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HENSELT, Adolf von (1814-1889)

PIANO WORKS


  • Sergio Gallo, piano

Bavarian-born Adolf von Henselt was one of a galaxy of star pianist-composers of a similar age that included Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Thalberg. A student of Hummel, Henselt developed a breathtaking, idiosyncratic virtuoso technique but stage fright drew him away from performance and more towards composition and then teaching. Moving to St Petersburg in 1838, he established, with Anton Rubinstein, a truly Russian school of pianism. His piano works embrace ferocious technical studies as well as romantic salon pieces that led Schumann to dub Henselt ‘the Chopin of the North’.

Tracklist

Henselt, Adolf von
1
Wiegenlied, Op. 45 () (00:04:08)
2
Petite Romance (1855) * (00:01:24)
3
10 Pieces, Op. 13: No. 2. Etude, "La Gondola" () (00:02:07)
4
2 Nocturnes, Op. 6: No. 1. Schmerz im Gluck () (00:03:04)
8
Valse Melancolique, Op. 36 () (00:05:28)
 
2 Petites valses, Op. 28 (1854) (00:05:40 )
9
No. 1 in F Major (00:02:34)
10
No. 2 in C Major * (00:03:08)
Strauss I, Johann
11
Waltz (arr. A. von Henselt for piano) () (00:01:27)
Henselt, Adolf von
12
6 Romances Russes: No. 6 in D Minor (after Dargomizhsky) () * (00:02:57)
 
12 Etudes Caractéristiques, Op. 2 (1838) (00:24:00 )
5
No. 6 in F-Sharp Major, "Si oiseau j'etais, a toi je volerais!" (00:02:04)
6
No. 3 in B Minor, "Exauce mes voeux!" (00:03:11)
7
No. 4 in B-Flat Major, "Repos d'amour" (00:01:32)
15
12 Etudes Caractéristiques, Op. 2: No. 2 in D-Flat Major, "Pensez un peu a moi, qui pense toujours a vous!" (00:02:57)
 
12 Etudes de Salon, Op. 5 () (00:24:00 )
13
No. 3 in A Minor, "Hexentanz" (00:01:52)
14
No. 9 in A Major (00:02:28)
16
12 Etudes de Salon, Op. 5: No. 6 in A-Flat Major, "Danklied nach Sturm" (00:07:21)
17
Erinnerung und Freundschaft, Op. 4: No. 1. Rhapsodie () (00:02:20)
Weber, Carl Maria von
18
Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance), Op. 65, J. 260 (arr. A. von Henselt for piano) (1819) * (00:09:05)
* World Première Recording
Total Time: 00:59:07

The Artist

Gallo, Sergio

A Steinway artist, Sergio Gallo specializes in the repertoire of the Romantic period, especially Liszt and his contemporaries, including Schumann, Henselt, Brahms, and Chopin. Gallo has made several acclaimed recordings for Eroica, and a recent release with Naxos of Liszt’s transcriptions of opera by Meyerbeer, which was critically acclaimed by BBC Magazine: “Gallo makes a good case for Liszt’s honouring of the operatic originals” (Naxos 8.573235). Gallo has performed with orchestras throughout the Americas and worldwide. He is the winner of concerto competitions of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and of the University Symphony in Santa Barbara. He holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara (1998) and is Associate Professor of Piano Performance at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

The Composer

Adolf von Henselt was born in the Bavarian town of Schwabach on 9 May 1814. Praised by Liszt for his unequalled cantabile playing, Henselt belonged to a galaxy of star pianists who were all of a similar age. These included Chopin, Schumann, Thalberg and, of course, Liszt.

Although Henselt began his musical studies on the violin, he soon changed to the piano and made spectacularly rapid progress. It was as a child that he developed a strong and permanent affinity with the musical Romanticism of Carl Maria von Weber. After studying with Johann Nepomuk Hummel in Weimar and Simon Sechter in Vienna, he withdrew from the limelight for two years in order to perfect his unique way of playing widely spaced chords without recourse to the sustaining pedal. In view of the permanent damage that Robert Schumann reportedly did to his own hands while experimenting with stretching exercises, Henselt must surely have been taking a huge risk in persevering with his idiosyncratic technique. But his determination seems to have paid off, for even Liszt is said to have blanched at certain aspects of Henselt’s piano playing that bordered on the reckless.

For all his prowess at the keyboard, Henselt always suffered badly from stage fright, and when he was 22 he suffered a nervous breakdown. Diagnosed with severe strain from overwork, he was advised to take things easy for a while, so he travelled to Carlsbad (Karlovy Váry) in the hope that the pleasures of this Bohemian spa town would act as a tonic and aid his recuperation. Nineteenth-century sources maintain that he met Chopin here, but there is scant evidence to back up such a claim. In other respects, however, the year 1836 did prove to be auspicious for Henselt because he made the acquaintance of Rosalie Vogel, the wife of a Weimar court physician. By degrees, she impressed herself upon him so much that they became musical, and then physical, soulmates. As might be imagined, Dr Vogel was far from pleased, but he was powerless to prevent the lovestruck pair from marrying in the autumn of the following year.

In 1838 Henselt moved to St Petersburg after making a great impression on the tsar’s daughter, Maria Pavlovna, who like himself was a pupil of Hummel’s. His new appointment coincided with a flurry of compositional activity that was fuelled by his continuing enchantment with Rosalie.

Over the next few years Henselt’s public performances became fewer in number and he also wrote less music. His time was largely taken up with teaching in the imperial household and travelling throughout Russia as inspector general of music schools and teaching academies. Along with his colleague Anton Rubinstein, he was important in establishing a truly Russian school of piano playing, which was later so notably represented by Sergey Rachmaninov.

In 1889 Henselt (now sporting an aristocratic ‘von’ before his surname), died in the Silesian spa town of Warmbrunn (Cieplice). An obituary in The Musical Times mentions his English visits of 1852 and 1867, and reports that during the second one he refrained from playing in public. This reluctance to perform supports the view that he never fully overcame his chronic stage fright. However, despite this handicap and his heavy workload in Russia, he did compose a small number of works during the 1850s.

Of earlier humble Jewish ancestry, Johann Strauss was born in Vienna in 1804, the son of a tenant tavern-keeper, and, on the death of his father in 1816, was apprenticed to a bookbinder. This did not prevent him finding a place as a violinist in a dance orchestra under Michael Pamer and as a viola player in an ensemble started by Joseph Lanner. The ensemble developed from a quartet to a string orchestra, the increased popularity of which led first to Strauss leading a second Lanner orchestra and then, in 1825, to the establishment of his own dance orchestra. The year marked his marriage and the birth of his first son, another Johann, destined to achieve still more than his father over the course of the years.

Under the older Johann Strauss the dance orchestra flourished, winning immense popularity both at home and abroad. Strauss wrote a quantity of waltzes, polkas, marches, quadrilles and galops, composing new dances for social and public occasions, their origin often reflected in their titles.

He intended that his three sons should follow other professions, but in the end all three, under the compelling influence of the younger Johann Strauss, became involved in what had become the family business.

Three years before his death in 1849 Strauss had been divorced, and his increasing alienation from his own original family, and the birth, over the years, of seven illegitimate children to his mistress, gave the younger Johann Strauss the chance he needed to follow his father’s profession, against the latter’s will.

Carl Maria von Weber, a cousin of Mozart’s wife Constanze, was trained as a musician from his childhood, the son of a versatile musician who had founded his own travelling theatre company. He made a favourable impression as a pianist and then as a music director, notably in the opera-houses of Prague and Dresden. Here he introduced various reforms and was a pioneer of the craft of conducting without the use of a violin or keyboard instrument. As a composer he won a lasting reputation with the first important Romantic German opera, Der Freischütz.

Operas

The opera Der Freischütz (‘The Marksman’), first staged in Berlin in 1821, blends many of the ingredients typical of German Romanticism, simple peasant virtues mingling with the magic and latent evil of the forest, where the hero’s magic bullets are forged at midnight. The grand heroic-Romantic opera Euryanthe is better known for its overture, as is the opera Oberon, written for London in 1826.

Orchestral Music

Weber’s two concertos and the concertino for clarinet were written for the clarinetist Heinrich Baermann. Weber also wrote two piano concertos and a Konzertstück for piano and orchestra for his own use, as well as a useful horn concertino and bassoon concerto. His Aufforderung zum Tanze (‘Invitation to the Dance’) is well known in an orchestral version of a work originally written for piano.

Chamber Music

Weber’s chamber music includes a clarinet quintet and Grand Duo Concertant for clarinet and piano, successors to the concertos and concertino for Baermann.

Piano Music

Aufforderung zum Tanz (‘Invitation to the Dance’) is a charming programme piece following the progress of an invitation to dance, as a young man escorts his partner to the dance floor and engages in polite conversation. Weber’s other piano compositions include four sonatas for the instrument.

Reviews

“Sergio Gallo exhibits all the technical mastery and musical sensitivity to show these pieces at their best.” – Fanfare

“[Sergio Gallo’s] playing is lively and attractive, and he planned this program intelligently to present the listener with variety and contrast as well as the flavor of this composer’s lovely music.” – American Record Guide

“Throughout we have the feeling that Sergio Gallo has developed a great affection for the music, and that he is intent on persuading the listener to join his delight.” – David Denton