Arbiter Records 154

Horszowski: Beethoven & Mendelssohn Piano Concertos

  • Horszowski's Warsaw debut in 1902 offered Beethoven's First Concerto. He performed it for over sixty years with the great insight heard on a newly discovered performance from 1958. Mendelssohn's concerto, written at age 13, was played during one season by Horszowski. The concluding short works were otherwise unrecorded by this profound artist.
  • Released Nov 7, 2007
  • $15.95, free postage within the US
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Track List

Mieczyslaw  Horszowski's teacher Leschetizki had been a pupil of Beethoven's assistant Czerny. Horszowski knew the work for nearly sixty years when he offered it on our newly discovered performance from 1958. It impresses one as a definitive performance. Mendelssohn's concerto was written at age 13, played only for one season by Horszowski. The concluding short works were discoveries that were otherwise unrecorded by this profound artist who lived for over a century.

  1. Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1: I
  2. Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1: II
  3. Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1: III
  4. Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto In A Minor - Allegro
  5. Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto In A Minor - Adagio
  6. Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto In A Minor Allegro Non Troppo
  7. Beethoven: Piano Sonata op. 10/3: Minuetto
  8. Brahms: Klavierstücke, Op. 119: No. 1 - Intermezzo In B Minor
  9. Brahms: Klavierstücke, Op. 119: No. 3 - Intermezzo In C

At age ten, Mieczyslaw Horszowski made his debut in Warsaw on 4 November 1902, performing Beethoven’s Concerto no. 1 with the Philharmonic led by Emil Mlynarski. The singer Gemma Bellincioni was present: moved by the performance, she went backstage to offer the young artist a brooch she had worn that evening. Although Horszowski often played this concerto, two performances survive. His appearance with Pablo Casals at the Prades Festival in 1953 was published, yet a misunderstanding between soloist and conductor resulted in the first movement being taken with too rapid a tempo. The recent discovery of a performance in Holland offers the correct pace, some two minutes longer than the Prades concert. Horszowski played with an ensemble deftly guided by Mauritz van den Berg, resulting in an uncompromised interpretation of a work which remained in his repertoire for some seventy years.

Another large-scale composition from the time of youth, this time the composer’s, is Mendelssohn’s A minor concerto, composed at age thirteen (in 1822). In Horszowski’s sixty-ninth year he finished preparing this forgotten concerto and gave his first performance in Zermatt on 3 September 1961 with the Lucerne Festival Strings under Rudolf Baumgartner. Attending the concert were Casals, the exiled Queen Marie-Josée of Italy, and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, the latter a prominent music patron who founded the Ysaye Competition, now bearing her name. The following day, Horszowski returned alone to the Schalli Alp, again hiking there from Zermatt a day later, as he was an inveterate mountaineer: Horszowski succeeded in climbing the Matterhorn on three sides (see photo on Arbiter CD 113).
The Mendelssohn remained in his repertoire for only one year. A performance from New York survives, as its conductor Frederic Waldman had it privately recorded. Furthermore, a disc made privately for his friend, the composer-conductor João de Souza Lima, contains works by Brahms that he had not otherwise recorded.

— Allan Evans © 2008

BEETHOVEN: Concerto for Piano No. 1 in C major. Opus 15

The numbering of Beethoven’s five piano concertos does not agree with their chronology. The concerto in C major is not his first, but his third essay in this field. He composed a piano concerto in E flat major in 1784 in Bonn, and no doubt played it on several occasions. It was in his bag when he went to Vienna in 1792. But Beethoven, aware of the superiority of his more mature works and the towering importance of Mozart’s concertos, decided to shelve this early work, which came to light after his death. Only the piano part was preserved, and the orchestral score for two flutes, oboes, and strings had to be reconstructed on the basis of relevant entries in the piano part to make this early piece available for performance.

Beethoven’s second attempt in this medium is the concerto in B flat. which was published as Opus 19 late in the fall of 1801 in Leipzig, after the C major concerto had appeared as Opus 15 in March, 1801, in Vienna. Beethoven had revised the earlier score, which may partially account for the delay in publication. It should be noted that the first editions of both concertos lack any numbering. The familiar numbering stems from later nineteenth-century editions. The C major piece appeared as Grand concert pour le piano, while that in B flat was entitled Concerto (sic) pour 1e pianoforte.

The artistic growth of the concertos is reflected in the orchestration and the use of wind instruments. The concerto in B flat requires one flute and pairs of oboes, bassoons, and horns, while the C major piece is scored for full symphony orchestra with pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, and kettledrums.
Beethoven sketched the C major concerto in 1795/6 and completed the composition in 1798. It is assumed that he played it for the first time in Prague and that he included it in the program of a concert he gave on April 2, 1800, in the Burgtheater in Vienna. The poster simply announced “a grand concerto for the pianoforte, played and composed by Herr Ludwig van Beethoven.” (This Akademie also featured the first performance of the first symphony.) The review of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (Leipzig) stated that “he [Beethoven] played a new concerto of his own which contains many beautiful pages particularly in the first two movements.”

The C major concerto was composed before the C minor sonata (“Pathetique”), the first symphony, and the string quartets, Opus 18. Formally and technically, Beethoven followed the road Mozart laid out in his Viennese concertos. That it to say, he fully adopted the concept that saw the concerto as a symphonic commonwealth in which the clavier appears not as a ruling member, but as a prominent one with a special task. He adopted the three movement structure and the formal designs Mozart applied to the individual movements.

The basic mood is one of energy and vigor; it is determined by the march-like main idea, which opens the long orchestral exposition, but, curiously enough, is never assigned to the piano. The solo instrument enters with a new idea of rather gentle quality. The piano tenderly alludes to the main idea only rhythmically in the passages that precede the recapitulation, while in the recapitulation the orchestra states the main idea forcefully. The main idea also prevails in the short but vigorous postlude after the cadenza. Beethoven supplied three cadenzas for the first movement, taking into account the possibilities of the improved piano models with extended range.

In the slow movement (Largo, A flat major), Beethoven followed Mozart’s practice in excluding the trumpets and kettledrums, and he also silenced the flute and oboes to achieve tender sonorities and to avoid bright colors. The gentle lyricism of the Largo is contrasted with the gaiety of the rondo finale, in which Beethoven’s capricious temperament is evidenced by the strange dynamic accents he imposed on the second theme.

MENDELSSOHN: Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra in A minor

The piano concerto in A minor of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy is not a “discovery.” Very far from it, for its existence has been known through references in the Mendelssohn literature and letters for almost eighty years. It belongs to a substantial collection of unpublished compositions which were given in trust to the Royal Library in Berlin by the Mendelssohn family in 1878. This great library, now called the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek, is situated in East Berlin. The International Felix Mendelssohn Society in Basel secured photostatic copies of Mendelssohn autographs in the Berlin holdings and now owns an almost complete collection of Mendelssohn’s unpublished works. We are indebted for this information to Professor Eric Werner, author of an exhaustive Mendelssohn biography. The Mendelssohn Society acted very wisely and in time: the whereabouts of many a precious manuscript, e.g. twelve Mozart concertos formerly kept in Berlin, is shrouded in impenetrable darkness. [Possibly held by the Jagellonian Library, Kraków, as “war trophies.”]

The first public reading of our concerto since the days of Mendelssohn with Rolf Kuhnert as soloist and Mathieu Lange conducting took place on November 27, 1960, in Berlin in the historic Singakademie where Mendelssohn had resurrected Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in 1829. Mieczyslaw Horszowski, tonight’s soloist, played it with the Lucerne Festival Strings, led by Rudolf Baumgartner, on September 3, 1961, in the church at Zermatt, the famous Swiss climbing center. Sponsored by the Mendelssohn Society, the presentation was joined to the Master Courses that, directed by Pablo Casals, have called many musicians to the foothills of the Matterhorn in recent years. Tonight’s offering of the concerto is the first in the United States. The question of whether the very early works of great composers, withheld from publication, should be publicly performed was and is still a matter of discussion. Brahms, for instance, argued strongly against it, and Weber held that first operas and puppies should be drowned. True, a concert is not a composition class or a session in a musicological seminar. Nonetheless these early works offer glimpses of the development of a genius and this arouses the interest of the public at large. Mendelssohn’s clavier concerto in A minor belongs to a group of boyhood essays that includes thirteen symphonies for strings, a concerto for violin (D minor), and two for two pianos (A flat major and E major). These works were played in Mendelssohn’s paternal home, where a small string body could be easily assembled. It is interesting to note that all Mendelssohn concertos for one solo instrument are in the minor mode and their respective keys correspond to the tuning of the violin: E (violin concerto), A (piano), D (piano, violin), and G (piano).

Mendelssohn’s models were the concertos of Beethoven and to a certain degree the clavier works of Weber. The A minor concerto of the thirteen-year-old boy is a very ambitious piece, particularly its first Allegro. Running through 498 measures, it exceeds all Beethoven’s first movements in length, save that of the E flat major concerto. Of perfect formal construction, it gives the pianist ample opportunities to display his proficiency and it reveals certain pianistic features that appear in Mendelssohn’s mature works, such as alternating chords of sixteenth-notes. Yet the most interesting movement is the Adagio in E major. The orchestral prelude of the muted strings leads to a Recitative. The instrumental recitative is a heritage of the baroque. Models by Torelli, Vivaldi, Bonporti, and Locatelli were not accessible in 1822, but Mendelssohn certainly knew the recitative passages in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chromatic Fantasie and in Philipp Emanuel Bach’s first Prussian sonata. He also knew the recitative passages in Beethoven’s D minor sonata (Opus 31, No. 2) and perhaps those of Haydn’s quartet in G major (Opus 17, No. 5). The experiment with the recitative in this concerto is the most important hint at things to come. For Mendelssohn used recitatives in his violin sonata (Opus 4), clavier sonata (Opus 6), string quartet in A minor (Opus 13), Fantasy on “The Last Rose” (Opus 15), and F minor sonata for organ (Opus 65). And there is in the Adagio also a remarkable episode of a dramatic quality: the middle section in B minor with the excited piano part, accompanied by the tremolo of the violin and violas, now without mutes, and the agitated interjections of the plucked basses. This truly romantic passage points to Weber, whose resounding successes as opera composer and pianist in Berlin Felix witnessed. The gentle ending of the Adagio, presaging the conclusion of the Notturno of the music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1843), is contrasted sharply with the entry of the finale. Save for two short orchestral passages, the solo instrument dominates from the beginning to the end.
One closing remark: The performance of the concerto in Zermatt, a village surrounded by mighty glaciers and the loftiest peaks of Switzerland was also a proper tribute paid to Mendelssohn, the enthusiastic hiker who loved the Swiss Alps so dearly.

— Dr. Joseph Braunstein (1892-1996)

For a decade, Dr. Braunstein’s program notes graced the Musica Aeterna concerts given by Horszowski and many other soloists appearing with the orchestra under Dr. Waldman. He was a friend of the pianist and conductor. In addition to his extensive writings on music, Dr. Braunstein was a member of the Österreichischer Alpenverein.