C sharp minor (1854) [2:35]
Four piano pieces with poems by Hans Christian Andersen and Carl Andersen (1864) [9:57]
‘Reel from Zealand’ in D major (1860) [2:34]
‘Hamburg Scottish’ in F major (1841) [1:51]
Nine Studies and Novellettes, op.65 (1866) [15:54]
Evening Mood in C major (1869) [2:31]
Song without Words: ‘Homesickness’ in F sharp minor (1847) [1:37]
Canzonetta in E major (1840) [2:58]
Two Piano Pieces (1866) [3:37]
‘The Winter’ in E minor (1847) [3:42]
‘In the Springtime’ in A major (1847) [1:59]