New CD

A new recording has been released by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Johan Peter Emilius Hartmann (1805-1900): Piano Works
John Kersey, piano

Fantasy Pieces, op 54; 6 Tone Pieces in Song Form, op 37; Bellmanske Billeder: Menuetter; 8 Sketches, op 31

Johann Peter Emilius Hartmann succeeded his father at the Garnisons Kirke in 1824, and thereafter was successively professor at Copenhagen University and the founding director of the Conservatoire there from 1867. His studies in Europe in 1836 brought him into contact with Chopin, Rossini, Cherubini and Spohr. In musical style he successfully fused elements of Nordic nationalism with a post-Mendelssohnian style that at its most progressive clearly looks forward to Brahms. The quality of Hartmann’s inspiration and mastery of compositional and pianistic technique was considerable, and marks him out as the leading Danish composer for the piano of his generation.

This disc reflects Hartmann’s devotion to that most nineteenth-century of piano forms, the set of contrasting miniatures. For Hartmann, as for his predecessors (notably Beethoven), the miniature offers the opportunity to capture a brief mood or atmosphere without the concerns of formal development or the complex extension of structure; indeed where structure is extended, it is by simple episodic means. This distillation of musical inspiration to its essentials enables a rare intensity of experience; at their best, such pieces have the impact of the shorter forms of poetry, reflecting a more improvisatory and free-spirited art than can necessarily be present in the sonata or variations.

There is often much of Mendelssohn to be detected in Hartmann’s music, but with an individual and at times authentically Danish voice (see for example the Vekselsang that concludes op 37). This national feeling perhaps imparts a certain seriousness to his output by comparison with his contemporaries, and if not using actual folksong in his works here, he certainly often takes his inspiration from its contours and characteristic modulations.

The Fantasy Pieces op 54 are dedicated to Clara Schumann, who one feels would have readily appreciated their adventurous and intimate world. Particularly notable is the rhythmic displacement that appears in the second piece, which is both clever and effective. The fifth of the set is a dark Menuetto in A minor which at times bridges the gap with the waltz. Hartmann’s interest in the minuet, often considered antiquated by his contemporaries, can also be seen in the Bellmanske Billeder, an unusual set of two linked minuets with a virtuoso introduction, published without an opus number.

The title “Tone Pieces in Song Form” given to the set op 37 is surely a conscious reminiscence of Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words” of which the first piece could very easily be a continuation given its typical Mendelssohnian texture and melodic appeal. The set features a dramatic “hunting scene” as its third piece, and in its successor turns to a very Schumannesque narrative idea, answered in the last bars by a bluff “Chorus”. The ensuing Allegretto quasi Andantino flows amid complex double-note figuration, reminding us of Hartmann’s abilities in counterpoint.

The Eight Sketches op 31 date from 1842, by which time Hartmann was firmly established at the forefront of the Danish musical scene. They are notable for their pair of contrasting Scherzos that juxtapose enthusiasm and calmer polyphony. Older forms are suggested with the gigue-like movement that forms the sixth piece before the set concludes with a waltz and a fast-moving caprice in the minor.