Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Ignaz Moscheles: The Recollections of Ireland for Piano

A few days ago I published a post about Ignaz Moscheles: The Recollections of Ireland for Piano. I held my hand up and admitted that the composer was not British. However he did spend a considerable part of his composing and playing career on these shores. The subjoined review is from The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review from Oct 1826. I make no apologies for including this discussion of the Recollections. For one thin it shows how different is the approach to musical criticism between our own day and that of 185 years ago. Nowadays the work would either be described in two dozen words or subjected to a Schenkerian analysis that would mystify most readers and bore the remainder. I am not suggesting that we return to prosy description of our music like our Georgian forbears. However there must surely be some lessons to be learnt.
Certainly the work has borne up to the passing of the years. It is still an impressive pieces that commands our interest and attention.

The Recollections of Ireland, a Grand Fantasia on ‘The Groves of Blarney’, ‘Garry Owen’, and St Patrick’s Day for pianoforte, with orchestral accompaniments by I Moscheles. Cramer, Addison and Beale and S. Chappell

This lesson was composed by Mr. Moscheles for his own performance, at his own concert, last season, where we had the pleasure of hearing it, at a time when the composer was stimulated alike by the occasion, and the natural ardour of genius in the prosecution of its own creations, to give it the greatest possible effect, and when it flowed from under his hand with a smoothness, brilliancy, and mastery of art that called forth the undivided and enthusiastic applause of a crowded audience.

To us, memory still throws her charms around ‘Recollections of Ireland’, but to most of our readers this satisfaction is denied, and we must therefore, however reluctantly, yield to her power only so much as to bear in mind the effect of which the lesson is capable, while we turn to its closer perusal. Although written for a similar occasion to that which called forth ‘The Fall of Paris’, the two lessons are so essentially different in almost every point, that they do not come within the limits of comparison. The latter was written at a time when Mr. M.’s talents as a performer were but new to an English public, and when as a composer he was totally unknown, and his object was to show his power in both ways. When the Recollections are composed, he writes in the full confidence of an established reputation, for numerous pupils whom he has himself qualified to appreciate his style, and for a public, who by frequent opportunities of hearing his performance, are prepared to receive his productions with the approbation they deserve.

These are the principal points of difference, yet when all is considered we should be inclined to rank The Recollections of Ireland’ higher as a composition, and in its own particular style, than ‘The Fall of Paris’ on the ground that is draws its effects from more natural sources, and is written more with a view of pleasing than astonishing – in fact, that Mr. Moscheles is here seen more in the light of a composer, whereas in the former instance he was to be regarded rather in character of an artist.

The introduction can only be considered as a field for the powers of execution, but this execution perhaps, generally below the present standard of difficulty, is more chastened, and freer from that straining after effect than is usual, even with Mr. M. 

The choice of airs is very happy- they are popular, good in themselves, and afford great room for contrast. The first, now best known under the name of ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ is arranged with the delicacy of taste and truth of feeling that bespeaks the refined artist.

The key of F major, at the conclusion of this air, changes to a movement, sombre in its modulation, in the key of D flat major. There s a degree of sameness pervading the next four pages, which consist principally of difficult arpeggios, dependent on harmony for effect. The composer however soon shows both the power of contrast and his knowledge of effects. The lively air of ‘Garry Owen’ steals upon us by degrees, till at length, after a gradual change through B sharp, to the brilliant key of B flat major, this exhilarating melody bursts forth, aided in its sudden appearance by the truly characteristic style of its arrangement. Here we conceive Mr. Moscheles to be more in his element than when treating the first air; his genius is of that buoyant sparking, and energetic kind, the selects either the most gay and joyous themes to work upon, or seizes on the strongest and most vehement expression of passion, but which rests not with the same felicity on subjects of a middle class, the simply pathetic, or moderately brilliant. The present air is carried through six pages of shewy, but light and close execution – that is to say, there are none of those immoderate and unmeaning skips which do little beyond astonishing at the instant. ‘St Patrick’s Day’ is treated in the same manner without monotony for two pages, when for the next two it is combined with ‘Garry Owen,’ and then follows a short andante in ¾ time, of a most singular and ingenious construction. The object here aimed at is the combination of the three airs, so that each may be distinctly recognized, and yet all so blended together as to form an agreeable and not incongruous whole.

The difficulty of the task will be readily acknowledged, but Mr. Moscheles has succeeded admirably. The combination of airs in this manner is not new, but it is by no means a common practice, and the means by which it is so well accomplished in the present instance are so simple, that although it generally requires a practiced ear to trace such combinations, almost the most uncultivated, may follow this.

The airs being transferred alternately to the two hands. The greatest difficulty of this portion of the lesson, however, lies in its performance, in the skill with which each air is made to blend with the others, and yet to bear its proper character, without obtruding too much on the notice of the  hearer, and bearing down its companions. The concluding tow pages are in 6/8 time, spirited and brilliant.
We have no other comments to offer on ‘Recollections of Ireland.’ To those who have seen it, or who had the good fortune to hear it performed by the author, no recommendation will be needed, and to those who have not, we trust we have already said to raise their curiosity. One more remark we must make, which is, that Mr. Moscheles’ style appears by this specimen to have lost none of its original brilliancy, but to have gained in solidity and strength of construction by the curtailment of the superfluity of ornament which has marked many of his pieces, and which may be compared to a plant overloaded with flowers, whose strength is permanently wasted, though its temporary beauty is increased.

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