Description: Four short pieces of different duration:

1. Chemin du solitaire (Camí del solitari)
2. Chemin de fête sans joie (Camí de festa sens alegria)
3. Chemin de la dernière rencontre (Camí del darrer encontre)
4. Chemin sur la colline (Camí damunt del turó)

Difficulty: About 6/10

Availability: Nowadays at Éditions Salabert.


Sometimes you just need to have a good look: these symbolic, mystical titles in French and Catalan, and a dedication: a l’amic Frederic Mompou. And the musical similarities.

Manuel Blancafort de Rosselló (1897-1987), although he received his first music lessons from his father, and later had harmony lessons with Lamote de Grignon, is actually the unknown younger brother of Frederic Mompou. It was the latter one who urged him to continue composing, during their long periods spent together at the family health resort of Balneario Blancafort at La Garriga, near Barcelona. They became friends for life.

As a young man, Manuel Blancafort worked in the pianola roll factory of his father, and in its service travelled all over the world, later he started a factory for beauty products (“Perfumes Blancaflor”), a cosmetics laboratory, worked for an insurance company, and for the publishing house Ariel. This to sustain an expanding family of eventually eleven children. And in the meantime he composed, lover of silence and seclusion, and was closely involved with musical life in Catalunya…

And you can close your eyes and imagine the landscape going with it just like that – and make yourself ridiculous, when times are changing, or information becomes available. So that’s what we are going to do right away. Times have changed already long ago.
1. Road of the Solitary

Pianissimo, murmuring: it comes in layers, three in this case, sounding wide apart. A monotonously ongoing line which wanders irregularly along the same few notes, a horizon?
A steep, empty pattern underneath it. And over all this a simple, ascending, descending melody which seems unable to make up its mind, ending every time on a slow, single thrill, a bit higher, a bit lower. It stops.

Then a sort of clumsy dance, again and again a few steps made of piled up empty fifths, a little longer, shorter, probably a memory of something cheerful (this indirectness clearly audible). It sounds like a dry, rocky landscape in which every now and then scraps of meaning appear in seemingly accidental, angular leaps, ending in an eruption of… regret?

No, that’s enough. This is not the entire piece, and the other three are just as sunlitsharp and evocative. Their musical means: wide, unfinished sounding chords, or on the contrary tight and wrenching, as if each sound is imagined anew, and tasted. Searching, hesitating melodies, stubborn rhythms, stagnation, sudden movement, harsh contrasts, and always, as if by accident, the appearance of different layers, counterpoint. And nevertheless it all sounds softly, melancholically.

This music wants to reinvent itself from the bottom up, to look for the unhampered expression of its dream-clear wordless images. It is not sociable music, it is meant for every single one of us, for the dreamer in the silent, locked-away world of our lonely hours.

Play it!


Description: 32 short to very short pieces without titles.
The order is according to tonality, along the circle of fifths (major & minor); first sharps, and from no. 16 on flats.

Difficulty: mostly level 4/10

Availability: not in print anymore (as far as I know)! Antiquarian copies can still be found relatively easy.



Stephen Heller (1813-1888), born in Budapest, and after a traumatic period as a travelling infant prodigy stranded in Augsburg in 1830, lived in Paris from 1838. Though he befriended celebrities like Schumann, Berlioz, Chopin and Liszt, he lived, increasingly aloof from all fashionable fuss, for music, his beloved books, and far too many cigars. After 1871 he slowly became blind. Out of his 158 opus numbers, (almost exclusively for the piano) only some six are still in print. And that’s a pity!

In 1911 Rudolf Schütz writes about opus 119: Es wird in der gesamten ungeheueren Klavierliteratur nicht leicht ein Werk nachzuweisen sein, daß bei so mäßigen Ansprüchen an die Technik des Spielers einen so reichen Inhalt mit großem Wohllaut in kleinsten aber immer interessanten anmutigen Formen zum Ausdruck bringt. (…) Spiele selbst und empfinde!

(It will not be easy to find a work in the collected enormous piano literature, which while making such moderate demands on the player’s technique expresses with such sonorous beauty such a rich content in the smallest, but always interesting and enticing forms. (…) Play yourself, and discover!)

…and this still holds true in the ever ungeheuerer labyrinth of piano music. Clear as water, one piece tumbles over the other, some only two lines short, but always full of atmosphere, rich in contrasts, precise and lovingly, and often surprisingly capricious. Many pieces talk, or depict a short dramatic scene. Others sing an old song, or a lonely melody, or a careless walking tune, through which the wind blows. You hear it, and it has already gone. Heller, city-, chamber-dweller, hermit: of course a lot of it has to do with nature, a glistening nature which never really existed, except during short moments, or in romantic stories, poetry and painting. And in movies, shopped photos, tourist brochures and mythical games, in short in the heads of us, dreaming city dwellers, for we recognise him.

And it’s German music, and German nature. Not surprising though for a lifelong admirer of Schumann. Heller corresponds with him from as early as 1835, and writes for the New Periodical for Music, founded by Schumann. The latter reviews seven of Heller’s opus numbers, calls him a real romantic, an artist’s nature, and writes that they have a lot in common.

Of course there are differences. Heller covers a much more limited area. All his life he only writes for the piano, and obviously feels most at home in the smaller, the smallest forms. His music, alert and inventive as it is, never gets severe, or elaborately polyphonic, never massive and awe-inspiring, but in essence always remains naïve and direct; an idea, melody, harmony. And timbre! In this he resembles Schubert a little bit. And maybe, by rarely trodden paths round the back, has had more influence on French music after his death than we know. But that’s for another time.


Description: 3 short pieces (40, 72, 60 measures) in E flat-, B-, and G flat major.

Difficulty: about 7/10

Availability: Out of print, as far as I know. Still to be found second-hand. (Könemann: Complete Works, in four books: K302-305. Opus 27 is in book III)


Lyadov was born in St. Petersburg in 1855 and died in 1914 on his beloved property of Polïnovka. Both his father and his grandfather were conductors, and notorious for their unreliability. Lyadov himself too has often been reproached of laziness (for some time he was expulsed from Rimsky-Korsakov’s composition class for failure to attend). That may well have been, but he was also extremely critical of his own work. He didn’t write any big works, although his friends repeatedly exhorted him to do so. One can assume that he restricted himself to what he felt at home with. This would be consistent with his extreme desire for liberty and aversion from every external pressure.

About 2/3 of his 67 opus numbers were written for solo piano. They contain some 150, mostly short pieces, miniatures even, but by no means easy to play. Every one of them tightly written, with a lot of detail. 31 Preludes, 15 Mazurkas, 5 Etudes, a Barcarolle…Yes, of course: Chopin! But there is something else: a number of Fugues, and a surprising 39 canons: a lifelong preference for counterpoint.

Lyadov’s first opus numbers for piano (opus 2-8) evidently smell of Schumann (except the Etude opus 7, dedicated to and sounding like Balákirev). From opus 9 onward suddenly the Mazurkas appear, and the Preludes. They’re not Chopin-Mazurkas. Now they sound Russian, then Polish, or even Oriental (think of Borodín). And all display this beautiful, elegantly precise polyphony, which carelessly seems to produce the harmonies.

The three Preludes of opus 27 are examples of another important trait in Lyadovs music. He was manifestly fond of Chopin’s piano music, and must have studied it thoroughly. In certain passages from the Etudes, but especially in the Impromptus, he must have found something hypnotising, to which he returns time and again, and which he tries to evoke, to touch upon in many of his own piano pieces.

It’s a very precise, minimal process. One or two melodic lines, above a melodical accompaniment in widely broken harmonies, everything in a continuing flow of crochets and semi-crochets, all very well-known. But it seems as if the logic of precisely these two, three slender, accurate lines against each other starts a process which, without any human intervention, produces music on its own, using the tension of small shifts, jumps, up and down, indefinably happily-melancholic. It is music which seems to be able to continue eternally in ever changing tints and shades. The end always comes unemphatically and as if by accident.

I call these Lyadov’s little Chopin-machines. It’s as if something out of Chopin’s music came free and goes on making music without him. It still sounds like Chopin, but became something entirely different. Beautiful!

THEODOR FÜRCHTEGOTT KIRCHNER Op. 70: Fünf Sonatinen für Klavier zweihändig (1883)

Description:: 5 Sonatinas, nr. 1 in C (3 movements) nr. 2 in G (4), nr. 3 in C (3),
nr. 4 in G (3), nr. 5 in B-flat (4)

Difficulty: 5/10

Availability: Good! Available with Amadeus Verlag Winterthur.


Theodor Fürchtegott Kirchner (1823-1903) was, it seems, already an accomplished organist at the age of eight. At fifteen he went to Leipzig, where he took lessons from, amongst others, Mendelssohn, and was part of the circle around Schumann. He became the first pupil of the new Conservatory, just founded by Mendelssohn. At their recommendation he was accepted as an organist in Winterthur in 1843. He thrived there. Von Bülow, Liszt en Wagner admired his organ playing. He composed, appeared as a pianist, taught, directed, and organized concerts, also in Zürich. He became good friends with Robert and Clara Schumann and with Brahms. He had an affair with Clara around 1860. She payed off his gambling debts and tried in vain to keep him from it. Later he moved to Zürich, where he got into a not so happy marriage. Then started a very irregular life, in which he changed jobs a lot. For a short spell he was a court pianist in Meiningen, Music school director in Würzburg, and he gave lessons in Leipzig and Dresden. Although he wasn’t paid too badly, he got massively indebted, and in 1884 friends (Hanslick, Gade, Grieg, Brahms, von Bülow and Reinecke) raised a big sum of money to save him. From 1890 on he lived in Hamburg, without his wife and children, and was supported by von Bülow and Brahms. At the end of his life he was almost blind, and lamed. But during this life, apart from about 20 opus numbers of chamber music, over 40 songs, and some choir music, he wrote more than 1000 often very beautiful piano miniatures in an acute, personal style akin to Schumann’s, and sometimes reminiscent of Brahms.


What happens to a classical sonatina of for example Clementi, which gets lost in the romantic period? Play these five jumping sonatinas from Kirchner and you’ll know more.

The grand romantic sonata, it seems, often gets somewhat clogged in the realisation of its lofty intentions. All too often then a grey shade is looking on, which has a certain likeness with Beethoven! In the short compass of the sonatina the romantic spirit perhaps has more freedom to shine. Here things needn’t be that serious and responsable. The first movement becomes a capricious story, a sharply shining adventure of sudden ideas, in which the cheerful, somewhat naive main character very soon gets of the straight and narrow, starts doubting, sits down pondering, or, all of a sudden, finds itself in a big dark forest, where the silence is only broken by the lonely call of an ominous bird. Or there is some valiant fighting for a short while, a thunderstorm threatens, but soon again the shining sun breaks through, and we walk on happily singing.

The slow movement, however simply it begins, after a single line already becomes a movingly loving song, an old story, or strands in deep melancholia. Or suddenly becomes a dreamy dance. Now and then it makes you think of Brahms. And the last movement is a hunt, a cheerful soldiers’ march, with the usual difficulties, a teasing game of tag, or a splendid dance party, with its different moods. But, and this is a speciality of Kirchner, all transitions, as abrupt as they come, are kept together by a clear, smartly written polyphony, which very often doesn’t do what you expect it to do, but always becomes logical afterwards.

These are peculiar sonatinas. This shows already in the first movement, with the famous sonata form. Because the first theme had to be simple and clear, referring to its classical examples, or even (ironically?) imitating them, it often starts of a bit naïvely good humoured, to then quickly get on the road into quite remote parts. Kirchner’s second themes are often very short; sometimes a mere motive, a quick tinge of minor, and seem to anticipate the adventures in the development. And two times we even don’t see them back at all in the development section; they only reappear at the end.

But isn’t this applying standards which belong to a different domain? Let us play and admire this music of fast changing light and colours for what it is. Perhaps it even suits our impatient times.

EGON WELLESZ: op. 21, IDYLLEN, Fünf Klavierstücke zu Gedichten von Stefan George (1917)

Description: 4 short pieces and one slightly longer, with five mottos from the poet Stefan George.

Textual Sources: The poems: Gartenfrühlinge, Taggesang, Morgenschauer,
Die Gärten schließen, Blaue Stunde.

Difficulty: about 6/10, the fifth piece 8/10

Availability: As it seems, still obtainable on demand with Universal Edition.



Egon Wellesz (1885-1974), born in a wealthy Viennese family, was in 1905, together with his close friend Anton Webern, and Alban Berg, among the first private pupils of Arnold Schönberg, and therefore part of the famous circle around this composer. In 1908 he also got his doctorate in musicology. He would compose a large, diverse body of works: 112 opus numbers; piano music, songs, 3 ballets, 6 operas, 9 symphonies, 9 string quartets, and many large pieces for solo voice, choir and orchestra. In 1938 he would emigrate to England.

But now we are in 1917. Schönberg and Webern write “pantonal” music since 1908. Wellesz himself had composed already quite a bit: orchestral works, songs, piano music, a ballet, and he just finished a second string quartet. And it is war. It remains probably impossible for us to imagine what that meant. Schönberg, after almost a year of military training and subsequent hospitalisation because of asthma and other illnesses, was released with great difficulties. Webern followed military training until 1917, but was not sent to the front. In Vienna, it was almost impossible to get food and coal. Wellesz, luckily, was deemed unsuitable for military service because of an old operation. He went on working as a university teacher and doing musicological research. He already published work about Venetian opera, Gregorian chant, Byzantine music, and for example wrote about recent developments in French music.

The 5 Idylls opus 21 have a remarkably French and lyrical character. Wellesz already wrote extremer music. Moreover, it doesn’t seem the proper moment for this tingling, splashing nature lyric, which definitely heard about Debussy, but sometimes sounds sharper, and sometimes more diffuse. Bur then again maybe it precisely is…
It’s music from a boundless airy world. But also from a transitional period, in which, after the discovery of unprecedented new possibilities, for a short time everything may exist side by side, circling around and dissolving in each other: clear diatonic periods, fourth chords, supplemented pentatonic scales, bitonal diatonics, typical piano chords (for example white thumb, the rest black), fragrant, “thick” blurred sounds, sharper atonal polyphony, etc. Very lavish and savoury! But everything is held together by a strong sense of harmonic tension, between often provokingly “dissimilar regions”.
And also by the constant use of the same intervals; seconds, thirds, fourths, and lots of fifths in the bass, which makes melodic lines and harmonies sound somehow familiar. This perhaps is a weak point. The melodic material now and again sounds a little pale, however improvisingly or naturally it presents itself: often waiting, transforming into swerving irregular ostinato motives, or faraway signals, and then again strongly lashing up. For really, all in all this is well sounding and surprisingly atmospheric music.
Music from before a new system: not pedantic, but freely blowing everywhere.

For more information about the composer: look at the nice, informative website of the
Egon Wellesz Foundation (see: LINKS).