A new CD has been published by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.
The Circle of Brahms, vol. 5
John Kersey, piano
Total time: 72 minutes 19 seconds
1. Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916): Variations in E flat major, op. 18
2. Gernsheim: Variations in C minor, op. 22
3. Gernsheim: Weihe der Nacht, op. 69
4&5. Gernsheim: Fantasie und Fuge, op. 76b
Ernst Rudorff (1840-1916): 3 Romanzen, op 48: 6. Andante con moto tranquillo 7. Allegro capriccioso 8. Larghetto – Allegro vivace
9. Rudorff: Variazioni capricciose, op 55
10. Rudorff: Capriccio appassionato, op. 49
Friedrich Gernsheim was born of a Jewish family in Worms and studied there with Louis Liebe, who had been a pupil of Spohr. Following the 1848 revolutions, his father moved the family to Frankfurt, where he studied with Edward Rosenhain. His debut in 1850 was followed by two years of touring, before he undertook advanced studies with Moscheles. Between 1855-60 he was in Paris, where he met Lalo, Rossini and Saint-Saëns. In 1861 he succeeded Hermann Levi as music director in Saarbrücken, and in 1865 Hiller appointed him to the staff of the Cologne Conservatoire, where he taught Engelbert Humperdinck among others. In 1868 he met Brahms for the first time, and his compositions, which include four symphonies (the third based on the Jewish theme of the Song of Miriam), concertos and much chamber music, show a notable Brahmsian influence. He spent the years 1874-90 as director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Society, before joining the faculty of the Stern Conservatoire in Berlin, finally leaving to teach at the Academy of Arts in 1897, the year he was elected to the senate.
Gernsheim was a talented pianist and composer, and although it is not difficult to see elements of Brahms and Schumann in his work, there is also a personal voice that tends distinctly towards the melancholic. His sets of piano variations on original themes are inventive and ambitious, featuring intricate textural writing and some effective harmonic touches. His Fantasie und Fuge is a transcription of an organ work that begins in the traditional improvisatory style with abrupt contrasts of mood and tempo before building into a noble work that pays homage to the example of Bach. His poetic “Weihe der Nacht” is a transcription of a work originally for piano four hands.
Ernst Rudorff studied piano under Woldemar Bargiel (see previous RDR releases) and in 1859 entered the Leipzig Conservatoire where he studied under Moscheles, Plaidy and Rietz. He undertook further study with Hauptmann and Reinecke. Appointment as professor of piano at the Cologne Conservatoire in 1865 was followed by the senior piano position at the Berlin Hochschule between 1869 and his retirement in 1910. In 1867 he founded the Bach-Verein Köln and from 1880-90 was conductor of the Stern Gesangverein, succeeding Bruch.
A prolific composer, arranger and editor, Rudorff was a friend of both Brahms and Joachim. His original works include three symphonies, overtures, variations and serenades for orchestra, chamber music and vocal music both with orchestra and with piano. He was responsible for orchestrating Schubert’s four-hand Fantasy in F minor.
His compositional style owes something to Brahms but is also relatively forward-looking, at times approaching in its chromatic harmonic style such younger contemporaries as Dohnanyi. His music is characterized by a certain degree of vigour; the extended coda of his Variazioni capricciose being notable for its extroversion. Again, the Three Romances op. 48 might arouse expectations of tranquil works, but the second and third (after a slow introduction) are in fact highly active.