Of teachers and students – a sonata in A minor

Sunrises – a Romantic indulgence of mine. © Charles Thibo

Is it a personal tragedy when the pupil outdoes the teacher? Or does it fill him with pride? Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) is an unknown unknown. His students however are well-known or at least known unknown composers i.e. unknown by the general public, but a reference for experts like the readers of this blog: Max Bruch, Leos Janacek, Edvard Grieg and Julius Röntgen. I think it is safe to say that Reinecke’s four students outdid their teacher in terms of celebrity. But they rival him in terms of excellence in composition remains to be seen.

I had read the name of Reinecke in the past and did not think much about it. Then I stumbled in one of those glossy music & lifestyle magazine I happen to subscribe to – I won’t say which – over a review of a recording of three sonatas for cello and piano written by Reinecke and since the name sounded vaguely familiar I gave it a try. I was richly rewarded since both pieces are true gems. The Sonata in A minor, written and published in 1855, is my favourite and here is why: It has all the hallmarks of German Romanticism. Lyrical, melancholic etc. That’s obviously a plus. Oxford Music Online tells me that “despite being influenced by [Felix] Mendelssohn’s melodic style, [Reinecke] was stylistically nearer to [Robert] Schumann”. Well, I like both composers, so that’s another plus.

Furthermore Reinecke was a champion of the so-called “Hausmusik”, music written to be performed at home by and for family members or friends, music conferring a certain intimacy and void of any extravagant tricks, sparkling effects that would rather aim to impress a greater audience. The majority of his compositions are chamber music works, but he write a few operas and several symphonic works too.

Reinecke’s sonata get’s a triple A in the parlance of rating agencies. And his talent was recognized by his contemporaries: Schumann, Mendelssohn, both having taught Reinecke at some point, and Liszt, whose daughter studied with Reinecke. In 1851 Reinecke moved to Cologne to teach counterpoint and the piano at Hiller’s conservatory, in 1860 he moved to the conservatory of Leipzig founded under the impulse of Mendelssohn. In Leipzig he also conducted the Gewandhausorchester.

The sonata has been recorded by the German cellist Manuel Fischer-Dieskau, the son of the famous baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and the Canadian pianist Connie Shih.

© Charles Thibo

Radical Rosenberg’s breathless ride on the piano

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Today. Tomorrow. © Charles Thibo

I am returning to a favourite subject of mine: the evolution of taste and aesthetics over time. A new city quarter is rising in the south of Luxembourg city: office buildings, high-end condos, a shopping mall, the new French lycée. I drive by twice everyday and I see how it grows, takes its definite shape. It’s fascinating. Modern architecture: My pictures illustrating contemporary music often are inspired by this huge construction site. I am curious. I may not like the architecture, but I am curious nevertheless. I came to think of this as I listened for the first time to Hilding Rosenberg’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

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A delicate, poetic scent from Fanny’s garden of songs

Unobtrusive beauty. © Charles Thibo

Four voices. Nature as the inspiring element. Silence and peace as one of the central themes. Purity. Beauty. Harmony. “Unfortunately I have nothing for you except my part-songs and I would appreciate if you could play them for Cécile, always a well-meaning audience for me […] I associate a very pleasant time with these songs and I prefer them over my other songs”, writes the composer on February 1, 1847. Fanny Mendelssohn is the author, and in 1847 she sent a copy of the Gartenlieder, Op. 3 (Garden Songs) to her brother Felix. Cécile of course was Felix’ wife and the two women kept in touch regularly through letters. Fanny stayed in Berlin, Felix and Cécile in Leipzig where Felix led the Gewandhausorchester.

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A serene morning stroll with Johannes Brahms

Vienna. © Charles Thibo

An early morning in Vienna – what a gift! The city was already on the move, but the serenity of a peaceful night still lingered over little streets north and east of the Stephansdom. I had woken up early and could spare an hour between breakfast and my appointment at the United Nations to stroll around, to spend a moment or two inside the dome, accompanied by my good friend Johannes Brahms. Over my iPhone I listened to the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig under Riccardo Chailly performing Brahm’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. The opening reminded my of a short prayer, later the first movement features waltz-like elements – Good morning, Vienna!

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