Piano Music

By Rimm, Robert | Notes, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Piano Music


Rimm, Robert, Notes


PIANO MUSIC Alexander Siloti. The Alexander Siloti Collection: Editions, Transcriptions, and Arrangements for Piano Solo. Introductory notes by Charles Barber. (The Masters Collection.) New York: Carl Fischer, c2003. [Essays on Siloti's life and transcriptions (with photographic reproductions), p. 4-14; scores (mostly reprints), p. 15-288. ISBN 0-8258-4730-3; PL 112. $39.95.]

Leopold Godowsky. 53 Studies on Etudes of Frédéric Chopin and Other Chopin Arrangements. Compilation and introductory notes by Millan Sachania. (The Godowsky Collection, 3.) (The Masters Collection.) New York: Carl Fischer, c2002. [Introductory essay, p. vii-xix; biographical sketch and 10 photographic reproductions, p. xxi-xxxii; scores (reprints), p. 1-445. ISBN 0-8258-4248-4; ATF 137. $49.95.]

Alexander Siloti (1863-1945) occupies a legendary position in Russian musical history, as a world-class pianist, student of Franz Liszt, teacher, and widely influential impresario. He also taught and became a confidant to his cousin Sergey Rachmaninoff (he conducted the first performance of Rachmaninoff's second Piano Concerto with the composer at the piano, was among the first to present the signature C#-Minor Prelude [op. 3, no. 2] in worldwide performances, and provided financial assistance to the composer). During his heyday in the decades surrounding fin de siècle Russia, Siloti also impressively perpetuated the time-honored art of musical transcription. But while his name has somewhat faded, in large part because he left few major original compositions to outlast his lifetime, his achievements as a transcriber were exceeded perhaps only by contemporaries Ferruccio Busoni and Leopold Godowsky. In common with many other illustrious composers, Godowsky thought highly enough of Siloti to dedicate his Intermezzo malinconico to him (from 1928 and 1929 in separate versions for the left hand alone and two hands; both were published by G. Schirmer in 1931).

Transcriptions of Johann Sebastian Bach's music were far more prevalent during the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than they are today, in no small part due to the desire to enjoy works that otherwise could be only rarely heard. The rapid rise in the popularity of recordings during the twentieth century from 78 rpm to compact discs saw a proportional diminution of the absolute need to transcribe for the piano music written for other instruments, no more so than in our current age when the wide availability of recordings has turned one's iPod into an instantly accessible, library-sized archive. Furthermore, the mid-twentieth-century's focus on modernism and spare textures, as well as the rise of the authenticity movement in the performance of early music, meant that the Corinthian columns and bas-relief surfaces of the best transcriptions became passé. Along with the current acknowledgment among many contemporary composers that tonal-based-dare one admit Romantic-music naturally appeals to broader audiences, and an acceptance of first-rate transcriptions and arrangements as musical works in their own right, the performance on concert programs and recordings of transcriptions by Busoni, Godowsky, and Siloti appears to be enjoying a renaissance.

While Busoni's transcriptions may be found abundantly in any well-stocked music shop, until the appearance of the indispensable volume of Siloti reprints compiled and introduced by Charles Barber as part of Carl Fisher's estimable Masters Collection series, one often had to search many library shelves to find this music. And, while Bach-Busoni continues to sit comfortably in recital programs, BachSiloti remains something of a rarity. This situation now appears likely to change, thanks to the publication of this anthology a year after the appearance of its compiler's biography Lost in the Stars: The Forgotten Musical Life of Alexander Siloti (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002; reviewed by Brian C. Thompson in Notes 60, no. 3 [March 2004]: 692-94) and its accompanying compact disc of Siloti's Bach transcriptions performed by the late pianist James Barbagallo (Naxos 8. …

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