By ISIDOR PHILIPP
[The following article will be limited in its usefulness to those readers who are either advanced students or teachers of advanced students. Coming from a leading teacher, of piano at the Paris Conservatoire, who has also achieved fame as an author of educational works and as an exacting editor, the article is obviously a. valuable one and should be preserved by all ambitious students.-THE EDITOR.]
IF many of the teaching pieces prepared in the last few years are almost devoid of originality, it is less difficult to find novel and interesting arrangements for finger practice.
In this last category, the place of honor belongs to the work of Ferruccio Busoni, one of the foremost living masters of the piano. Who shall speak adequately of his arrangement of the Chorales of J. Sebastian Bach? Eulogy is superfluous It is a marvelous adaptation of one of the chief works of the great Cantor of Leipsic, and neither Liszt nor Alkan approaches it in his orchestral transcriptions. I recommend the study of this work to all advanced students-those who want to progress-after they have worked for a .long time at Well-tempered Clavier, the Toccatas, and the transcriptions of the organ Preludes and Fugues by Liszt. Busoni has transcribed with the same subtle skill the Prelude and Fugue in E flat, one of the most important and glorious of all Bach’s organ works; the Toccata and Fugue in D minor-how much better than Tausig’s arrangement!-the Toccata and Fugue in C-another remarkable piece of work-the Prelude and Fugue in D major, and the Chaconne.
Another work for which a place of honor must be found is the admirable transcription of Bach’s three Orchestral Suites by Martucci. These works are very interesting as regards sonority and the polyphony. The concerto for the organ by Friedmann Bach has found in T. Weiss (an excellent but little known pianist) a transcriber of great skill-the work is of high order, and deserves notice. The same concerto has also been arranged by a German pianist, Stradal. Mr. Stradal either absolutely misunderstands the organ or knows nothing about it. In either case, his transcriptions arc ill-contrived, devoid of spirit, often vulgar, the bass part being doubled, and the piano effects clumsy. Mr. Stradal ought to read the advice which Busoni gives in his fine edition of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier: if he has already done so, he has certainly not profited by it. Another transcriber-this time an interesting one-is Max Reger, the composer, whose name is nowadays universally known and esteemed. His arrangements of the Fugues in D major, E min-r and E flat (two versions), and the Toccata in D minor are remarkable. But if Reger thoroughly understands the organ, he does not know the piano as Busoni does, and has not the refinement ‘of taste of the latter. The transcriptions, sometimes exaggerated as to their difficulty, are very different from each other. It is amusing to compare Busoni and Reger, and interesting also, since Reger has made a more exact transcription than Busoni.
Mention must also be made of the transcriptions of Bach made by D’Albert, of which the most interesting is the Passacaille.*
Among teaching editions, the first place belongs to the productions from the works of Bach by Mugellini. The young Boulogne professor is a thinker, and his work has no shortcomings. The Inventions, the French and English Suites, the Partites and the Toccatas merit attention from all those who study the piano and de-’ire to become truly acquainted with Bach. Not a single point nor difficulty escapes his attention. The fingering is marked with intelligence, and ought to be adaptable for all hands. The footnotes, abundant and absolutely correct, the perfectly clear analyses, go to make a very remarkable work. The edition is published with French and Italian text, by Ricordi’s. The same house has prepared an edition of the complete works of Scarlatti, arranged by A. Longo. This, also, is a very unusual work, and the three volumes of which it is composed would make a very acceptable prize; all musicians should know the masterpieces to be found in it.
The “Gradus” of Clementi and the “Well-tempered” Clavier have been revised by Mugellini (Brcitkopf). The two editions are of the highest order. 1 also can recommend twelve very interesting Sonatas of Padre Martini, in Mario Vitali’s excellent edition (Ricordi).
*I have myself transcribed a few of Bach’s works. The Toccata in F is included under the title “Six Etudes from Bach,” and about 20 pieces from Bach for two pianos.
Among the enormous quantity of studies prepared in recent times mention must be made, before all, of the “Eludes de Difficult Transcendante”- “Studies of Transcendent Difficulty”-(dedicated to the memory of Liszt I by Liapsunow. The work is very modern in character, and ha.- marked individuality. If not overburdened with ideas, there is variety in the rhythm, style in the harmonic and contrapuntal scheme, and a deep knowledge of the tone qualities of the piano, that make it extremely valuable. The work is entire!) unsuitable for pianists who have not attained a highly developed technic. This remark also applies to the Studies of Lette Withol, Op. 25. No. 1: Op. 30. No. 3. etc. These works are distinguished by rare qualities of originality, and the author has made a special study of certain difficulties in technic, such as double notes and octaves.
I am less pleased with Tentsch’s six “‘Etudes de Difficulte Transcendante.” However, I must not forget to point out that Nos. 4 and 6 may be studied with profit. They are extremely difficult. The six Studies by Ollerstrom may be mentioned, those for double notes being very useful. Three Concert Studies by Gedalge and three Studies by G. Pierne deserve attention. They are concert studies more than instruction pieces, but the artist and student will find them so interesting that they will desire to go into them deeply. In the same way the Etudes-Fantasies (Fantasia Studies), by Felix Blumcnfeld. are admirable pieces, but so difficult that only highly trained artists can do anything with them. In the Studies. Op. 8. and 42 of Scriabine’s, the technic is original, though influenced by Chopin and Liszt. But the book of Studies which is the ne plus ultra of modern piano art is the series of arrangement? of the Chopin Etudes by Godowski. It is witchcraft, a veritable phantasmagoria! All possible rhythmic combinations and difficulties are gathered together in this work, and I am convinced that close attention to this extraordinary production will have a very great influence on modern pianists.
Of the works of less difficulty Tentsch’s two Studies in thirds and sixths may be mentioned, also thirty Studies in “Velocity” by Philipp. and the Studies in thirds and sixths by Longo.
Among the latest instruction works there is little to be gleaned: they are all somewhat alike. The Technik of Christensen’s is fair; the Additional Exercises of Hans Dechends, and Tausig’s “Daily Exercises” are interesting enough, but they offer nothing new. The Op. 77 of Scharwenka is in line with the ideas of the pianoforte works published nowadays. Alphonse Duvernoy’s “School of Mechanism” maintains its place among the works of interest, and the Scales of Wichmayer and the Scales and Arpeggios of Herman Vetter deserve attention from all who make a study of the piano.