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  • Earthling 4:52 pm on November 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Bible scholar, Charles-Valentin Alkan, French composer, Jewish composer   

    Charles-Valentin Alkan 

    Charles-Valentin Alkan (Born on November 30, 1813 in Paris, France – Died on March 29, 1888 in Paris, France) was a French composer and pianist of Jewish descent. He was known in his time as one of the greatest virtuoso pianists, and many of his compositions are renowned for their difficulty. His works have experienced a rise in popularity in the 21st century, following a long period of obscurity following his death.


    Charles-Valentin Alkan was born in Paris in 1813 with the last name Morhange. His father, Alkan Morhange, was a music teacher. Charles-Valentin and his brothers, who were also musicians, used their father’s first name as their last.

    Alkan was a child prodigy. He entered the Paris Conservatory at age 6 and won a series of first prizes: solfège at age 7, piano at age 11, harmony at age 14, and organ at age 21. He began publishing at age 14. He was taught by Joseph Zimmermann, among others.

    After graduation, Alkan embarked upon a successful career as a pianist in Paris. He had some well-received concerts in London in 1833. He rarely played his own music in public. He also taught part-time at the Paris Conservatory from 1829 to 1836.

    Alkan achieved a reputation as one of the great virtuoso pianists of his time. Franz Liszt once said that Alkan had the most perfect technique he had ever witnessed. [1]

    Alkan was friends with numerous musicians and intellectuals, including Victor Hugo, George Sand, Frédéric Chopin, and Franz Liszt. He was Chopin’s next-door neighbor. Nevertheless, he remained introverted throughout his life. He withdrew from social life and public performances around 1848, while continuing to compose and publish music.

    In the last decade of his life, Alkan resumed giving concerts. These were small concerts at the Erard piano showrooms. He played his own music, as well as that of his favorite composers from Bach onwards.

    Alkan died in 1888. A widespread apocryphal tale reports that he died from a bookcase in his home falling on him as he reached for a Talmud. This has been disproven. Hugh MacDonald reports from a letter from one of Alkan’s pupils that Alkan died after being trapped under a heavy port-parapluie (coat/umbrella rack). [1]

    Alkan never married. The pianist Élie-Miriam Delaborde is generally considered to be his illegitimate son. [1]

    Religious and Scholarly Life

    Alkan was a devout Jew and a religious scholar. He was fluent in Hebrew and Greek, and extensively studied the Bible and Talmud. He also studied the Evangel. He invested a lot of time in a complete translation of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) into French, which he completed, and which has unfortunately been lost.

    In a letter dated January 3, 1861, Alkan wrote to his friend Ferdinand Hiller: “I’ve finished all the canonical books, and I’m now on to the Apocrypha. I’m finishing Ecclesiastes, and I’ll be starting Baruch next, God willing. It’s about the only thing that I do with any regularity, as well as my studies. Which is to say that I’m not doing anything of much worth, since this translation will have served no more than to stop me from admiring the translations of others: except perhaps Luther’s” [2]

    He also wrote, “There are times when, if I had to start my life all over again, I would love to set the whole of the Bible to music, from the first word to the very last” [2]

    In a letter from May 30, 1865, he wrote “There are times when, if I had to start my life all over again, I would love to set the whole of the Bible to music, from the first word to the very last.”

    His faith is represented in his music, which often has religious themes. Some of his keyboard pieces are based on the Psalms.


    Musical Style and Legacy

    Alkan’s music is known for its extreme difficulty, as well as its originality and ingenuity.

    Much of Alkan’s music features religious and Jewish themes.

    Due to his reclusiveness, Alkan was not particularly well-known during his life. He was greatly admired by fellow musicians such as Anton Rubinstein and Franz Liszt. Alkan’s music fell into even greater obscurity following his death and for many decades was championed only by a small number of figures such as Ferruccio Busoni, Egon Petri, Kaikhosru Sorabji, Raymond Lewenthal, and Ronald Smith. Ferruccio Busoni called Alkan’s piano works “the greatest achievement in piano music after Liszt.” In the 21st century, Alkan’s music has experienced a revival and become more popular.

    Almost of Alkan’s compositions are for keyboard instruments; principally the piano, but he also wrote organ and pedal-piano pieces. Some of Alkan’s works have been lost. These include an orchestral symphony and several string sextets.


    [1] http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Alkan-Charles.htm

    [2] https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA67218





    This article was written by me for Lunyr

  • Earthling 3:21 pm on August 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Author of Wedding March, Composer, Conductor, Felix Mendelssohn, , German music, Greatest Romantic Composer, Jew music, Jewish composer, , Writer of Wedding March   

    Felix Mendelssohn 

    Felix Mendelssohn (Born on February 3, 1809 in Hamburg, Germany – Died on November 4, 1847 in Leipzig, Germany) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, and teacher of Jewish descent. He is considered one of the greatest early Romantic composers. His most famous piece is his Wedding March, which remains one of the most popular wedding songs in the world.


    Felix Mendelssohn was born in 1809 in Hamburg to Abraham and Leah Mendelssohn. His full name is Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. He was the grandson of the famous philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. His parents were converts to Christianity. They moved to Berlin during the French occupation of Hamburg, when Felix was two years old. His father became a banker.

    Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny both received early piano lessons from their mother. Mendelssohn’s early musical education progressed with piano lessons under Ludwig Berger and composition lessons under Karl Friedrich Zelter. He also studied foreign language, drawing, and painting. In 1816, he stayed in Paris for a while and had piano lessons from Marie Bigot.

    Mendelssohn was a child prodigy. During his childhood years, he wrote several operas and eleven symphonies, among many other compositions. His public debut took place in Berlin when he was nine years old.
    In 1819, Mendelssohn entered the Singakademie academy and composed prolifically. He also began conducting there. Mendelssohn studied with the renowned pianist and compoers Ignaz Moscheles in 1824.

    In 1829, Mendelssohn conducted a successful performance of St. Matthew Passion by Bach. Later that year, he conducted the London Philharmonic Society. He began writing his third symphony, known as his Scottish Symphony, while in Scotland.

    Mendelssohn toured Europe for several years, conducting and continuing to compose. In 1835, he became the conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. In 1836, Mendelssohn met Cécile Jeanrenaud in Frankfurt, and they married the next year. They had five children.

    In 1843, Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatory of Music and served as its director. The Conservatory is still running today and is the oldest university of music in Germany. Mendelssohn has been credited with establishing Leipzig as the musical center of Germany. [1]

    Mendelssohn began to suffer health problems in 1844. In 1847, Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny suddenly died. Mendelssohn became depressed and his health worsened. Six months after his sister, Mendelssohn died from a ruptured blood vessel at age 38.

    Musical Style and Legacy

    Mendelssohn is considered to be one of the most major early Romantic composers. He remains extremely popular, and his Wedding March is one of the most widely known wedding marches in the world. His music has been described as dramatic, energetic, and original.

    Mendelssohn took inspiration from Bach and played a significant role in reviving interest in him. He also appreciated and supported his contemporary Franz Schubert.

    Notable Works

    Wedding March (from music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
    Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 25
    Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 40
    Violin Concerto, Op. 64


    People often complain that music is too ambiguous, that what they should think when they hear it is so unclear, whereas everyone understands words. With me, it is exactly the opposite, and not only with regard to an entire speech but also with individual words.”

    [1] https://www.biography.com/people/felix-mendelssohn-40373
    Article written by me for Lunyr

  • Earthling 9:50 am on May 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: American Composer, Futurist composer, Jewish composer, Leo Ornstein, Modernist composer, Small-handed pianist   

    Leo Ornstein 

    Leo Ornstein (Born on December 2, 1893 in Kremenchuk, Ukraine – Died on February 24, 2002 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA) was a Russia/Ukraine-born American Jewish composer and pianist particularly known for his modernist or “futurist” works, although his overall compositional output includes many styles. He achieved great renown in the US in the 1920s, then withdrew from public life and fell into obscurity until a renewal of interest in his music in the 1970s. He died in 2002, making him the only known concert musician who survived from the 19th century into the 21st century.


    Leo Ornstein was the son of a Jewish cantor. His uncle was Josef Hofmann, a very famous pianist. Ornstein showed an early talent for the piano, and he went to the St. Petersburg Conservatory at age ten. He studied under Alexander Glazunov. In 1907, his family moved to the US due to severe anti-semitism in Russia.

    In the US, Ornstein went to the Institute for Music Art in New York City (today the Juillard School of Music), where he learned from Bertha Fiering Tapper. He met his future wife Pauline Mallét-Provost here. In 1910, Mrs. Tapper accompanied Ornstein on a tour of Europe.

    Ornstein gave his first public concert in New York in 1911. He became quite popular, performing his own music as well as the music of other avant-garde composers such Debussy, Schoenberg, Scriabin, Bartok, Kodály, and Albeniz. He was known as one of the foremost representatives of “modernist” or “futurist” music. He performed many modernist pieces from Europe that had never been publically performed in the US before.

    Ornstein’s own music was initially not well-received, yet he gained a following. The critic James Huneker called him “the only true-blue, genuine, Futurist composer alive.” [1] The first biography of Ornstein was published in 1918 by Frederick H. Martens: Leo Ornstein: The Man, His Ideas, His Work.

    Ornstein’s early music was often dramatic and dissonant. Some of his notable early pieces include Danse Sauvage (Wild Men’s Dance) and Suicide in an Airplane, both written in 1914.

    In 1918, Ornstein married the pianist Pauline Mallét-Provost. In 1923, he premiered his piano concerto in Philadelphia. He co-founded the League of Composers and joined its board of directors. He also began to introduce late-romantic elements into his music. He became disillusioned with the trends of the latest modernist music, which he perceived as being often preoccupied with novelty for its own sake. He wanted to focus on writing inherently worthy music, regardless of whether it was perceived as modern or conservative. [2]

    In the late 1920s, Ornstein began to withdraw from public appearances. He stopped giving public concerts altogether in 1933. He was quickly forgotten by the public. He founded the Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia, and continued to teach and compose in private. He retired from the school in 1955, while continuing to compose in private. He and his family move to a mobile home in Brownsville, Texas.

    In 1970s, Ornstein’s began to regain recognition. A number of LP discs with his music were released.

    In 1985, his wife Pauline died and he moved to Wisconsin. She had been his motivator and assistant, so his compositional output decreased. He published his last work, his eighth piano sonata, in 1990. Ornstein died in 2002, at the age of 107. He is the only known concert musician who survived from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. [1]

    Musical Style and Legacy

    Ornstein wrote in many styles, sometimes combining different styles in the same piece. His earlier music is the most radical and “modernist”, while his music from the 1930s and onward features more Romantic elements. However, he continued to write unique and innovative music, and developed a style of writing music in multiple simultaneous keys or ambiguously approaching keys.

    Ornstein’s music was quite popular in the 1920s, then fell into obscurity when he withdrew from public life around 1930. Beginning in the 1970s, his music began to regain popularity, and this trend continues in the 21st century.

    Ornstein had small hands, which caused him to feel nervous playing the piano. He later reflected that it was madness for someone with such small hands to try to be a professional pianist. [2]


    [1] https://www.allmusic.com/artist/leo-ornstein-mn0001523882

    [2] http://leoornstein.net/leo_ornstein.html



    Article written by me for Lunyr

  • Earthling 8:08 pm on May 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Jewish composer, , Samuel Feinberg, Samuil Feinberg, ,   

    Samuel Feinberg 

    Article BannerSamuel Yevgenyevich Feinberg (Born on May 26, 1890 in Odessa, Russia – Died on October 22, 1962 in Moscow, Russia) was a Russian/Ukrainian/Jewish composer, pianist, and teacher. He enjoyed a successful career as an instructor at the Moscow Conservatory, while also being esteemed for his pianistic and compositional talent. He championed the works of composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Prokofiev, and Scriabin. He particularly drew inspiration from Scriabin in his own avant-garde compositions.


    Feinberg came from a Jewish background. He was born in Odessa (now Ukraine, then Russia) and raised in Moscow. He demonstrated great pianistic talent from a young age. He went to the Moscow Conservatory and studied under Alexander Goldenweiser. He also privately studied composition under Nikolai Zhilyayev at the same time. He graduated in 1911, then embarked upon his career as a pianist, while composing on the side. Feinberg met the famous composer and pianist Alexander Scriabin, who he drew inspiration from. Scriabin praised Feinberg’s pianism, and in particular his rendition of Scriabin’s fourth sonata.

    During World War 1, Feinberg was drafted and sent to fight for Russia, then discharged due to a sudden illness In 1922, he joined the faculty at the Moscow Conservatory, and remained in this post for the rest of his life. In the 1920’s he toured Europe, until he was banned from traveling by the Soviet government, in part due to his being Jewish. Two exceptions to the ban were allowed: a trip to Vienna in 1936, and to Brussels in 1938, both for the purpose of serving as a jury member for competitions.

    Feinberg’s music editor and former composition teacher Nikolai Zhilyayev was arrested in 1937 during Stalin’s reign of terror, then executed the next year. Due to this political environment, Feinberg began to produce more traditional music, and did not publish some of his more avant-garde works. He also stopped publicly performing his earlier works. In 1946, Feinberg was awarded the Stalin Prize.

    In 1951, Feinberg’s health began to decline due to heart problems. In 1956, he stopped performing publicly for health reasons.

    Feinberg never married. He lived with family and especially his brother, who was a painter. In his youth, prior to 1914, he had an unhappy affair with Vera Efron.

    After his death in 1962, Feinberg’s pupils fulfilled his wish for them to publish his book, Pianism as an Art.

    Musical Style and Legacy

    Feinberg was the first pianist to perform the Bach’s entire Well-Tempered Clavier in concert in the USSR. Today he remains well-known for his complete recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier. During his lifetime he was not well-known outside of Russia due to his inability to travel, but within Russia he was respected as a brilliant pianist and teacher. Following his death, his works and recordings have received more international attention.

    Feinberg has been considered as a musical successor of Alexander Scriabin. As with Scriabin, Feinberg’s more avant-garde works have been associated with Russian Symbolism.

    Christophe Sirodeau has described Feinberg’s music from 1910-1933 as having “an increasingly rich and virtuoso style of writing, very chromatic, often violent and rich in contrasts, but sometimes imbued with a ‘symbolist’ fragility that owes something to the influence of Scriabin.”

    As a pianist, his style has been described as “original” and involving a unique approach to each composer he played.


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