A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Moscheles, Ignaz

1712148A Dictionary of Music and Musicians — Moscheles, IgnazEdward Dannreuther

MOSCHELES, IGNAZ, the foremost pianist after Hummel and before Chopin, was born at Prague on May 30, 1794. His precocious aptitude for music aroused the interest of Dyonis Weber, the director of the Prague Conservatoriuin. Weber brought him up on Mozart and Clementi. At fourteen years of age he played a concerto of his own in public; and soon after, on the death of his father, was sent to Vienna to shift for himself as a pianoforte teacher and player, and to pursue his studies in counterpoint under Albrechtsberger, and in composition under Salieri.

The first volume of 'Aus Moscheles [1]Leben,' extracts from his diary, edited by Mme. Moscheles (Leipzig, 1872), offers bright glimpses of musical life in Vienna during the first decade of the century, and shows how quickly young Moscheles became a favourite in the best musical circles. In 1814 Artaria & Co., the publishers, honoured him with a commission to make the pianoforte arrangement of Beethoven's Fidelio under the master's supervision. [See vol. i. 191a, 169b.]

Moscheles's career as a virtuoso can be dated from the production of his 'Variationen über den Alexandermarsch,' op. 32, 1815. These 'brilliant' variations met with an unprecedented success, and soon became a popular display piece for professional pianists; later in life he frequently found himself compelled to play them, though he had outgrown them both as a musician and as a player. During the ten years following Moscheles led the life of a travelling virtuoso. In the winter of 1821 he was heard and admired in Holland, and wrote his Concerto in G minor; early in 1822 [App. p.720 "in 1821"] he played in Paris, and subsequently in London. Here John Cramer, and the veteran Clementi, hailed him as an equal and friend; his capital Duo for two pianofortes, 'Hommage à Händel,' was written for Cramer's concert, and played by the composer and 'glorious John.' In the season of 1823 he reappeared in London, and in 1824 he gave pianoforte lessons to Felix Mendelssohn, then a youth of 15, at Berlin. In 1826, soon after his marriage, at Hamburg, with Charlotte Embden, he chose London for a permanent residence; and for a further ten years he led the busy life of a prominent metropolitan musician. His first performance at the Philharmonic was on May 29, 1826 [App. p.720 "June 11, 1821"]. After that he often played there, appeared at the concerts of friends and rivals, gave his own concert annually, paid flying visits to Bath, Brighton, Edinburgh, etc., played much in society, did all manner of work to the order of publishers, gave innumerable lessons, and withal composed assiduously. In 1832 he was elected one of the directors of the Philharmonic Society; and in 1837 and 38 he conducted Beethoven's 9th Symphony with signal success at the society's concerts. In 1845, after Sir Henry Bishop's resignation, he acted as regular conductor.

When Mendelssohn, who during his repeated visits to England had become Moscheles's intimate friend, started the Conservatorium of Music at Leipzig, Moscheles was invited to take the post of first professor of the pianoforte. He began his duties in 1846; and it is but fair to add that the continued success of the institution, both during the few remaining months of Mendelssohn's life, and for full twenty years after, was in a great manner owing to Moscheles's wide and solid reputation, and to his indefatigable zeal and exemplary conscientiousness as a teacher. Moscheles took quite a paternal interest in his pupils. If the school hours proved insufficient, which was frequently the case, he would invite them to his private residence, and there continue his instructions; and when they left school he endeavoured to find suitable professional openings for them, and remained their friend, ever ready with kindly advice and assistance.

As a pianoforte player Moscheles was distinguished by a crisp and incisive touch, clear and precise phrasing, and a pronounced preference for minute accentuation. He played octaves with stiff wrists, and was chary in the use of the pedals.

Mendelssohn and, with some reservations, Schumann, were the only younger masters whose pianoforte works were congenial to him. Those of Chopin and Liszt he regarded with mingled feelings of aversion and admiration. Indeed, his method of touch and fingering did not permit him to play either Chopin's or Liszt's pieces with ease. 'My thoughts, and consequently my fingers,' he wrote in 1833, à propos of Chopin's Etudes, etc., 'ever stumble and sprawl at certain crude modulations, and I find Chopin's productions on the whole too sugared, too little worthy of a man and an educated musician, though there is much charm and originality in the national colour of his motive.' It is true he somewhat modified this opinion when he heard Chopin play. Still it remains a fact that to the end of his days, both the matter and the manner of Chopin and other modern pianists appeared to him questionable.

Moscheles was renowned for the variety and brilliancy of his extempore performances, the character of which can be guessed at by his Preludes, op. 73. His last improvisation in public on themes furnished by the audience formed part of the programme of a concert at St. James's Hall in 1865, given by Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt 'in aid of the sufferers by the war between Austria and Prussia,' where he improvised for some twenty minutes on 'See the conquering hero comes,' and on a theme from the Andante of Beethoven's C minor Symphony, in a highly interesting and astonishing manner.

The list of his numbered compositions given in a Thematic Catalogue (Leipzig, Kistner) and in 'Aus Moscheles Leben,' vol. ii. [App. p.720 "Add that the 'Life of Moscheles,' referred to in the last paragraph, was translated by Mr. A. D. Coleridge (Hurst & Blackett). His correspondence with Mendelssohn was published in 1888"], extends to op. 142, and there is besides a long list of ephemera, written for the market, to please publishers and fashionable pupils. The latter, and many of the former, have had their day; but his best works, such as the Concerto in G minor, op. 60 (1820–21); the Concerto pathétique, op. 93; the Sonate melancolique, op. 49; the Duo for pianoforte, 'Hommage à Händel,' op. 92; the three Allegri di Bravura, op. 51; and above all, the 24 Etudes, op. 70 (1825 and 26), and the 'Characteristische Studien,' op. 95, occupy a place in the classical literature of the instrument from which no subsequent development can oust them. Moscheles died at Leipzig March 10, 1870.
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  1. Translated by A. D. Coleridge. Bunt & Blackett, 1873.