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The Music Room => Composer Discussion => Topic started by: Ten thumbs on September 07, 2011, 10:20:50 AM

Title: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on September 07, 2011, 10:20:50 AM
As one of the most (if not the most) original composers for the piano in the Romantic era I think Heller deserves a thread of his own. Maybe he wouldn't be languishing in such obscurity if he had composed a piano concerto or two. However, with such a large portfolio of works of genius there is plenty to talk about, so I'll begin with the second sonata, which has been recorded by John kersey on Rdecs.

Here is what the CD notes say:

A long article appeared discussing both Heller and his place in contemporary composition in the Musical World of 1850, and this periodical also carried a perceptive review of his Second Sonata, quoted from The Athenaeum.
“This is a noticeable production; full of thought, full of energy – original in style, and excessively difficult: as highly-finished an example of the new manner of composition applied to the old forms as occurs to us. There are chords in it which would have made the timid hearts of our grandfathers ache, – extensions of hand (to be commanded at a moment’s warning) such as the Mozarts, Clementis and even Hummels never dreamed of, – passages of melody as richly laden with accompaniment as if every player possessed the composure, force and tone of Thalberg; but also, throughout the entire composition there is that je ne sais quoi of picturesque and romantic taste which reminds us that we are living in a time when Music runs some danger of being pushed across the boundaries which separate it from Poetry and Picture…As a whole, this sonata is too symphonic in style: and not merely so, but also, for a symphonic work, it is too little relieved by contrast and episode. This characteristic is generic to the new school of writers…In this ambitious work…so much genius and science are evidenced, such unmistakeable traces of individuality present themselves, that  he well merits strict truth and plain remonstrance conjointly with high praise.”
This contrasted with the measured and less enthusiastic view taken by Barbedette in his biography of Heller, although he concedes that it is “the work of one who knows his own power. Its style is decisive and concentrated, and there is a loftiness about the whole work.” Indeed there is, and viewing this work from the perspective of hindsight allows us to see the development of its material throughout each movement in a way that foreshadows Bruckner and the Wagnerians, albeit unacknowledged by them. Heller not only understands the complexities of thematic transformation, but is also skilled at creating an atmosphere that often sounds starkly modern because of that very lack of variety that troubled the reviewers of his time. The Sonata is often aggressive, tragic and pessimistic in a way that few of Heller’s contemporaries would have attempted; its edges are hard and its emotional world uncompromising. Seldom can the accusations of sentimentality applied by some to Heller’s music have rung more hollow.

I must say that this sonata is quite a challenge but it gets one used to the fact that much of Heller's music is on a substantial scale, and it is very very different from Mendelssohn.


Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on September 12, 2011, 04:05:51 AM
The Humoreske (Phantasistuck) Op.64 immediately preceding the 2nd sonata is very much in the same vein. Opening with dramatic repeated arpeggiated chords (Feurig, und mit scharfen Accent) it is permeated by a a persistent but varied motif that drives the music onwards. A slower contrasting section is accompanied by a hypnotic two note accompaniment that reappears in the climactic coda. A very powerful and accomplished work that kills dead any suggestion that Heller was only a miniaturist. I don't have it up to speed yet but it probably runs to 9 or 10 minutes (Minim = 112 The French edition entitles it Presto capriccioso). That I can't find a recording is something of a disgrace on the musical fraternity.
The dedication (zugeeignet) is to Miss Selina Shannon. I can't find any information on her but she must have been a lady who could go some! In the 1871 census there are three of this name (two in Lancashire) but they were all born at a later date.
These pieces represent Heller's middle style.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on September 18, 2011, 01:50:21 AM
In the period after the 2nd Sonata Heller composed a number of arrangements of other composers work. This was probably to raise money. Some of these works no longer have a function now that we have recorded music. In those days the only way to hear music was live.
Op.66 and Op.70 are base on obscure operas
Op.67 is a very pleasant arrangement of 'On Wings of Song'
Op.68 is based on Schubert 'Hark, hark, the lark' and involved a lot of very tricky hand crossing.
Op.72 consists of three arrangements of Mendelssohn songs.

Other works demand more serious consideration.
Firstly
Op.69 Fantasy-Sonata based on Mendelssohn's 'Es ist bestimmt in Gottes Rath'
This four movement work may have been composed as a celebration of Mendelssohn's life, since that composer died only a few years earlier. It is very much Mendelssohn at his best.

Another composer who had just died was Chopin and the following is Heller's tribute:
Aux mânes de Frédéric Chopin. Élégie et Marche funebre, op 71 (16’41”)

The Elegy and Funeral March on the death of Chopin is an extended meditation on some of his more familiar themes, again showing Heller’s great skill in combining these into something quite new. Heller knew Chopin personally, and perhaps in this work we gain some sense of how Chopin might improvise and develop ideas off the cuff. Certainly it is one of the most powerful and effective tributes from one composer to the spirit of another.

The principal sources for this are Preludes No.4 and No.6

This brings me to Op.73 - three original pieces but I can't find sheet music for these. Does anyone know where I might find it?
Gottschalk says: Heller's Op. 73 is a very interesting specimen; nothing can be lovelier than his Cradle Song, or more dramatic than his Huntman’s Song. Each is in itself an exquisite little poem.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: thalbergmad on September 18, 2011, 11:34:29 AM
Heller for some reason seems to be one of the early romantics I have so far ignored. Apart from a private recording of some Beethoven Variations, I do not recall hearing any of his works. Perhaps as you say if he had composed a piano concerto then his smaller works may have attracted some attention.

There are a stupendous amount of composers from this era that were composing operatic transcriptions and variations along with an original works, so one hopes that pianists will eventually get around to Heller.

I do have the Op.73 scanned by a friend, so I will ask him if I can send you a copy.

Regards

Thal
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on September 18, 2011, 12:08:53 PM
Heller for some reason seems to be one of the early romantics I have so far ignored. Apart from a private recording of some Beethoven Variations, I do not recall hearing any of his works. Perhaps as you say if he had composed a piano concerto then his smaller works may have attracted some attention.

There are a stupendous amount of composers from this era that were composing operatic transcriptions and variations along with an original works, so one hopes that pianists will eventually get around to Heller.

I do have the Op.73 scanned by a friend, so I will ask him if I can send you a copy.

Regards

Thal

I will be most grateful if you can. Alternatively it would be useful if it were scanned onto IMSLP but obviously this shouldn't be done if it's a modern edition. Some of Op.73 has been on Amazon but it's no longer available.

Fortunately, Heller's most important cycles are all freely available  in old editions and I hope to comment on them shortly, commencing with Op.78. This is Barbadette's estimation, which remains true to this day.

The three collections of which we have just spoken—the Promenades d'un Solitaire, the Dans les Bois, and the Nuits Blanches—form an era in the history of music, for their composer has struck out a new type. The form of these pieces is absolutely novel, for they neither answer to the "Song without Words," to the nocturne, nor to anything previously known. They are an entirely new conception, and are as truly the invention of Heller, as the "Song without Words" is the creation of Mendelssohn. Nothing like them was ever written before Heller, and all which have since appeared of a similar character are due to him.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on September 25, 2011, 06:25:34 AM
Promenades d'un Solitaire (Characterstücke)

The great flowering of Heller's genius begins here. He is often referred to as the poet of the piano but in another sense he is the painter. Here, Rousseau's contemplations of nature are turned into musical landscapes. The melodies are no longer the subject, as in the song without words but become objects within the structure of the piece. Often the elements are dabbed on repeatedly in the manner of brushwork.
Initially, there are two sets of six apiece, Op.78 and Op.80.
Sandwiched between them is another cycle of pieces, the Traumbilde, Op.79. The intent is even more obvious in these, even from the title (Dream Pictures). The sense of stasis in No.5 is very much a precursor of Satie.
Of the Promenades, Op.80 no 4 has I think been used as the theme music for something on TV. I'm trying to find out exactly what it was.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on September 26, 2011, 11:57:52 AM
Op.81 24 Preludes (1853)

This is (as far as I've found) the first example of this form after Chopin and the first thing that strikes you is how different it is, much more so that later works in this genre, eg Scriabin. Heller gives a new form to these pieces, which is particularly noticeable in performance because of the change in hand movements that one has to adapt to.
Arguably, they deserve the same standing as Chopin's but in Heller's case, there are many more to come.
Heller follows Chopin's sequence of keys and I think I prefer his original concept, without titles. They were composed as pure music and the titles were only added to suit the publishers in Paris ( as the line of future development runs through Fauré to Debussy perhaps I will forgive them for this). For me the playing instructions are enough, even if they are in German (Heller always preferred this). For example No.10: Mit rascher leichtigkeit hingeworf, in der Art einer Federzeichnung, No.11: Lebhaft, mit prägnantem Rhythmus or simply No.18: Keck, energisch.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on September 30, 2011, 07:44:54 AM
Op.82 Blumen-Frucht-Dornenstücke

In spite of the title, this cycle has nothing to do with nature study. It refers to a novel by Jean Paul ( pen name of Richter) and presumably refers to the miscellany of moods and emotions arising through the book.
There are 18 pieces in the set and, judging by the key sequence, it is intended to be played as a cycle although obviously individual pieces can be played alone. Most of them are greatly rewarding.

The novel is Blumen- Frucht- und Dornenstücke, oder Ehestand, Tod und Hochzeit des Armenadvokaten Siebenkäs ("Flower, Fruit and Thorn Pieces; or, the Married Life, Death and Wedding of Siebenkäs, Poor Man's Lawyer") in 1796-97. The book's slightly supernatural theme, involving a Doppelgänger and pseudocide, stirred some controversy over its interpretation of the Resurrection, but these criticisms served only to draw awareness to the author.

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siebenkäs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siebenkäs)

It was in this novel that the word Doppelgänger was first coined and presumably Schubert knew of it.

Whether or not there is a Doppelgänger amongst these pieces I don't know. The French publishers changed the title altogether to 'Nuits blanches' and gave headings of their own to the individual pieces.



Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on October 03, 2011, 11:55:06 AM
Op.83 Feuillets d'Album
These 6 little pieces are exactly as it says on the can.
They are dedicated to Joanna Marques Lisboa


Op.84 Impromptu
This piece with its repeated notes alternating between the hands has a Bachian feel. It almost wants to be a toccata. Very enjoyable if you can keep it under control!
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on October 09, 2011, 12:46:24 PM
As Chopin only produced one tarantella, Heller's contribution would constitute a welcome addition to the repertoire.
They begin with the Venetienne Op.52 but as I don't have access to a score, I'll have to pass on it for now.

Tarantelle No.1 Op.53
A large work running to over 500 bars. It has a catchy main theme, which is developed throughout, reappearing in the major in the joyfully exhilarating coda - great fun to play.

Tarantelle No.2 Op.61
Another large piece, somewhat dissonant in places and less approachable. The molto vivo, which picks up an element from the earlier material is very pleasing - again a triumphant ending.

Tarantelle No. 3 and No.4 Op.85
These two shorter dances were dedicated to Clara Schumann. The second seems to be relatively well known and may possibly have been used as an encore (apart from the abominations Rubinstein is reported to have performed upon it).

Tarantelle No.5 Op.87
This is a relatively wild beast that justifies being classed as a masterpiece. It is a good example of the boldness of which Heller's style is capable and deserves the attention of today's top pianists. Okay, it's not death-defyingly difficult but that is not what music is about.

The 6th and 7th tarantellas in Op.137 will be reviewed if I get to them!
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Josquin des Prez on October 09, 2011, 01:15:34 PM
I remember hearing a few Heller pieces. They were boring, dry and utterly uninspired. Care to post some examples that would contradict this impression?
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on October 14, 2011, 08:41:15 AM
I remember hearing a few Heller pieces. They were boring, dry and utterly uninspired. Care to post some examples that would contradict this impression?

You've probably been hearing some of his studies. These are meant for instruction rather than performance.
Seeing as I've been working on it and it's next in line, I recommend you look at the following:

Op.86 Im Walde
This is an integrated suite of seven pieces. It is full of poetry and mood swings leading up to the exhilaration of the  6th leading to the finale in which earlier section are subtly interwoven to bring closure. This is not like any other composer's music and it is not easy to play: the hands often need to be moved very rapidly from one part of the keyboard to another.


Oh, and I don't know how anyone could be bored by the Op.87 Tarantella!
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on October 14, 2011, 10:48:13 AM
I'm not sure what status Heller will ultimately hold. This record of my investigation into his music is for information only. However, it is quite clear that the unthinking and unresearched opinions usually trotted out by the lazy (e.g. that he was merely a pedagogue) are worthless and should be ignored. Fortunately his star appears to be rising, which is as it should be for such an original genius.

Op.88 Sonata No.3 in C (1856)
This sonata is like a breath of fresh air on the Romantic scene. It is bold and stimulating from beginning to end.
One thing to note in performance, Heller was particular about his pedal markings. Where there are none, the pedal should not be used - otherwise you may find yourself in a heavy fog!
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on October 20, 2011, 11:23:20 AM
Op.89 Promenades d'un Solitaire (Characterstücke)

This is the third set under this title. These pieces are larger in scope than the earlier ones and their formal organisation is clear and is quite distinct from the kind of melodic extensions and transformation one might find in a 'song without words'. The initial motifs are set out and the rest is thematic development. Returns to the opening material are usually partial or fragmentary. Of the six, number three is I think my favorite with an example of evolutionary development that is reminiscent of Medtner.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on October 29, 2011, 01:39:51 PM
Having reached Op.90, it is time to consider Heller’s studies in general. I was brought up on the Op.16 Art of Phrasing and still obtain great pleasure from them. These were not composed for publication but how much we have gained from their availability. They introduced contemporary music in the then new Romantic style. The studies, Op.45, Op.46, Op47 are still at the core of courses in piano playing for the very good reason that no other composer has surpassed them. As one commentator explains:

‘His studies are less for the fingers than for the heart and mind. They inculcate music in its ethereal essence rather than its mechanical magnifications. They are loved by teachers because they are poetical beyond their technical purpose; they are loved by pupils because they are stimulating, not killing, to the soul.’

Heller’s own instructions are as follows:

‘A great number of studies for the pianoforte already exist solely intended to form the mechanism of the fingers. In writing a series of short characteristic pieces I have aimed at a totally different object.
I wish to habituate both students and amateurs to execute a piece with the expression, grace, elegance, or energy required by the peculiar character of the composition. More particularly, I have endeavoured to awaken in them a feeling for musical rhythm and a desire for the most exact and complete interpretation of the author’s intention.
In order that my object may be the better attained, I may be permitted to request teachers to watch that their pupils carefully render the following studies with all the nuances, details, and sentiment, appertaining to each of them.’

I think the comments above should put to rest any suggestion that Heller’s music is ever dry. As to inspiration, that can hardly be lacking in a composer who didn’t follow others but created his own individual style. I suppose any composer can be found boring, so one can’t really comment on that.

The next set are in my view even better:

Op.90 24 Etudes Characteristiques

There are a number of interesting features in this set. In the first place they are arranged in the same key sequence as that used in a standard set of 24 preludes. Secondly, some of the pieces are connected: nos.7 and 8 form a scherzo and trio (da capo), whilst no.18 concludes no.17. Playing it as a cycle makes sense although as these pieces are longer than typical preludes, the whole is quite lengthy. The wealth of fresh new ideas in this set is extraordinary: it is a veritable treasure chest.  The little commentaries sprinkled over the score (in French) may have influenced Satie.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Leo K. on October 30, 2011, 07:20:39 AM
Excellant thread! I'm keeping track, as I have a few Heller disks I shall listen to soon  8)
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 01, 2011, 04:08:52 AM
Op.91 3 Nocturnes

This heading is not strictly true, as Op.103 was published as the 3rd Nocturne.

As Barbedette puts it:
HELLER'S Nocturnes are not equal to those of Chopin, which are almost unapproachable in their perfection and finish.
In this class of composition (Op. 91, 103, 131), he has launched out in fresh waters. It is certain that No. 2 of Op. 91 is quite sui generis. No. 1 of Op. 131, the most beautiful of all, is interrupted by the introduction of a very lively tarantella movement, the effect of which is peculiar. No. 3 opens as a polonaise, and ends with a brilliancy unusual in that class of composition. For originality, we prefer No. 3 of Op. 91, called Nocturne-Sérénade, dedicated to Mademoiselle Ninette Falck, a very effective composition of a most poetical character, but which is really simply a serenade, and a very beautiful one too.

Of Op.91, I'm only able to track down the Nocturne-Serenade (No.3) and I'm in agreement with Barbedette's remarks above. However, his comment on No.2 should be enough to provoke anyone's curiosity. The rest of Op.91 is therefore high on my WANTS list! Can anyone help?

Op.103 3rd Nocturne
This very lyrical nocturne is far closer to Fauré than it is to Chopin. The reappearance of the syncopated theme towards the end over a G pedal point is most beautiful.

I will discuss Op.131 (3 Ständchen) later, although it was the discovery of this work that convinced me that here was a composer really worth exploring.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 02, 2011, 02:13:34 PM
Excellant thread! I'm keeping track, as I have a few Heller disks I shall listen to soon  8)

Thank you for your support. Maybe I'll encourage others to review methodically a composer in which they have a special interest (mm. . how about Elgar?)

Op.92 3 Eglogues

Once again I have big items on my wants list. The first eglogue I have and, believe me, every pianist should have it because it is a superb flight of fancy. How far Heller has come from his early Romantic beginnings! A most beautiful piece. So why aren't these eglogues in print? Do the other two measure up to such an extraordinarily high standard? Surely there must be some old copy somewhere.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 03, 2011, 01:27:04 PM
Op.93 2 Waltzes

These could almost be by Chopin. The quality is there and they are certainly worth playing but Heller doesn't really seem to add anything new to the genre here.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 06, 2011, 01:54:48 PM
Op.94 Genrebild

I think we can now say that we have here the recognisable work of a master. As implied by the title, it is of an internal nature. It might almost have been titled a sonata in a single movement, following as it does, Heller's own version of sonata form, viz: first subject, development, 2nd subject, further development leading back to 1st subject, 2nd subject and coda. It runs to 16 pages of music.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: BobsterLobster on November 07, 2011, 06:49:02 PM
Just listened to this:

(http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51HLhPX2jeL._SL500_AA280_.jpg)

after watching this thread, and I'm afraid that could well have been the most boring 1hour & 10minutes of my life.
IMO, very uninspired writing. If they were written as teaching aids, I feel very sorry for his pupils.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 08, 2011, 12:04:39 PM
Just listened to this:

(http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51HLhPX2jeL._SL500_AA280_.jpg)

after watching this thread, and I'm afraid that could well have been the most boring 1hour & 10minutes of my life.
IMO, very uninspired writing. If they were written as teaching aids, I feel very sorry for his pupils.

I haven't heard this recording so I can't comment on it. However, you can hardly deny the originality of Op.81 from a technical point of view. There's no need to feel sorry for us pianists. We've all been through it with better results than yourself.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: BobsterLobster on November 08, 2011, 12:15:27 PM
I haven't heard this recording so I can't comment on it. However, you can hardly deny the originality of Op.81 from a technical point of view. There's no need to feel sorry for us pianists. We've all been through it with better results than yourself.

I see you're from Yorkshire too... I studied piano at Huddersfield with Benjamin Frith... one of the best recording pianists around IMO. Thank God he never gave me any of these pieces to study. Please enlighten me on what originality there is in these pieces?
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: PaulSC on November 08, 2011, 01:11:09 PM
There's no need to feel sorry for us pianists. We've all been through it with better results than yourself.
All of us? Speak for yourself, Thumbs!
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 08, 2011, 01:20:09 PM
I see you're from Yorkshire too... I studied piano at Huddersfield with Benjamin Frith... one of the best recording pianists around IMO. Thank God he never gave me any of these pieces to study. Please enlighten me on what originality there is in these pieces?

I've just been playing through some of Op.81. It is full of passion and dramatic dynamic contrasts. Perhaps you aren't keen on such emotional music. Heller builds his music up from the repetition and development of motifs rather than from melody. I don't think you will find any precedent for his style. I've investigated quite a number of composers from the first half of the 18th century without finding it. Anyway this is not my own opinion alone.
I think what you need is someone like Benjamin Frith to let rip with it. You could try Ilona Prunyi.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 09, 2011, 04:37:50 AM
One thing I have learned from the above is not to buy that recording, so thanks for that. If one is conditioned to expect big tunes and grand gestures from Romantic music then it is true that Heller's music will disappoint and that may be why he was relegated to the sideline of history. What is there is the poetry for which he was famed. It is a style that one might describe as stripped down, leaner and meaner Schumann combined with foretastes of what is generally known as Impressionism. Other influences one can trace are Weber, Chopin and probably Berlioz.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 10, 2011, 02:15:25 PM
All of us? Speak for yourself, Thumbs!

I suppose not everybody enjoys poetry.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 10, 2011, 02:23:12 PM
Op.95 Allegro Pastorale

Don't know anything about this one.

Op.96 Grande Etude de Concert

Well, Heller does attempt a big tune this time. Grande Etudes are not really my scene and I'm not intending to spend hours working on this one. At least it works up to a powerful ending instead of increasing cascades of pointless notes as was the fashion.

Op.97 12 Waltzes

This is a bit like Schubert brought into the Romantic era. Brahms had a go at the same thing and it all depends whether or not you're in the mood. They are clearly intended to be played as a cycle and are pleasant to play but less so for listening.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 14, 2011, 09:06:31 AM
Op.98 Improvisata on a Theme of Schumann

This is based on a Schumann song from his Spanish Love Songs Op.138. 'Fluthenreichen Ebro'
It may have been in response to Schumann's death in 1856 - I haven't got an exact date of publication.

Following a partial arrangement of the song (marked Gleichsam Guitarre in the German edition) there is a more florid continuation followed by three improvisations and a coda. The style is Schumannesque but this was a style that the two composers shared in their earlier years so one could equally describe is as early-Helleresque.

Op.99 4 Fantaisie-Stucke

This is another hard to find opus. I discovered a second hand copy of one of them from Amazon and I'm very glad I did because it is one of the most beautiful little pieces in the whole piano repertoire. It is one of Augener's Perles Musicales, and in this case it really is a pearl. I don't know which number in the opus it is, possibly No.2, but it is in G flat major.

Those who question Heller's originality should think about what they mean. Does he copy Beethoven perhaps, or Schubert? I hardly think so. The other composers, ie Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin and Liszt were his contemporaries not his precursors and his mature style is distinct from theirs anyway. So what is it like? I rather suspect that we are dealing with mindless cant repeated parrot fashion. However, being boring is another matter. I don't find him so but then some are bored by Mahler, some by Wagner, some it seems by Mozart and others, dare I say it, by Bach. One thing it is, is full of ideas.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 17, 2011, 03:27:10 AM
Op.100 2nd Canzonetta

Heller reaches his century with a piece that confirms his individuality. However, I can see some having difficulties with it because it is very centred around G. It begins in G minor and the central section and ending are in G major. There is, I think, an intention to create a pseudo-medieval sound, as of a troubadour. The major sections are quicker (vivo) and include bars of modal harmonies from which snatches of melody emerge. The whole piece does work but it needs very careful handling by the pianist.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 20, 2011, 02:54:18 PM
Op. 101 Rêveries du promeneur solitaire

This is vintage Heller and is a very intense work of great musical density. Playing it is reminiscent of, say, playing one of Scriabin's single movement sonatas (I'm referring to the intensity, obviously, not the harmonies). The climactic passage at its centre is particularly superb. Here we have music of the future (for those not blinkered by considerations of tonality!).

A recording of Op.101 is on the CD of Marc Pantillon (8'43).
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 22, 2011, 01:42:28 PM
Op.102 Jagdstücke

This is another fine piece although being hunting music it is quite strident in places, even dissonant. I particularly like the development and the subtle variations to the material in the recapitulation.

Op.103 3rd Nocturne

I've covered this already. One of the best nocturnes ever composed.


I keep playing through some of the Op.81 Preludes. They really are rather addictive.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 27, 2011, 02:44:48 PM
Op.104 Polonaise

This is a vigorous and finely constructed work but it can hardly be compared to Chopin at his best. The Eb minor central section adds good contrast but overall I'm not sure it adds a great deal to this genre. Worth an occasional hearing perhaps.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on November 30, 2011, 06:33:38 AM
Op.105 3 Songs without Words

I must say that Heller's venture here into this genre is disappointing. All he gives are pretty tunes with very little scope. The first, it seems, could be by anyone: the second is more like Heller. The third is the best with its quirky rhythms and harmony - as a miniature it can at least match Alkan's Esquisses. Give me Fanny Hensel's great Eb Lied H-U 456 any day!
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on December 09, 2011, 07:10:43 AM
Op.106 Schäfer-Stücklein (Bergeries)

To be fair, Heller is not promising music with great emotional content. These are, as the title states, pastoral pieces.
The first is slow and static and relies on harmonic resonances. On the whole disappointing.
The second is a neat little miniature but little more.
The third is the best: a much more extended piece with a lovely flowing middle section. Definitely worth hearing or playing but not quite as radical as other works of this period.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on December 12, 2011, 02:46:57 AM
Op.107 4 Laendler (sic)

I didn't approach this with great expectations but do not be deceived - you will find no shades of Schubert here.

The first seems innocent enough (Mässige Bewegung, indolent) but merely forms an introduction to what is a cycle, as indicated by the playing instruction for the second (Langsamer, tiefer gefärbt wieded Vorige). Here we enter a more chromatic world.
The third is the core of the work (Rasch, munter, aber mit Zartheit). The 'tenderness' of the chromatically meandering subject rises ultimately to a climax of late Lisztian intensity, which, as in Liszt, then fades to a potent simplicity.
After this the fourth is a sinecure. The tension relaxes ( Tempo giusto - Mit abwechselnd sanftem und ledhaftem Ausdruck) and we have a dance with all the sensuous fluidity of early Debussy - a very satisfying conclusion.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on December 16, 2011, 06:59:28 AM
Op.108 4th Scherzo

I cannot at the moment get hold of this work. The previous third scherzo is Op. 57 and to quote Barbedette on both:

The Scherzo Fantastique (Op. 57), is of a less serene character. It answers well to its title, and contains some extremely original points. The whole of the first movement exhibits a rare knowledge of rhythm and some ravishing contrasts. The middle part is very weird, and in looking at the work as a whole we cannot but regret that it was not scored for full orchestra, for the capabilities of which it displays most ample and tempting material. The fourth Scherzo (Op. 108), is pianoforte music proper. It is lovely work, and may rival the best efforts of Chopin in its own way.

If this is so, it is surely wrong for it not to be in print.

Op.109 Herbstblätter (Autumn Leaves)

This is in two parts, the first (Allegro assai) is full of fluttering motifs and is pure Heller. After the exposition, the material is placed in new contexts and again after the varied recapitulation there is a long coda containing further reinterpretation.
The second part (Andante tenero) is more static. It is one of Heller's picture pieces in which the basic phrases are placed like fallen leaves varied in dynamics, key. pitch, duration and detail. All this is clear enough in performance but I don't know how it comes over to the listener and I know of no recording. It seems that sometimes the shock of the new falls on deaf ears!
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on December 18, 2011, 12:33:09 PM
Op.110 Ein grosses Albumblatt und ein kleines

I find this title rather amusing, almost post-modern in fact. Presumably these pieces were for an album that Frau Louise Damcke  was gathering and Heller had no other title in mind for them.

In particular, the big album leaf is a very fine piece (in 3/4 time), full of vitality and with a strongly rhythmic middle section ( It needs to be taken allegro vivo as indicated, without restraint).
The small album leaf is much more poetic with varying tempo and feeling. However, the two do go together as a pair quite successfully.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on December 19, 2011, 06:56:15 AM
Op. 111 Morceaux de Ballet
  Pas Noble - Intermède
  Pantomime - Couplets dansés

Another unknown opus but fortunately I already have plenty to go at.

Op.112 Humoreske (Caprice humoristique)

This is a big bold piece and you'll either love it or hate it: definitely composed in BLOCK CAPITALS! In the central section, Heller shows us for once his Hungarian origin. In the coda he has fun playing with his material before finally allowing the music to end in a blaze of C major.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on December 22, 2011, 12:43:08 PM
Op.113 Fantaisie-Caprice

It is perhaps surprising that Heller follows Op.112 with another fast piece in 3/4 time and in C major. Again it is big and bold but, in place of the contrasting middle section, there is development that provides variety and continues even through the recapitulation into a long coda that includes a 'quasi cadenza'.
The answer seems to lie in the dedication, which is:

a mon ami Monsieur Hector Berlioz Membre de l'Institut Officier de la Legion d'Honneur etc etc etc

In spite of my initial reservations, I'm beginning to find this piece extremely compelling and surely more original than anything Brahms produced for the piano. All I can say is that those who find this music dry dull and boring must have very strange tastes in music, very strange indeed!

. . .and, having recently touched on the weird and wonderful, or as it is titled, the fantastique, I'm going to break off to look at Op.57 next.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on December 29, 2011, 08:14:10 AM
Op. 57 Scherzo Fantastique

   This remarkable work runs to 22 pages and is marked prestissimo. As I don’t have the time to be memorising large chunks of music this is quite a challenge in itself – all those turnovers! Fortunately the occasional chord tied over six bars gives some respite from the precipitous tempo.
   There is a short (166 bars!) introduction followed by a strongly rhythmic main section that is certainly worthy of the title. This includes a phrase of three falling notes that is picked up in the central section, which turns to the major and from 3/8 (one in a bar) to 2/4 l’istesso tempo. Hushed fanfares soon burst out into a triumphal theme until eventually the three notes are flattened out in a repeated descent over hushed drumbeats. The music continues to a grand climax, ending in the tonic in the first inversion. The reprise of the main section follows varied almost immediately through different keys and breathlessly continuing through all the material until arriving back at the introductory theme, which again is treated in a completely novel way, so as to lead on to a final coda in 2/4 with the triumphal theme now dominant and the flattened out three note sequence crashing down in a glorious conclusion.
   All in all, this must surely be one of the finest romantic pieces of its type and I can only plead with the great pianists of today to take it to their hearts, put it into their repertoires and give us some recordings.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on January 01, 2012, 08:34:42 AM
Op.115 3 Ballades

To avoid confusion with Chopin these would better be thought of as 'Contes' or 'Folk Tales' in the manner of Medtner although Heller uses his own particular format for these pieces. Basically the tale is told twice but the second telling is embellished in various ways, that is it may be all or partially in a different key, the pitch or keyboard layout of many bars is different and extra bars are inserted as though to add further anecdotes. This almost totally removes the feeling of repetition (I've often wished that Grieg had done this in his Lyric Pieces). After the 'repeat' a coda winds up each piece.

These Ballades are in print separately from Schott and are well worth acquiring if you're looking for something a little different (I actually acquired them from three different sources).
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on January 01, 2012, 11:50:50 AM
Just a little review of a few missing works from this part of Heller's output for which I can only quote Bardedette:

(6) Two Cahiers (Op. 114) contain a very fine prelude—as, indeed, are all Heller's preludes—a piece with a title borrowed from Schumann (Kinderscenen), which is charming and full of simplicity, and a Presto Scherzoso, which is not quite up to the mark of the Scherzos we have already discussed.
(7) Op. 111, called Morceaux de ballet, is a beautiful collection, and quite in the symphonic style. Well scored, they would make a remarkable intermezzo, especially if the third piece of Op. 118 were added as a finale. This last—will the composer forgive us for saying so ?—is a veritable show-piece, very difficult and very effective. It could, however, be scored for orchestra, and would make a fine ending to Op. 111, of which the conclusion is pianissimo. The other pieces of Op. 118, called Boutade and Feuillet d'Album, are very .short. The latter is a very pretty Song without Words.

In addition are the two studies Op.116.

Op.118 no.1 is entitled 'Air de Ballet'. Judging by the quality of Heller's other works from this period, the recovery of the above opera would be well worth while.
Op.117, I will deal with next.

Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on January 02, 2012, 01:17:47 PM
Op.117 3 Preludes

These are BIG preludes!
1. Heller's answer to the C Major Prelude - something of a cross between Bach and Debussy (Think of Pour le Piano and you'll get the idea).

2. In A minor this is a stormy affair that begins with violent flourish. A melody built on this follows woven around persistent triads in mid-keyboard. The music pauses and the flourish introduces a free fantasy on the basic melodic elements.

3. In G major this returns to the format of the Ballades. It is a subdued Andante con moto that is annoyingly tricky to play.

These preludes are also availabel as a set from Schott. The first would make an excellent show piece,
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on January 04, 2012, 12:41:43 PM
Op.119 32 Preludes for Lili

The title refers to Lili Schönemann, a young lady on whom Goethe had a crush. Heller tells us that he thinks of her as a child and these preludes are clearly composed for the enjoyment of children. Not, I must stress, specifically for their instruction.

Although written for small hands, this music is hardly suitable for beginners. However, they would provide a strong indicator of talent. They include such techniques as overlapping of hands and playing one hand above the other, and also require a considerable gift for expression.

It is Heller's idiosyncratic modular compositional method that makes these pieces possible - so much is packed into only a few bars. Yet it must be confessed that, whilst providing temporary delight they do not linger on the memory. Still, a real sinecure for the fatigued pianist! How can you stop, once begun?
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on January 09, 2012, 07:02:31 AM
Op.120 7 Lieder (1867)

These seven lieder (or melodies) are strangely untitled. I say strangely because they clearly form a cycle and ought to be played as such. They are headed by a poem of Goethe’s that tells us that these are reflections on the past. It is a shame that none of the biographical detail on the internet (not even Barbedette) tell us anything of Heller’s emotional attachments. Although he remained unmarried, many of his oeuvres are dedicated to women and publishing his Op.119 preludes as for Lili suggests that he was heterosexual. Somewhere, one suspects, was a hidden disappointment.

1. The cycle begins with a haunting melody in E minor, which ends suddenly and magically in the major.
2. An allegro vivo in E that quickly moves into Ab and then through a series of lively phrases to a calmer close (molto meno mosso). Then again, this time remaining in E and so to a coda ending on the melodic note G#.
3. Allegro in C# minor – a beautiful brooding piece that finally fades away to close on a bare C# in the lower keyboard.
4. C# becomes Db and a curiously chromatic melody demands the attention. Its winds its way, becoming more syncopated until it breaks out into a dramatic recitative. The melody returns, receiving an added backing of triplet chords, first solo and then in octaves building to a high romantic climax that Heller bursts with a mocking laugh (how foolish we once were!).
5. For this, Heller switches to F and gives an engaging little tune with a dotted rhythm. An episode marked quasi parlando leads to an emphatic close. A second verse follows, much altered but following the same lines.
6. This is headed ‘Antwort’ (answer) and is yet a third verse, even more changed but leading eventually to the same ending. What the answer is you'll have to guess.
7. The music returns to Bb minor (the equivalent of Db) and begins with a dramatic and memorable theme comprising rising and falling dotted arpeggios. A short almost chorale like lament then leads into a fleeting memory of happier days before returning. The opening theme is then followed by a tumultuous reincarnation in triplets. Once again the happier mood attempts to reassert itself ( with insistent falling arpeggios reminiscent of the end of Schubert’s Sonata D.958) but Eb minor stamps itself on the conclusion.

This last piece alone is a masterpiece worthy to stand beside anything of its kind by either Schumann or Brahms, and the whole cycle has an emotional depth that deserves far more respect than it receives. It can be found on Andreas Meyer-Hermann’s selection of Heller’s works.
Maybe, quoting Goethe, it should be billed as Flowers from the Past, or something like that.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on January 13, 2012, 09:51:09 AM
Op.121 3 Piano Pieces

I haven’t found sheet music for this but have it recorded by Ilona Prunyi.
These appear to be separate works

1. Ballade. This follows a similar pattern to the earlier ballades. It makes sense really to have verses with different words. The opening sounds like a question that returns at the end only to be stamped out ruthlessly. For once I’m having to listen to Heller’s music from the outside.
2. Conte. Now we do have a story and it makes a more substantial form than a ballade. Heller opens with a kind of narration, which then develops and the piece passes through several impressionistic episodes in a magical mystery tour before returning to the opening bars and the conclusion.
3. Rêverie de Gondolier. The gondolier sings quietly to himself, strumming on his guitar, while other boats drift past on the rippling waters – it’s all there and very beautifully done too, a real gem.

Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on January 22, 2012, 06:55:42 AM
Op.122 Valses-Rêveries

Unusually this work has no dedication. Maybe it was composed to provide some light relief to amateur pianists!

The set comprises nine waltzes but I won’t comment on them individually. They inhabit a strange world that is in part Schubertian, in part Romantic and in part post-Romantic. The key relationships strongly suggest continuity and the set can be played through in about fifteen minutes. Very enjoyable with interesting passages but may not come over as too exciting to the listener.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on January 26, 2012, 02:40:10 PM
Op.123 Feuilles Volantes

This work must surely place Heller amongst the avant-garde of his day. Even Barbadette had difficulties with it, describing it as vague. Had the word been available to him, he might have written impressionist, although this is not yet the impressionism of Debussy. Nevertheless, this music belongs to the post-Romantic and is one of the most advanced piano compositions to be composed before 1870. (One must look to the young generation – Brahms was retrograde compared with this and late Liszt was yet to come.)
Feuilles Volantes is divided into five parts but is best viewed as a whole. It is a kaleidoscope of soundscapes that describe leaves blown by the wind. At one point we hear a particularly windswept cuckoo!
I dare say those who prefer composers to sprinkle pointless notes all over the keyboard will have their complaints. Heller does not waste notes and traditional development is absent. However, there are musical elements that unite the work, such as the opening tied notes – BCB, a shape that recurs several times to emerge at the end as a persistent phrase – CCDCC over the F major tonality giving the whole a strong sense of closure.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on January 26, 2012, 02:41:59 PM
Op.124 Kinderszenen

This is an obvious reference back to Schumann. However, although this cycle is suitable for intermediate pianists, it is not specifically for children; it is more a reminiscence. The individual pieces have no titles.
1. A reminder of Schumann himself. This has the advantage of showing how different the rest of the work is.
2. An allegro vivo that expresses outdoor fun and games.
3. More serious pursuits with the introduction of a persistent dissonance. One imagines the children escaping before discovery!
4. Heller’s version of the hobbyhorse? More sedate than Schumann’s and using the repeated resolution FBbC to FAC.
5. A cheerful skipping game that nevertheless evolves into some big leaps.
6. A quiet reflection. Heller gives this a repeat, which works because of the minor- major shift.
7. This ought to be classic on its own. A slow stately melody with ethereal staccato turns in the upper keyboard. First mF then repeated P. A middle section follows comprising very rapid parallel thirds, at first parlando, then with increasing agitation until the crisis passes and the music drops down to resume the magic of the opening.
8. This is another lively piece that is, I think, re-harmonised Haydn, along the lines of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony.
9. A beautifully sad lament, employing minimal means. Heller adds the instructions plintivo and tristamente but they are hardly necessary.
10. This is a romp but watch out! On page two comes the reprimand and possible a slipper. All is reduced to a repeated E and then Schumann returns and – the romp resumes but this time the children heed a wagging finger. It’s time for bed and, with a few asides, they tiptoe off in that direction.

Whilst these pieces are great fun, one should not overlook the originality of the writing. This kind of music only became widespread much later.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on February 01, 2012, 04:17:23 AM
Op.125 24 Études d’Expression et de Rhythme

Heller now produces a further set of relatively easy studies for beginners. This may have been to raise income (the downloaded edition I have is Russian) but he takes the opportunity to update the musical language to the latest idiom.
Obviously these are not meant for concert performance (at least not for adults) but of interest is the final study – La Leçon in which the master (Le Maitre) demonstrates a five finger exercise and the pupil (L’elève) stumbles over reproducing it. The lesson continues until ‘Le Maitre exit.’ The pupil then gallops off faultlessly (we hope) an excerpt from the 9th study. This appears to be the progenitor of such frolics.


The next opus : 3 Overtures is going to require some work, so I will deal with each overture individually.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on February 10, 2012, 12:00:52 PM
Op.126.1 Overture – Of a Drama

Whilst Heller was never tempted into orchestral scoring and resented what he called the forced labours of producing works based on popular operas he presumably did enjoy the musical theatre.  These overtures exhibit once again the composer’s assurance when working in larger forms. Unlike Alkan’s Overture they are not intended as studies and they are therefore concentrated music without frills.

This first begins Andante can expressione and, as we shall see, one should not be tempted to take this too quickly (crotchet = 80 in indicated). The allegro that follows must be exactly twice as fast and this will be noticed when ideas from the opening appear again at double speed. The main body follows Heller’s version of sonata form: a sequence of ideas (the 2nd subject is derived from the introduction, transformed into the major) is followed by a relatively short development. The recapitulation follows the original sequence but is entirely recomposed.
Heller mimics an orchestra through dynamic and textural contrasts and, as is appropriate, this music is bold and dramatic. It is exciting to play and definitely goes into my hit list.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on February 14, 2012, 08:58:03 AM
Opus126.2 Overture – Of a Spectacle
(The printed score is translated as ‘Of a Comedy' but this is plainly wrong – Schauspiel).

This is marked allegro from the start and remains so with many fluctuations, beginning sereno but soon becoming vivo and eventually con fuoco and stringendo before fading to let the storm begin (Orage).
Here is an outburst of thunder and lightning that is well worth noting under ‘weather’ music and it increases Heller’s credentials as one of the progenitors of impressionism in music.
After the tempest has subsided there is a curious little waltz before a reprise of the opening material altered almost beyond recognition. Nevertheless the stringendo section is reached once more and increased to accelerando and a triumphant ending.

A very fine piece. Could well be classed as a rhapsody.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on February 20, 2012, 02:34:23 PM
Op.127 Freischütz Studies

Heller had a lifelong fascination with Weber’s opera, which sadly is not so often performed today, possibly because it includes spoken dialogue (it was done at last year’s proms with Berlioz’s recits.). Nevertheless, it remains one of the classics of the musical stage and the first question I ask here is, do these studies make me want to know it better? The answer is unequivocally, yes.

1. Allgro molto. I’ve said I’m not into grand studies but here the drama unfolds but does not overstay its welcome. This study is perfectly proportioned and ends with a tour de force of alternating octaves.
2. Allegro grazioso. A delightful treatment of the rustic dance melody with interwoven hands that develops into a climax whence a florid passage leads into a quasi cadenza before the simplicity of the opening returns to end in an elegant curtsey.
3. Allegro con fuoco. More tempestuous music but hidden within is an arrangement of a most beautiful aria. Even playing this section on its own creates a few moments of sheer magic.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on February 22, 2012, 02:04:54 PM
Op.128 Im Walde (New series) (1871)

In this second set of forest scenes, Heller makes some references to Schumann in his titles, although the musical language is now quite different. One thing to note is that although this edition in German, it was also published in Paris and this music is essentially French. It is interesting that the first exhibition by those artists who were to become known as Impressionists took place in 1874. There is much in this music that reflects the same kind of sensibility.
1) Eintritt
Mässige bewegung mit unbesorgtem Ausdruck
This seems to express the traveller strolling into the woods with no concern for what he might find there. Two ideas are introduced and then interlocked in the modular fashion so common in Heller’s work.
2) Waldgeflüster. (Forest Whispers)
Rasch, heinlich und innig
This is the magic of the woods, expressed in fluttering staccato arpeggios and tiny snatches of static syncopated chords. A very impressionistic vision.
3) Waidmannslust (not part of Berlin! Presumably the Huntsman’s Joy)
Sehr lebhaft, feurig.
After an extended and rousing exposition of the main ideas they are rebuilt in a wonderfully post-Romantic mid-section that begins pp and gradually builds to a recapitulation opening ff, after which the huntsman rides off into the distance.
4) Einsame Blume (Solitary Bloom)
Etwas langsam Zart und innig
Heller reduces Schumann’s flowers to one and the music almost to a single line, a stunning expression of loneliness. Note how the rising climaxes in the first section become falling ones towards the end and the melody goes round and round until it seems to represent endless despair.
5) Waldsage (Legend of the Woods)
Schnell, in erzëhbendem  Tone (as a narration)
The heart of the forest is not a quiet place – rushing sounds and trumpet fanfares prepare us for initiation – a hymn-like theme enveloped in mystery – the music then leads the listener out again before rushing away into silence.
6) Verfolgtes Eichhörnchen
Sehr rasch-behend
These dashing squirrels are a nice touch. They leap about in the treetops and once again we are in the realms of pure impressionism, and also pure genius.
7) Rückwanderung (Wandering back)
Lebhaft; heiter, zufrieden
The sense of satisfaction is heightened by putting the tramp of footsteps into 3/4 time. After a chromatic interlude, the forest whispers are heard again. The retreat continues until footsteps and whispers become interlocked in a triumphant conclusion.

One of the finest piano cycles from the 19th Century. Pity it hasn’t been recorded more often.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on February 26, 2012, 07:58:55 AM
Op.128 2 Impromptus

These have been recorded by Ilona Prunyi on Hungaroton, who naturally want to claim Heller as a Hungarian-French composer. Heller has indeed unassumingly taken a position right at the heart of the French piano tradition and, as neither Cesar Franck nor Saint-Saens composed extensively for the piano that was a position of some importance. The following quotation gives some food for thought and reminds me that I ought to investigate Dvoják’s piano music further.
 
“Musically, Heller progressed from being outright German and Viennese to being securely and comfortably French. In his later years, he began to exhibit Czech characteristics and some of his latest works greatly resemble those of Janácek and even Dvorák. Because of the volume and presence of his work, he is thought to have had an influence on both Fauré and Chabrier.” ~ Michael Morrison, Rovi

Be that as it may, the Frenchness of these impromptus is indisputable.
1) Everything is given up to pleasure of sound, from the whirling triplets of the opening to the drooping melody of the central section. Finally, the piece curls its way upwards into an exquisite conclusion. Quite worthy to stand alongside any impromptu ever composed.
2) The perpetual motion of the principal idea suggests a spinning song. When this breaks off, the music takes a walk after the fashion of the ‘Promenades d’un Solitaire’. This amble is interrupted by short bursts of very fast dance music (marked Presto). The wheel resumes its round and then, after a few further footsteps, accelerates into silence.

Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Leo K. on February 26, 2012, 10:30:18 AM
I'm very entranced by this recording, Heller's sound has a certain mood I can't describe in words, but it draws me to his work.

Excellant notes in this thread! Thanks  8)

(http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51-ZTec-RdL._SL500_AA300_.jpg)

Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on February 26, 2012, 02:52:31 PM
I just noticed that I missed this one out!

Opus126.3 Overture – Of a Comic Opera

Naturally this is a much more good-natured work but mood in music has no correlation with quality. Quite appropriately, it is marked Allegro giocoso with a clearly defined second subject (meno mosso). Major keys remain in the ascendancy throughout, even in the fortissimo con fuoco that begins the development. The only time they are questioned is in the odd little lusingando that announces the recapitulation. As ever, this is reworked and it leads to an extended coda that is fun and games right to the end. Very exhilarating.

Due to their nature, these three overtures would make a good complement to the Brahms Rhapsodies, Op.79.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on February 27, 2012, 09:21:24 AM
I'm very entranced by this recording, Heller's sound has a certain mood I can't describe in words, but it draws me to his work.

Excellant notes in this thread! Thanks  8)

(http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51-ZTec-RdL._SL500_AA300_.jpg)

Thanks for your encouragement. This is the recording that BobsterLobster found so boring and that hasn't encouraged me to buy it, although to be honest I want to approach Op.150 fresh. BobsterLobster seems to be under the illusion that these preludes were written for instruction, like Chopin's I suppose! He calls them unoriginal without being capable of quoting any precedent.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on February 29, 2012, 11:02:44 AM
Op.130 33 Variations on a Theme of Beethoven (1871)

This is the theme used by Beethoven for his variations WoO80 (1806). How well these variations were known in 1871, I don’t know but Heller set himself the challenge of expanding on them. Each of Beethoven’s variations concentrates on a particular aspect of piano technique and Heller concentrates on style instead. The difference is immediately obvious visually in the score. Heller’s notes are clearly more broken up and widespread, as one might expect, in view of Romantic tradition. Nevertheless he does respect the master and makes use of material from:
Symphony No.9 (v21 and v22)
Symphony No.5 (v28 and v29)
Piano Trio Op1.3 (v32)
As you will hear, some of the variations are paired, i.e.
v4 & v5; v6 & v7; v9 & v10; v11 (C maj) & v12 (A min); v13 & v14
v17 & v18; v23 & v24 (da capo ad lib); v26 & v27
Heller also turns to the major key more often, as in V13 – v16, v25 – v27 and a scherzando finale following v33. Also v19 is in A major and v24 in C – I think the da capo is better played from a structural point of view.

All in all this is great fun and Beethoven buffs should love it. The idea of playing both sets back to back may however prove a bit much for the listener. This set alone takes about 18 minutes.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on March 03, 2012, 03:53:28 AM
Op.131 3 Ständchen

This designation seems to me to make more sense than the French one of Nocturnes. It was this cycle that first prompted me to make a thorough investigation of Heller’s works. Not only is it wonderful music but it is readily accessible and, had Heller had the right P.R. approach (he was shy and retiring) there is little doubt he would now be included amongst the recognised great masters of piano music.

1. This begins with a gentle serenade (una corda) over an Ab major pedal. This moves through F min & Eb min to Db where the soft pedal is released. The serenade returns with embellishments before the music switches to nine bars of a taratella and some very rapid passagework (vivacissimo), which finally descends chromatically back to the opening with even more decoration. The tarantella attempts to return but stutters into silence before an impressionistic flourish brings the piece to a close.
2. Again Heller begins una corda over a pedal but here the melody is elegiac and ends after only ten bars. Insistent rapid 16th note phrases follow that are very difficult to master, as the tempo increases to quaver = 152 at which it continuies through two snatched of the melody before tempo 1 is reached. The mournful melody soon gains an arpeggiated accompaniment, first in C and then in F before normality is returned. The molto animato 16th notes then return but soon descend into a long trill that ends in a ghostly manifestation of the melody, now in G with the arpeggios high in the upper ranges. Finally the 16th note phrase undulates to a quiet G major conclusion.
3. The third melody is marked ben accentuato and for once Heller seems to be showing his Hungarian heritage. A magnificent passage follows in which the music alternates between the upper and lower keyboard. The midsection smooths the melody chromatically, translating it from A min to A and giving it a syncopated backing. More strongly rhythmic passages follow before the opening section is repeated, ending in a sudden hiatus. In the coda the main melodic phrase is stretched further and further upwards with rushing torrents of notes (take care – these begin in parallel but become 8 notes against 7 ending in A – F# and then A – G#). Finally the music ends with a five octave ascending A minor melodic scale. 

I’d back this against Brahms Op.117 any day, much as I appreciate the latter.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on March 14, 2012, 02:39:13 PM
Op.132 2 Polonaises

In contrast to the Ständchen these are very formal pieces. Their very ceremonial style suggests that Heller is showing some solidarity with the Polish people following the Franco-Prussian war. Poland did not exist at that time, being partitioned between Russia and Germany. They do not seem to reflect the music of Chopin and it may be that Heller had heard some characteristic Polish music from exiles living in France. Played in that light, their grandeur of expression makes them worthwhile but they do not appear to reflect the composer’s style of that period. In fact the composer who comes most to mind is Xaver Scharwenka, another whose music is said to be due for reassessment (including 4 piano concertos, I believe).
Curiously, the edition I have has a French title page but was published ‘Chez N. Simrock à Berlin’! (dedication to Alys Mary Shillito)
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on March 18, 2012, 04:44:54 AM
Op.133 21 Variations on a Theme of Beethoven (1872)

By choosing the theme from the slow movement of the Appassionata Sonata, Heller set himself a stiff task. However, the melody is by its nature ideal for the purpose and combined with Heller’s natural inventiveness the end result is a monumental work of great strength and interest.
Some of the variations could be played as individual pieces, especially those with a reprise, such as the very lovely No.5,and No.7. Also the funereal No.11 together with No.12, and No.15.
Heller also draws on the other movements of the sonata, as in No.14 and No.,15 from the first movement and the clever use of the Finale in No.21.

Earlier, Brahms composed his variations on a theme of Handel. In many ways, Heller’s variations are of a similar stature and the good musician will view both these works in the same light – showing the greatness of the originals through displaying some of their many possibilities.
I would like to thank Dchrisanthakopoulos for his recordings on YouTube. Don’t be discouraged by any of the negative feedback. It shows how easy it is to lose the power to think. I hope you may have encouraged the production of a commercial recording of this work in the near future.

Just one question - was there a negative reaction to German composers following the war?
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on March 27, 2012, 08:48:16 AM
Op.134 Petit Album (1873)

As indicated by the title, this is a French album. The ‘petit’ element possibly refers to a lack of complexity although it does contain plenty to get to grips with. Coming straight from earlier Heller it sounds disconcerting due the openness of the harmonies. Now I’m becoming used to it, I can appreciate the different way in which it uses chromaticism.
The movements are:
1. Novellette
2. Scherzino
3. Romance
4. Arabesque
5. Questions
6. Réponse
The key sequence is
Db - D min – F – A min – ? - C
The key of the fifth piece is ambiguous, as one might expect from its title, and it closes on the chord BDFA.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on April 02, 2012, 06:36:09 AM
Op.135 2 Intermèdes de Concert (1873)
(2 Intermezzi – New York edition)

These two pieces in the contemporary style of the time exhibit the composer’s mastery. Although they can be played separately they do form a pair and are clearly linked thematically (compare the opening theme of the first with the andante in the second).
Structurally, both are easily identifiable as Heller’s work due to their modular composition. In the first the main theme is treated almost in the manner of variations. In the second the doubling of the melodic line in places gives an almost operatic air.
Perhaps more importantly this is memorable music – it sticks in the mind and invites further hearing.

They have been recorded by Ilona Prunyi
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on April 15, 2012, 06:33:59 AM
Op.136 Im Walde
This third series makes strong reference once again to Die Freischutz. Althought the music is vintage Heller, it concentrates  more on the human element and there is little of the impressionistic sensibility of the previous set.

1. Im Walde. There are two components here that alternate – one seems to represent the protagonists who are entering the forest, the other the voice of the forest itself; this being represented by whirling sextuplets, which at the end fade into silence.
2. Max. The hero is represented by characteristic hunting music alternating with an undulating motif of a more passionate nature. This piece ends in emphatic triumph.
3. Agathe. A mournful reflection of great tenderness that includes a brief reflection on Max’s passion – attacca –
Agathe und Max.  Agathe’s song continues but is interrupted by Max’s arrival, whereupon one can imagine them singing in unison (con tenerezza).
4. Strophen des Caspar. A suitably demonic outburst (marked ‘mordente= biting). This mood is pursued relentlessly from first note to last.
5. Aennchen und Agathe. A lighter interlude – an intimate scene of great charm and delicacy.
6. Wild Flowers. Heller returns to the simplicity of nature before closing the cycle with an epilogue and a reprise of Max’s ardour and triumph from No.2.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on April 24, 2012, 11:39:02 AM
Op.137 2 Tarantellas

Heller returns to this form after a long absence. The most obvious features are relatively simple textures and frequent doubling between the hands. Those who like complexity will criticize but if you want fast exciting music, too many unnecessary notes can only hold back the sense of pace. Both these pieces need to be taken at a fair lick.
These tarantellas are great fun but I won’t make any special claims for them beyond that, except to say that they do not deserve neglect.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on April 26, 2012, 11:42:24 AM
Op.138 Album for the Young

This is Heller’s second set of pieces for children, the other being the Preludes for Lili (Op.119). These are designed for amusement rather than instruction, although as to be expected, the main concern is to provide scope for expression. They are essentially character pieces and are divided into five books. The history of children’s music does not seem to have been explored and would make an interesting study. These pieces are noticeably more modern than Schumann. The nearest comparison I can find is Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young, Op.39.
The contents are:
Book 1 (5 Liede ohne Worte)
1. Zueignung (Dédicace)
2. Sanfter vorworf (Doux reproches)
3. Abenddämmerung (Crépuscule)
4. Chasseur en herbe
5. Barcarolle
Book 2
6. Etude
7. Gedenkblatt (un billet à Hans Schmitt de Vienne)
8. Scherzetto
9. Curieuse histoire
10. Enfant qui pleure
Book 3
11. Ses camarades le consolent
12. La muette
13. Adieu du chasseur
14. Scabieuse
15. Ne m’oubliez pas
Book 4
      16 – 20 5 Tziganyi (Bohémiens)
      Interesting as one of the few occasions when Heller calls upon his Hungarian heritage.
Book 5
21. Rêverie
22. Le cor d’Oberon
23. Elfes 1
24. Elfes 2
25. Elfes 3
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Cato on April 26, 2012, 11:52:20 AM
So, how many Heller CD's do you own?

Amazon shows a handful available, at least used.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on April 28, 2012, 03:35:06 AM
So, how many Heller CD's do you own?

Amazon shows a handful available, at least used.
Easy to calculate - I have three.
Perhaps if today's pianists weren't such stick in the muds?
However, I have about 4.5 inches of sheet music on my shelf and I haven't begun on his early works.
I may go for that recording of his second sonata soon.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on May 08, 2012, 03:42:38 AM
Op.139 3 Studies (c 1874)

These do not have the nature of technical studies on the Chopin model but are more accurately musical studies. The first alternates a memorable pulsing theme with delicate arpeggio figures in sixths and contrasting harmonies. The second also has a nice theme but is most interesting for the use it makes of the whole tone scale in its short midsection. The last study involves offbeat motifs but unfortunately the only score available is incomplete, so I’ll refrain from comment for now.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on July 16, 2012, 10:59:32 AM
It is fitting to resume with one of Heller's masterpieces.

Op.140 Voyage autour de ma chamber

This is based on the idea behind Xavier de Maistre’s novel of 1794 in which a confined soldier invents a fanciful journey within the walls of his room. In this original work, Heller makes a tour of his own musical imagination. The cycle consists of five parts without titles but is essentially a unified fantasy.
1 – begins boldly and becomes more so before the first discovery is announced by ghostly reverberations in the bass. A tortuous and fiery section follows before the opening material returns, a little off key at first. The reverberations return to haunt the traveller to the close.
2 – the journey continues in an explorative manner in which one must distinguish between both slentando, ritardando and ritenuto, and stretto and stringendo. The general directive espressivo includes risoluto vivace, agitato and appassionato before reaching a tumultuous passage (molto vivo). The opening returns only to lead directly to strange flutterings and a final sigh.
3 – this opens urgently with offbeat motifs set against an insistent staccato bass. This pounds on before quieting to a pause. A vision then opens up – a beautiful derived melody over an open accompaniment. The whole is then repeated, the melody being placed a fourth higher. A third iteration is cut short and ends emphatically in the minor.
4 – a chromatic melody meanders over Tristan chords before resolving into rich harmonies. Heller continues to experiment with this until the chromatic line is raised higher over more conventional harmonies, which strangely sound even more remote.
5 - a homecoming (or shall we say a return to the doorway) but not without some little excursions into distant keys. The closing pages are by no means as straightforward as they may seem.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Madiel on August 17, 2012, 06:12:40 PM
Picked up Jan Vermeulen's recordings of opuses 45, 46 and 47 last week. Only listened to opus 45 so far, but it confirms everything I remember from my encounters with Heller's studies.  Quality little pieces that sound like genuine music, not dry-as-dust exercises.

A question though: I've noticed that the discs have no descriptive titles for the studies, and on IMSLP there is one edition that has tempo markings and one that has the descriptive titles.  So Op.45/1 is either 'Allegretto' or 'The Brook' depending on who you ask.  Do we have any idea whether Heller went in for poetic titles, or are they purely a publisher's invention?
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on August 20, 2012, 12:32:58 PM
Picked up Jan Vermeulen's recordings of opuses 45, 46 and 47 last week. Only listened to opus 45 so far, but it confirms everything I remember from my encounters with Heller's studies.  Quality little pieces that sound like genuine music, not dry-as-dust exercises.

A question though: I've noticed that the discs have no descriptive titles for the studies, and on IMSLP there is one edition that has tempo markings and one that has the descriptive titles.  So Op.45/1 is either 'Allegretto' or 'The Brook' depending on who you ask.  Do we have any idea whether Heller went in for poetic titles, or are they purely a publisher's invention?

My edition has no titles (Universal). I think this is the original conception and I suspect that the titles were requested by the Publishers in Paris. My only problem is that if one is referred to by title, I don't know immediately which one it is! Descriptive titles are unusual but not unknown in Heller's other works.

PS I have more to do but I'm a little tied up at the moment.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Roodkop on December 11, 2012, 01:58:26 PM
Hi,

Do You have any information about Heller's Op.105. "Three song without words" . Date, Edition Date, Who was the mysterious "Mistress Margaret Stern"


thx
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on December 12, 2012, 06:01:15 AM
Hi,

Do You have any information about Heller's Op.105. "Three song without words" . Date, Edition Date, Who was the mysterious "Mistress Margaret Stern"


thx
Thanks for the enquiry. Heller's dedications could be a study in themselves but one would need more than the internet, on which I've drawn a blank on Margaret Stern. As I noted above, I was a little disappointed by Opus 105. However, the songs without words Opus 120, constitute an integrated cycle that I play quite regularly - easily a match for late Brahms.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Roodkop on December 12, 2012, 06:51:08 AM
Thank You for your answer! :)
An other question, do you know any list of her works date of birth?

Roodkop
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on December 17, 2012, 07:13:00 AM
Thank You for your answer! :)
An other question, do you know any list of her works date of birth?

Roodkop
Can you clarify?
Heller was born in 1813.
There is a complete list of works on Wikipedia but it doesn't give dates of publication. There used to be a Hungarian site that did but it seems to have disappeared. The Op.103 Nocturne (dedicated incidentally to Desiree Halle) was published around 1862 and Op.120 in 1877, which suggests a fall off in production during those years.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Roodkop on December 17, 2012, 07:17:05 AM
Hi,

I would like t know, when wrote  He the Op.105 "Lieder ohne worte".
I think It was 1863.
On the cover page of the score there are three Edition houses. The Cramer, Beale and Wood used this name. between 1862-1864 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cramer_%26_Co.). The J. Maho worked between 1881-1877. (http://imslp.org/wiki/Jacques_Maho) The J. Rieter-Biedermann used the Leipzig u. Winterthur address between 1862-1884. (http://imslp.org/wiki/J._Rieter-Biedermann). The plate number of this work is 260. Biedermann used the plate number between 253-277 in the year 1863.

But it's my oppinion! :)
Do you know anything else of this work? (Op.105)

B.R.
R.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on June 22, 2013, 02:33:46 AM
Luckily for all pianists, there is still more (everything takes time!):


Op.141 4 Barcarollen
This set forms an interesting precursor to the barcarolles of Fauré.
1. Con moto 9/16. The gently rocking subject invokes the boat on the waters. This passes through a partially chromatic development before returning and melting into a coda in which the mood switches from minor to major.
2. Moderato 9/8. This atmospheric piece conjures up a night scene on the canals with gondoliers calling out to each other and giving occasional bursts of song.
3. Lento, con espressione 6/8. A more conventional barcarolle employing the lowest parts of the piano. The offbeat melody begins there, the reply coming from the treble.
4. Lentamente 6/8. A very sorrowful couplet is sung in thirds followed by a guitar improvisation. The second couplet is varied and the improvisation more elaborate and chromatic leading eventually into an orgy of G major configuration.
Title: Re: Stephen Heller
Post by: Ten thumbs on July 13, 2020, 10:16:51 AM
I came across this quote recently, from Heller himself, which gives some insight into his compositional intentions:

The artist with his most complicated creations, and precisely where he expresses the darkest moods, must use the simplest forms in order to give his thoughts clarity and understanding. Even though the thought is very deep, the form must be simple—so arise, young artist, and throw yourself courageously into the sea of feelings, strengthen yourself through the masters, especially on Beethoven, and reject the old rubbish, old yellowed piano passages, old-fashioned modulations of bygone times—however, you need not despise them—you may learn something from them. So, for Apollo’s sake, get away from your cozy fireside, and seek new horizons. It is the responsibility of youth not to guard itself too heavily against the storm of life.