Composers

Texts by Hans Hachmann; translation by John Wray

Jean-Philippe Rameau Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 – 1764)
Dijon, known for its mustard, was also the birthplace of J.-P. Rameau, a French master of harpsichord and piano who was later also famous for his operas. Rameau became one of the leading personalities of French music at the time of the transition from the baroque to classical music. His innumerable suites and character pieces evoked the tradition of Couperin, even as their individuality and their level of difficulty pointed towards a later era. A second collection of pieces appeared at the end of the 1720s in response to the demands of the Paris salons; here Rameau displayed his inventiveness in a set of variations on a standard French gavotte.
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Maurice Ravel
Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)
Ravel was born in a village in the Pyrenees. He was a pioneer of brilliant orchestrations which, however, he presented initially as works for piano. He had studied at the Paris Conservatory for six years, but did not attain the standard required to for a full qualification. This may explain why he wrote relatively few pieces specifically for the piano, even though he counted the leading pianists of his time among his friends and advisers. The three movements of the Gaspard de la Nuit suite (based on the work of the French romantic poet Bertrand), were more technically challenging than anything known at that time.
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Modest Mussorgsky
Modest Mussorgsky (1839 – 1881)
Mussorgsky was a major composer of music for the stage. He taught himself composition while a cadet on a three year ocean journey, and yet became one of the major innovators in Russian music. Like Ravel, he used the piano as a 'workshop' and for the early versions of later orchestral works. His piano compositions are few in number but of remarkable originality, like the famous Pictures at an Exhibition, which Ravel orchestrated 48 years later. In a reverse process, the Russian pianist and composer Igor Khudolev (1940-2001) made a piano adaptation of Mussorgsky's symphonic poem Night on the Bare Mountain (a scherzo for orchestra) in the version by Rimsky-Korsakov that is generally heard.
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Peter I. Tschaikowsky
Peter I. Tchaikowsky (1840 – 1893)
Tchaikovsky was a celebrity in his own lifetime. It is not widely known that he made a valuable contribution to the piano repertoire with a hundred or so pieces - even though the most popular of these, the 1st Piano Concerto, was initially discounted as unplayable and of little value. His fame as a conductor and composer was instead based on the symphonies, operas, symphonic poems, overtures and above all the ballet music, with their masterly combination of slavic and western traditions. Three of his famous ballet suites make use of the best of his ballet music; the Nutcracker Suite was in fact finished before the ballet itself. The Russian musician Mikhail Pletnev used it for his highly effective Piano Phantasy.
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Alexander Rosenblatt
Alexander Rosenblatt (*1956)
Alexander Rosenblatt, born 1956 in Moscow, was celebrated as a unique phenomenon of Russian music in the media of his hometown, Moscow, around 1990, when he appeared with spectacular success in the musical scene of the capital both as a composer and as a pianist. Together with O. Sinkin, he formed the highly respected ‘Modern Piano Duet’, which presented numerous chamber concerts with fascinating and individual compositions by Rosenblatt: contemporary, romantic, with irresistible humour, memorable and popular rhythms and subtle, lyrical moods -- and the brilliance of the two virtuoso performers which was greatly appreciated by audiences.
Rosenblatt had by then become famous as composer, with a number of exuberant fantasias for piano on classical, Russian and Jewish themes.
He also wrote three piano sonatas, a cello sonata, and works for orchestra.
Rosenblatt was trained at the famous Moscow Conservatory. His Paganini Variations were first performed by Nikolai Tokarew. Like Schumann, Brahms, Lutoslawski and many others, Rosenblatt exploited the possibilities presented by the theme of the last Caprice for solo violin by Niccolò Paganini, as a basis for variations. The result was highly effective; it used everything the piano as an instrument can offer but without completely abandoning Gershwin and Joplin as his sources of inspiration.
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