Cathrine Penderup’s survey of the piano music of the Danish nineteenth-century composer Emil Hartmann is another major instalment in the rediscovery of this largely forgotten composer. In 2010 Penderup and the soprano Iben Vestergård released a double album of Hartmann’s ‘Nordic and German’ songs. It was critically well-received. In 2001 I reviewed his Piano Concerto in F major played by Oleg Marshev which I found impressive. There are also Danacord recordings of his violin and cello concertos.
Hartmann was born in Copenhagen in 1836. His first musical instruction was from his father. It is said that he could play the piano before he learnt to speak. Further studies were made with Anton Rée and later with Niels Gade who was the composer’s brother-in-law. Hartmann also played organ and secured a number of appointments in Denmark including at St. John’s Church, Copenhagen and at the Christiansburg Palace Church at the seat of the Danish Government. Not content with this he travelled extensively and preferred to live in Germany. The last two years of his life was spent in his birthplace and he died there in 1898.
Emil Hartmann wrote music for a wide range of genres including incidental music, liturgical music, three symphonies, concertos for piano, cello and violin, many songs, much chamber music and the piano music collected on this CD.
The approach to this present CD must be to explore each work or group of works slowly. I cannot advocate a chronological listening strategy, as Emil Hartmann did not choose to date his compositions. I explored the smaller character pieces and ‘suites’ first and then ‘advanced’ to the Sonatas. I do not intend to examine each work in detail however I will pick out three or four works that impressed me. I rely on the liner-notes for my information as little else appears to be available.
A good place to begin is with the lovely Scenes from a Ball, Op.23. It is clear that the inspiration behind these eleven short pieces is Schumann’s Carnival. As the notes point out, the composer does not hide this fact: the fourth piece, the Intermezzo I: La Coquette, makes use of a rhythmic motive found in the piece of the same name in Schumann’s work. Yet this work is not simply a pastiche of the elder composer work - it is a collection of relatively light-hearted pieces that explore a number of then-contemporary dances and piano styles. There is the occasional reflective moment in some these delightful pieces; any dark clouds are soon dispelled. I particularly enjoyed the ‘Galop furiouso’ and the ‘Valse Finale’. They are sympathetically played, with no sense of ‘tongue-in-cheek’: Cathrine Penderup takes these lovely numbers at face value.
The ‘Unfinished Sonata’ is an interesting work. The opening movement, an allegro, is full of promise, however as the work moves into the following ‘andante’ and ‘finale’ the composer’s enthusiasm does seem to ebb a little. The writer of the liner-notes may be just a wee bit harsh on Hartmann. The ‘andante’ is quite charming, if a little lacking in interest. The ‘finale’ sounds attractive too with a lovely big tune to entertain the listener. I am not sure what the ‘unfinished’ bit implies. Is it a lack of notes, playing instructions or a ‘scherzo?’
Finally I want to mention the ‘Nordic Tone-Poem’ ‘From the Highlands.’ To anyone who knows Denmark, ‘high-lands’ are just what that lovely country lacks: Møllehøj is the highest point at 561ft. It would seem that the inspiration is Norway. The opening movement could have been by Grieg - it is a dance that comes from the Hardanger area. To tell the truth, I heard a Scottish lilt in this piece -but I am sure I am mistaken... The second piece is a striking little mazurka that suggests a nostalgic moment nearer to Copenhagen. The ‘Sail around the Fjord’ is exquisite, with a lapping sound balancing a gorgeous tune. The suite concludes with a boisterous ‘folk-dance’.
The two ‘finished’ Sonatas present diverse stylistic parameters. The early F major is beholden to Mozart and the D major is more classical than romantic. Both are enjoyable if not particularly inspiring.
Cathrine Penderup was an early starter on the piano, beginning her studies aged six under Marie-Louise Ussing. She has won a string of prizes at various music competitions and festivals, including the Berlingske Music Competition, at the Academy of Music in Copenhagen and the Elsinore Music Festival. Penderup has given recitals across Europe and Australia. Her wide-ranging repertoire includes Haydn, Messiaen and Langgaard. Recently she has released albums on Danacord featuring music by Danish Women composers and also (forthcoming) ‘Souvenirs’ a splendid collection of four hand piano music with Tonya Lemoh.
The sound is excellent on these two CDs allowing the full range of the piano to emerge. The liner-notes, which are given in Danish, English, German and French are ideal and give the listener all the information that they require.
The playing of this music reveals Kathrine Penderup’s sympathy with both Hartmann’s music and the romantic piano music of his era.
I enjoyed exploring Emil Hartmann’s piano music. There is nothing particularly challenging about it, however it is a pleasure to listen to. Although it could be argued that his sound-world is that of Mendelssohn and Gade, his music is often exciting, usually interesting, always well-imagined and constructed and just occasionally rises to something bordering on genius.
And a further review ...
I first encountered the music of Emil Hartmann in the early days of MusicWeb International and was pleased to do so again through this double CD set.
Emil was the son of the composer J.P.E. Hartmann (1805-1900) who was the grand-son of another composer Johann Hartmann (1726-1793). His charming and sometimes folksy music is firmly in the Mendelssohn, Gade and Grieg styles. This set does little to shake that generalisation. Yes, there are echoes of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and even Mozart but the centre of gravity lies with those early and mid-period romantics. These gentle piano inspirations do not shake the listener by the collar or perturb calm contemplation. Therein lies their charm and on occasions their enchantment. We are fortunate that Cathrine Penderup has lavished such care and artistry on music that does not hector us for attention.
I noted down some impressions of the music as I listened: Fra Høilandene: a Grieg-like simplicity and folksiness, quick-fire Mendelssohnian charm meets the bel canto of Bellini, watercolour fjord sunsets followed by the gawky harmonic crunch of Folkedands. The Arabesque seems to emulate Chopin and coasts close to sentimentality as does the pearly delicacy of Capriccio 2. The Jean de France Sarabande sports baroque innocence. The Sonate in F Major is very Mozartean with a slippery classical charm. The Rondo, allegro grazioso recalls early Beethoven with Weberian gallantry along the way. The Sonate inachevée indulges in Schubertian heroics but also finds time to be sweetly poised and self assured. The Sonate D-Major moves among echoes of Beethoven and Schubert and in the Pastorale, allegro vivace reminded me of both Arensky and, in its faery fanfares, of Mendelssohn. In its finale did I also catch a reminiscence of the choral finale of Beethoven’s Ninth?
Do not miss out on Hartmann’s other works. John France has given links to a number of Hartmann reviews. I would only add that his three concertos are conveniently collected on a single irresistible Dacapo CD (review review). The Cello Concerto can be heard alongside those of Hamerik, Salomon and Neruda on a now sadly rather rare ClassicO disc (review). The Violin Concerto can also be had as part of Danacord’s massive Kai Laursen collection of concertos (review). Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a recording of his seven symphonies.
Full Contents List
Emil Hartmann: Solo Piano Works
From the Highlands, Op. 11 [14:55]
‘From the Highlands’ [3:27] Old Memories [2:19] In a Play [2:28] At the Fjord [3:59] Folk-dance [2:42]
Arabesque (Theme varié), Op. 16, No. 1 [5:16]
Caprice, Op. 16, No. 2 [6:19]
‘Jean de France’ (Sarabande) [4:10]
Sonata, F major [9:57]
Sonata F major, Op. 17 (easy & instructive without octaves in F) [7:55]
Album leaf [1:31]
Capriccio 1 (Rondo) [3:38]
Capriccio 2 [3:34]
‘Unfinished’ Sonata in G minor [14:46]
Sonata, D major [13:46]
Scenes from a Ball, Op. 23, Introduction [1:25] Valse gracieuse [2:51] Polka [4:31] Minuet [5:57] Intermezzo I - ‘La Coquette’ [4:02] Contredanse [2:42] Valse [3:19] Galop furioso [2:39] Intermezzo II - Scène d'amour [4:07] Tyrolienne [2:17] Valse-finale [5:55]
Three Mazurkas, Op. 28, Moderato [2:18] Vivo [2:20] Allegretto [2:21]
Four Piano Pieces, Op. 31, Elegy [3:58] Impromptu [2:51] Canzonetta [3:44] Etude [3:14]