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ClassicsOnline Home » KONG, XIANDONG: PIANO RECITAL
The Art of Kong Xiang-Dong Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Piano Sonata in E flat major, K. 282 Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): 6 Piano Pieces, Op. 118 Robert Schumann (1810-1856): Arabeske in C major, Op. 18 Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Rhapsodie espagnole, Liebesträume No. 3 Percy Grainger (1882-1961): Paraphrase on the 'Waltz of the Flowers' from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker
Born in 1756, the son of a composer and violinist in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart showed remarkable musical ability as a child and appeared in many major cities in Europe, together with his father and his elder sister, in concerts and recitals. With his father he won further distinction as a composer in Italy, during the course of three journeys. The death of their patron and the succession of a less sympathetic Archbishop coincided with Mozart's early maturity, bringing him employment in the court musical establishment. Salzburg, however, could hardly provide the opportunities that he and his father desired. It was not until 1781, however, that he finally broke away from both father and patron, to enjoy a final decade of precarious independence in Vienna, where he died in 1791.
By 1774 Mozart had been employed for some two years as a concertmaster. With his father's help he had sought to make use of contacts with musicians and patrons elsewhere and towards the close of the year he was able to travel to Munich for the staging of a new opera, La finta giardiniera. The period spent in Munich from December 1774 until March 1775 seems to have brought the composition of a group of six piano sonatas. The fourth of these, the Sonata in E flat major, K. 282, opens with an Adagio in which the influence of Johann Christian Bach is apparent. The second movement offers a Minuet and Trio, the first in B flat, and a sonata-form last movement, in the central development of which the opening figure of the movement is briefly exploited.
Johannes Brahms, although he made his later career in Vienna, where he came to be revered as the successor to Beethoven, was born in 1833 in Hamburg into a family in relatively humble circumstances, the son of a musician. He was himself a pianist and, at least at the start of his career, made professional use of his technical ability, particularly in the performance of his own works. He owed much to the early encouragement of Schumann, whom he met shortly before the latter's final break-down, and then to that of Schumann's widow, the pianist Clara Schumann, who was able to support him with advice and to include his music in her recital programmes.
The Klavierstücke, Op. 118, a group of six pieces, is one of three such collections, principally the work of 1892, as Brahms neared the end of his life. It is not simply for this reason that the pieces often have an autumnal poignancy about them. Opus 118 includes four Intermezzi, a Ballade and a Romanze. The first Intermezzo is duly passionate, before turning to a gentler mood in conclusion. The poignant second Intermezzo moves into a wistful F sharp minor in its central section, interrupted by a chordal shaft of sunlight. The third piece, a Ballade, has a vigorous and lively story to tell, its key of G minor giving way to a gently lilting central passage in B major, before the gradual return of the mood of the opening and a relaxation of tension in conclusion. The fourth piece of the set, an Intermezzo, introduces a mood of delicate excitement leading to a relaxed A flat major passage, before the return of the agitation of the opening. The expressive F major Romanze builds its opening theme from a slowly descending scale, its central Allegretto grazioso offering a contrast of key and delicacy of feeling. The set of pieces ends with a final Intermezzo, imbued with melancholy but building up to a dynamic climax, followed by further changes in mood and dynamics before its hushed final arpeggio and sustained chord.
Robert Schumann represents a marginally earlier generation of composers. The son of a bookseller, writer and publisher, he too was drawn, like so many of his contemporaries, to literature and won a name for himself for his writing on music. At the same time much of his earlier music, notably shorter piano pieces, has literary association. After earlier desultory university studies, Schumann had set out to become a concert pianist, but when physical injury to his fingers made this impractical, he concentrated his attention on composition. In 1840, a year in which he wrote a large number of songs, he married the young pianist Clara Wieck, the daughter of his former teacher, who did his utmost to prevent the match, and in 1850 took up a position as city director of music in Düsseldorf. His recurrent bouts of depression from which he had long suffered, here became worse, leading to an attempt at suicide in 1853 and final years, until his death in 1856, under treatment in an asylum.
Schumann wrote his Arabeske, Op. 18, in 1838, dedicating it to the wife of Major Anton Serre, who, with her husband, had done much to encourage the composer in his engagement to Clara Wieck. The work is in the form of a rondo, with two minor key episodes, the first in E minor and the second in A minor, around which the livelier principal C major theme re-appears.
Schumann and his wife, joined in this by the young Brahms, had distinct reservations about Franz Liszt. To them he seemed too much of a showman and they clearly entertained reservations about his way of life. Born in Hungary, he had been taken, as a boy, to Vienna for lessons with Czerny, moving then to Paris, his home in adolescence and early manhood in the intervals of concert tours. He won a reputation for his phenomenal virtuosity as a performer, a Paganini of the piano, and fathered three children, born him by his mistress, Countess Marie d'Agoult, their liaison bringing years of an unsettled existence. In 1847 he ended his professional career as a pianist, settling soon thereafter in Weimar with his new mistress, Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. Here he assumed duties as director of music to the Grand Duchy, now embarking on a series of adventurous orchestral works, described as symphonic poems. The final period of his life, from 1861 until his death in 1886, he divided between Rome, where he pursued his continued religious leanings, Hungary, where he was regarded as a national hero, and Weimar, where he returned to teach and advise new generations of musicians, pianists and composers.
Liszt wrote his Rhapsodie espagnole in 1863 in Rome, where he had settled in relative monastic seclusion. The work makes fierce technical demands on a performer and is based on two elements, the well-known dance known as Les folies d'espagne, used by Corelli and other baroque composers as a basis for variation, and a popular Spanish dance, the jota aragonesa. From this material Liszt creates a virtuoso work that is very much his own, a world away from his musical sources, but in a style familiar enough in an age of piano virtuosi. His three Liebesträume are in another vein. These were originally songs by Liszt, which he transcribed for piano, settings of poems by Uhland and Freiligrath. The third of the transcriptions has proved the most popular.
The eccentric composer and pianist Percy Grainger was born in Australia in 1882 but developed his career, after study in Frankfurt, both in Europe, where he was drawn to an interest in Scandinavian culture, and in the United States of America, of which he became a citizen. His compositions include both original works and a quantity of idiosyncratic arrangements of folk-songs and of the works of other composers. Grainger gave his first public recital in London in October 1901, including in his programme later piano pieces by Brahms, music by Grieg, and his own Paraphrase on the 'Waltz of the Flowers' from Tchaikovsky's ballet Nutcracker. The work was later revised and published in 1904 with dedication to the French pianist Léon Delafosse.
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