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Alkan(real name,Morhange),Charles-Valentin

paris piano appeared chopin

Alkan (real name, Morhange), Charles-Valentin, remarkable and eccentric French pianist and composer; b. Paris, Nov. 30, 1813; d. there, March 29, 1888. His father, Alkan Morhange (1780–1855), operated a music school in Paris; his brothers, Ernest (1816–76), Maxime (1818–91), Napoleon (1826–1906), and Gustave (1827–86), all became well-known musicians; all 5 adopted their father’s first name as their surname. Charles-Valentin entered the Paris Cons. in 1819 where he studied harmony with Dourlen and piano with Zimmerman, taking premiers prix in solfège (1820), piano (1824), harmony (1827), and organ (1834). He made his public debut as pianist and composer in Paris on April 2, 1826. By 1831 Alkan had established a reputation as a talented pianist in the salons of Paris, and had also begun to demonstrate his unique compositional skills. He played in a trio with A. Franchomme and J. Alard, for whom he wrote 3 chamber works. He visited London in 1833 and 1835, the only times he left Paris. In Paris, he developed friendships with leading musicians, artists, and literati, including Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, George Sand, Eugène Delacroix, and his neighbor, Chopin. On March 3, 1838, he appeared in a concert with Chopin; then, despite the favorable reception, inexplicably he did not appear again until 1844. Following several concerts in 1845, he again enigmatically interrupted his solo piano career for 28 years. Several laudatory articles by Schumann, Fétis, and Léon Kreutzer appeared during the interim concerninghis compositions. One article by Kreutzer is significant as it also discusses a Sym. for Orch., which has subsequently disappeared. His piano work Le Chemin de fer, op.27 (1844), is the earliest work descriptive of the railroad. In 1848 Zimmerman retired as prof. of piano at the Paris Cons. and suggested Alkan as his successor. Despite intercessions on his part by Sand, the position was given to A. Marmontel; this event propelled Alkan even further into seclusion. After Chopin’s death, he moved away from his contingent of artistic companions and became a virtual recluse. In 1857 a deluge of compositions were publ., including the remarkable 12 études dans les tons mineurs, op.39; Études 4–7 constitute a sym. for solo piano, Études 8–10 a concerto for solo piano. In 1859 one of his rare non-pianistic works, the grotesque Marche funèbre sulla morte d’un papagallo for Voices, 3 Oboes, and Bassoon, appeared. About this time he also became interested in the pédalier, a pedal board that attaches to a piano, on which he played organ works of Bach and for which he wrote many compositions, including the unique Bombardo-carillon for 4 feet alone. In 1873 he returned to the concert stage with a series of 6 recitals at the Salle Érard in Paris. This series was repeated yearly until 1882, 1876 excepted. He also appeared there on Monday and Thursday for 1 hour in a private studio, where he entertained anyone who happened to be present. The remainder of his activities remain shrouded in mystery.

Evidence is strong that his student Elie Delaborde was his natural son, although there is no formal documentation to substantiate the claim. Other students included I. Cervantes, F. Stockhausen Jr., and J. Wieniawski. During his lifetime, Alkan was an enigma; his pianistic skills were highly praised, even compared to those of Chopin and Liszt, and yet his aberrant behavior and misanthropy caused his name not to remain in the foreground. Judging from the scores of his difficult works, his skills must have been formidable. Since his death several pianists, notably Busoni, Petri, Lewenthal, Smith, and Hamelin have kept his works alive. Creating an accurate catalog of his voluminous works would be extremely difficult, since several works were publ. with as many as three different opus numbers in eds. by different publishers; some works were printed using different names, some opus numbers are missing (or possibly were never assigned), and some works were never publ.

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