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CHARLES-VALENTIN ALKAN
[1813 - 1888]

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
(First Movement)

an orchestral arrangement by Mark Starr
of Alkan's Concerto pour piano seul (first movement,)
also known as the Etude No. 8 in G# minor, Allegro assai
from Douze études dans tous les tons mineurs, opus 39






link to biography of Charles-Valentin Alkan





A demo recording of this arrangement -- realized with digital musical sounds -- will begin to play automatically upon opening this page.  The audio may take a minute to load -- depending on the speed of your internet connection.  If you do not wish hear it, please click on the STOP button (or PAUSE button) on the media player, below.  Also, you may wish to adjust your volume control to a more comfortable level.






Second Movement (currently in preparation)

Third Movement (currently in preparation)

Given its remarkable duration (30 minutes,) the first movement may be performed alone -- as Alkan himself did in one of his Petits Concerts in Paris.


 

Sheet music available on rental only, for concert performances and/or commercial recordings, from Noteworthy Musical Editions :
      reduction for two pianos
      orchestral score
      orchestral parts

duration: 30 minutes

ORCHESTRA:
piccolo
2 flutes
2 oboes
English horn
2 clarinets
bass clarinet
2 bassoons
contrabassoon
4 horns
3 trombones
tuba
timpani
percussion: piatti, castagnettes, tam-tam (large), snare drum, bass drum
strings


Some Critical Comments on Mark Starr's Orchestration of Alkan's Concerto pour piano seul

"Mark Starr's orchestration of Alkan's Concerto is a techincal tour de force and a wild adventure into music of the past.  With remarkable mastery of the art of orchestration, together with a vivid imagination for fascinating but historically appropriate sonor­ities, Mr. Starr has captured the soul of this fiery and revolutionary 19th Century piano concerto. My own interest in Alkan's music goes back to 1963, when I produced for WBAI in New York pianist Raymond Lewenthal's first Alkan recital. Perhaps Mr. Starr's brilliant orchestration of the Concerto will provide the vehicle for Alkan's music to enter the repertoire, at long last."

—     John Corigliano, American composer. Professor of Composition at The Julliard School and at Lehman College, New York

 

Some Critical Comments on Alkan's Concerto pour piano seul

'This music has the glamour of Liszt's, tempered by a classical severity; the necromantic mystery of Paganini's, without Paganini's tawdry showmanship; whilst in long-range dramatic and architectural scope, it occasionally challenges Beethoven; and it habitually recalls the linear distinction, rhythmic vivacity and colouristic 'scoring' of Berlioz."

—     by British music critic Wilfred Mellers The Guardian, Manchester; March 20,1978

 

"Even in a generation that included Berlioz, Liszt, Chopin and Schumann, Alkan was outstanding. His complete neglect until recently should inspire healthy cynicism about the supposed infallibility of the judgements of posterity. But perhaps this music has by some mysterious process become relevant to us in a way that it was not a few generations ago. In the Concerto, one is first intrigued by the originality of the ideas. Then one is threatened by the sinister energy embodied in each movement.

—     by British music critic Max Harrison The Times, London; May 27,1977

 

"It is time to stop thinking of Alkan only as a grotesque and a virtuoso. There are many layers of poetry in this music."

—     by British music critic Hugh Macdonald The Musical Times, London; September 1978

 

 

"Alkan's Concerto for Piano Solo is undoubtedly one of the greatest piano works of the Nineteenth Century."

— by British critic Malcolm MacDonald from the book Makers of 19th Century Culture, published by Routledge & Kegan Paul; London 1985

 

"Alkan's music is filled with surprises, many grotesquely daring, others overwhelmingly complex. But it is not Alkan's originality that holds our atten­tion; it is his obsessive personality—his way of fixing upon one rhythmical figure, a certain color, a chor-dal pattern, even a single note, and squeezing it with monomanical devotion. Chopin was a lyrical lover; Liszt was an oratorical lover—but Alkan was a lover possessed."

—     American music critic Bernard Holland

The New York Times, January 10,1983

 

"The Concerto is one of the most original piano works of its century...This is music of enormous power."

—     by British record critic Roger Fiske The Gramophone, Great Britain January 1970

 

 

"This is a most important and impressive issue containing some of the most remarkable piano music to emanate from the 19th Century...I don't doubt the claim in Ronald Smith's excellent sleeve notes that the Allegro assai is the longest first movement in classical form. This incredible study is a masterpiece."

—     by E. A. (staff music critic) Records and Recording, Great Britain January 1970

 

"The work is a curious mixture of extreme severity and profound passion...It is not easy to describe, still less easy to compare this work with others. The tutti sections are tough, severe, dramatic music utterly unlike anyone else's...Possibly the most remarkable passage comes in the first movement's development section, with its cold, granitic textures, austere harmonies, the music poised and motionless. The Concerto has an Adagio that...devolves on to the keyboard's extremes, with the left-hand suggesting funereal drum beats. Andthereisa/i'Htfte of demonic energy, music of extraordinary dark power and fiendish difficulty."

—      by British music critic Stanley Sadie The Times, London; March 14,1970

 

 

"One has no hesitation in saying that this is one of the most remarkable and original piano concertos in existence...Its astonishing freshness, the absolute independence and individuality impressed on every bar, the splendid richness, variety and brilliance of the keyboard writing, the prodigious vitality and energy of the work, make its neglect a matter of mystery—indeed one suspects that not one pianist in a hundred even knows of its existence."

— by Kaikhosru Sorabji, British/Indian composer and critic; from Sorabji's book Around Music; Unicorn Press, London, 1932

 

"...a masterpiece, and an attack on one's nervous system—and an attack on the piano...The Concerto is probably the most difficult piano work ever written... The immense musical value of this composition—a work that at first hearing has an almost impenetra­ble structure—hides itself behind the inhuman and sometimes comically insane technical demands."

— by Dutch music critic Rob Schouter Algemeen Handelsblad,

Nov. 11,1984; Amsterdam

 

'Then there was Alkan's Concerto for Solo Piano, music of bloodcurdling technical savagery and chilling poetic austerity."

— by B. M. (staff music critic) The Daily Telegraph, London March 21,1983

 

 Much of this music ranks with anything by Liszt. Also, it has a more disturbing power."

— by American music critic Edward Rothstein The New York Times, April 25,1982

 

"Intensity and almost demonic power are the first impressions, making a first hearing a stunning and exhausting experience. Greater familiarity allows the great intellectual gifts of Alkan to be more fully realised; and it becomes clear that this is great music, the neglect of which is astonishing."

 — by Peter Turner

Hi-Fi News and Record Review, Great Britain, March 1978

 

'The Opus 39 set of etudes can only be described as one of the most remarkable and towering achieve­ments of the 19th Century...Studies Nos. 8,9 and 10 comprise the Concerto. Here the whole gravity of the work is centered on the first movement—a colos­sal, epic statement based on the classical concerto style...The central slow movement, with its recitative passages, its tremolo writing and its entirely Alkan-esque balance of sonorities at the extreme ends of the keyboard, is another masterpiece. The finale is full of impulsive drive, vivid flashes, and a progres­sive tonal stress that is resolved in a coda with all the assurance of an artist in complete control of his material."

 —     by British record critic Ates Orga Records and Recording, London March, 1977

 

"The difficulties are of fiendish proportions, with the most fearsome-sounding repeated note passage that I have ever heard. Just listening to it is enough to give even any semi-knowledgeable person goosebumps."

—     by American record critic Harris Goldsmith

High Fidelity, August 1972

 

 

Some Critical Comments on Alkan's Music in General

"Alkan's time has come. In the past, following the lead of pianist and conductor Hans von Biilow, one often referred to Alkan as "the Berlioz of the piano"— and with good reason. Yet, in the light of his unique compositional technique and what has become part of a real Alkan boom, it might be more accurate to call him today "the Mahler of the piano."

 —     by American music critic Irving Lowens High Fidelity, July 1982

 

"Some of the writing is prophetic, some is inspired. All of it attests to a remarkable imagination."

—     American music critic Harold C. Schonberg

The New York Times, November 1964

 

"Alkan should eventually take his due place among the most important figures of his time."

—     New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians 1980 Edition

 Hugh Macdonald, biographer

 

"Amongst the composers rescued from obscurity by the revival of interest in 19th Century Romanticism, Alkan is almost certainly the most valuable discovery. Long dismissed as a writer of mere technical exercises, his music—performed by a few dedicated artists—has amply confirmed Busoni's judgment that Alkan stands with Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms as one of the five greatest piano composers since Beethoven."

—     by British critic Malcolm MacDonald from the book Makers of Nineteenth Century Culture, published by Routledge and Kegan Paul London, 1985