Moving to the pulse of Moscheles’ piano concerto

Out, out into the fresh air! © Charles Thibo

The first time I came across the name of Ignaz Moscheles was in the context of the “Sonntagsmusiken”, organized by Fanny Mendelssohn at the Mendelssohns’ mansion in Berlin. Moscheles, one of the greatest piano virtuosos of his time and a first-rate music teacher, was a regular guest at the Mendelssohns’ and both Fanny and Felix visited him while he stayed on London. His friendship with Fanny’s brother Felix led to his appointment as principal professor of piano at the newly founded Leipzig Conservatory in 1846. He had taught the 15 year old Felix in the 20s in Berlin, Edvard Grieg was one of his students many years later in Leipzig.

Moscheles composed six piano concertos, a symphony, an overture, a sextet, a septet and several sets of smaller piano works. His Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat major (Op. 90), written in 1833 in London, also goes by the name “Fantastique”. It was first performed earlier in 1834 at London’s Philharmonic Society, where it was rather coolly received, in contrast to the enormous enthusiasm when Moscheles played it in Leipzig in October the following year.

Romantic dynamism

While the concerto’s structure follows the traditional form in three movements, its many thematic links give it an overall structural unity highly original for its time. Robert Schumann was rather critical about this “unstable form”, however he rated the concerto nevertheless well-written. Jerome and Henry Roche write in a piece for Oxford Music Online that “Moscheles brought a crisp and incisive touch to his own piano playing […] He admired the pianistic innovations of Chopin and Liszt.” In his own compositions for orchestra he tempered thematic ideas is with an early Romantic dynamism, they say. “Pathos in general, and chromaticism in particular, are not overplayed, and his music is never sentimental.”

The fanfare-like three-note opening of the piano concerto in B flat major shows the Romantic dynamism right at the beginning – a forceful start, immediately balanced by a lyrical theme. Ludwig van Beethoven may have served as an example, Moscheles was an eager student of the Vienna master. And this opening was one of the reasons I picked the piece for this post. Overcoming the last lethargic feelings that may linger on, out, out, into the fresh air, the sunshine, the lush green!

The Frankfurt Brandenburg State Orchestra has recorded the piano concerto and the first and last movement – allegro con spirito and allegro agitato – rip through any dark brooding like a laser beam, the pulse of the music compels you to move, to run, to spring, to dance, out, out, out! Now!

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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