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Victor BENDIX (1851-1926)
Seelenerlebnisse, op. 8 no. 2 (1874) [12:17]
Stimmungsbilder, op. 9 (1874) [12:23]
Sonata in G minor, op. 26 (1896) [38:20]
Fünf Clavierstücke, op. 1 (1870-2) [11:24]
Nocturne, op. 11, no. 1 - Ziemlich langsam, aber sehr elastisch (late 1870s) [5:46]
Walzer, op. 11, no. 2 - Etwas zurückgehalten und frei im Vortrag (late 1870s) [4:02]
5 Klaverstykker, op. 33 (1880-1919) [15:20]
In kleinerem Style, op. 2 (1873) [9:22]
Album, op. 22 (1870-88) [28:15]
Serenaden-Scherzo, op. 8, No. 1 Molto vivace (1874) [6:34]
Capriccio. Allegro vivace (Frisch und burlesque zu spielen) (1880) [2:11]
Isabel Carlander (piano)
rec. 2002/2003 Louisiana Museum, Humlebæk, Denmark
DANACORD DACOCD901-902 [75:26+72:59]

There is little information available about the Danish composer, Victor Bendix. The current Grove’s Dictionary has a couple of paragraphs, the Wikipedia entry is sketchy and there is no obvious monograph in any language, so the listener is reliant on the excellent liner notes written for this CD by Jens Cornelius in both Danish and English.

There are very few CDs dedicated to Bendix’s music. In 2005 I reviewed his complete symphonies for these pages. In the same year, Rob Barnett reviewed Bendix’s Piano Concerto for MusicWeb International. There are a few other fugitive tracks here and there, but, as they say, that is about that.

A few biographical hints will be of interest. Victor Bendix was born in Copenhagen on 17 May 1851. He was a pupil of Niels Gade (1817-90) at the Academy of Music. Aged 21, he went on a scholarship to Germany where he conducted popular concerts in Berlin. After completion of his studies, he developed as a composer and conductor. He directed Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra and Danish Choral Union concerts. His compositions include the four symphonies, a Dance Suite for orchestra, the above-mentioned piano concerto and many songs and piano pieces. He died in his native city on 5 January 1926.

The liner notes explain that Bendix was a quixotic character who studiously avoided the conservative musical traditions of Copenhagen at that time. The fact that he was Jewish, a freethinker and a liberal did not endear him to the Establishment - and in his private life rumours of numerous love affairs, including a plot to kill him by one of his paramours, lent themselves to scandal.

His greatest downfall, however, was that he espoused Romanticism at a time when this was less than fashionable in Copenhagen. In short, he was latterly overshadowed by Carl Nielsen, and then disappeared from the musical scene.

Musically, what does Bendix sound like? I guess that his exemplars are Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn and Niels Gade. Now and again, we hear nods towards the high drama and fervent romance of Franz Liszt.

Turning to the music, the major event here is the Sonata in G minor, op.26, conceived in four movements. It was completed in 1896 and is usually regarded as Bendix’s masterpiece. This long work, lasting for nearly 40 minutes, is clearly challenging for the soloist and demands engagement from the listener. Contextually, the Sonata was composed at a time of marital stress and at the start of an affair with the young pianist Augusta Schiøler, which explains the restless, passionate and sometimes ferocious music. The restless opening is followed by a “diabolic” scherzo, and then a set of variations based on a folk-song-like theme. The finale is forceful and dramatic with references to themes from the first movement.

I cannot decide whether I like this Sonata or not but I probably need to hear it more often. That said, even a single performance discloses a powerful and highly-charged work which deserves to be in the repertoire of pianists. It is splendidly played here by Isabel Carlander.

Bendix’s op.8 (1874) consists of two highly contrasting pieces.  The first, Serenaden-Scherzo, is extrovert and cheerful in its exuberant progress, with a few thoughtful moments in the middle section. The second, Seelenerlebnisse (Soul Experiences) is quite beautiful in its introspective exploration. The liner notes describe it as “a confessional, Liszt-inspired tone poem about a young artist’s inner struggle.” It is the most heartfelt composition on this album and is my major Bendix discovery - simply lovely.

Stimmungsbilder, (Mood-Pictures) op. 9 (1874) opens with a pensive Andante tranquillo, that nods towards Mendelssohn. This is followed by a short andante, which is a little more dramatic in mood. The third is played Presto possible. This is a study of a Bacchanalian Pageant (a euphemism perhaps?) and is full of action and representing the “noise of the revellers,” In fact, it certainly recalls Keats line, “T’was Bacchus and his crew…All madly dancing through the pleasant valley.” It is the most ferocious and adventurous number on this disc. The final Mood Picture restores the brooding mood of the first.

The earliest work on this album is the Fünf Clavierstücke, op. 1. These were written over a two-year period, 1870-72 when the composer was 19-20 years old. The notes explain that contemporary critics were impressed by this début composition. These character pieces clearly progress beyond what this genre would typically demand, not so much in technique but in their “refined” mood and sophisticated construction and presentation.

The second CD opens with Bendix’s op.11. These two pieces feature a Nocturne and a Waltz, composed towards the end of the 1870s. The Nocturne is ruminative, nods to Chopin, and provides a quiet balance to the “rustic” Waltz.

Bendix’s final published collection was the 5 Klaverstykker, op. 33, written between 1880 and 1919. Some of them are reworkings of old sketches. There is nothing demanding here, just some Schumannesque pieces which bewitch and delight.

The five short numbers in In kleinerem Style, op.2 (1873). They look towards Schumann for their inspiration and are none the worse for that. They are not quite as naïve as the title implies, although they present few challenges to the pianist of the listener.

Equally enjoyable is the Album, op.22 (1870-88). Once again, these incorporate revisions of earlier pieces. They are all given descriptive titles. The liner notes explain that for the first time in Danish musical history, Bendix gives some of them Danish appellations, for example Folkevise (folk song) and Forårssang (spring song). This Album is designed to be played as a set, so, it is not surprising that the last number is a contemplative Epilogue.

The final track presents the brilliant and vivacious Capriccio (no opus number). It brings this exploration of Victor Bendix’s piano music to a satisfying and brilliant close.

Virtuoso Danish pianist Isabel Carlander shows great sensitivity and brings a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of this music. Often, these pieces are understated in scale, and require a sympathetic interpretation to reveal their musical interest, which is always achieved. When required, the pianist brings passion, fire and intensity to these pages. The liner notes are essential reading, as there is little else to create an understanding of this composer and his piano music.

Danacord has presented Bendix’s entire published output for piano. I suggest a slow approach to this piano music; take them a work or group at a time. It may not be the most essential repertoire of late nineteenth/early twentieth century piano literature, but it deserves our attention for its charm, occasional passion, and polished structure.

John France

Note: Op. 33, no. 5 = Op. 11, no. 2

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