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Belated London Premiere for Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel on International Women’s Day

As part of its special day of programming for International Women’s Day, BBC Radio 3 broadcasted a live performance of the Easter Sonata, a major piano work which until recently had been attributed to Felix Mendelssohn, but is now proved to be the work of his sister Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.

Fanny Hensel

These days Fanny Mendelssohn is considered to be as worthy of study as Felix, but in her lifetime she was barred from composing by her father, who said a public career was unsuitable to her sex.
“She was an amazing woman, who persevered despite complete discouragement,” her great-great-great granddaughter Sheila Hayman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
She explains to Mishal Husain how, “despite complete discouragement”, Fanny overcame the attitudes of the time to compose 500 pieces of music.
“When she was 14, she learnt all of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues off by heart – which is quite a thing – and her father’s response was to say, ‘That’s all very well, dear but you’re a girl, so you can’t be a musician… You’ve got to stay at home and make the lives of men better.’”

Fanny_Mendelssohn Ostersonate

When The Easter Sonata was discovered, the manuscript was marked “F Mendelssohn,” and many concluded it was by Felix. American Mendelssohn scholar Dr Angela Mace Christian proved otherwise after gaining brief access to the original, privately-owned manuscript in 2010. By comparing the handwriting to Fanny’s, analyzing the notes and alterations, and matching the page numbers to a missing section in an album of Fanny’s music, she was able to prove that the sonata was her work.

Podcast by BBC 3: How Fanny Mendelssohn fought sexism with music

Listen to the Easter Sonata!

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s piano sonata was performed in the “Women in Music” concert at the Royal College of Music in London by Sofya Gulyak – the first female winner of the Leeds Piano Competition.

Listen to a recording of the “Women in Music” concert – live broadcast earlier today by BBC (The sonata starts at 32:40.)

What do you think of this piece?
Please post a comment below!


Article in The Guardian
Piano Scores and recordingby Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel


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Barenboim on Chopin’s Ballade no. 1

Frédéric Chopin is considered the first “pianistic” composer, which means he wrote specifically with pianists in mind. He tailored his music to their artistry and technical wizardry. But, he didn’t always launch into bracing octaves or challenging passagework. For example, in the Ballade No. 1 in G-minor, Chopin teases the audience with a meandering introduction that seems to indicate he didn’t know where he was going. This is in direct contrast to Beethoven, who never meandered anywhere.

Chopin inspires musicians to greater artistry and, as Barenboim says in this video, makes them want to sound as if the music is simply emanating from them as light from a candle. In this ballade, Chopin also takes us on a leisurely stroll through his own private musical world.

Piano score to download and print:

Chopin Ballade in G minor


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Piano Street at the Music & Drama Education Expo 2017

Music & Drama Education Expo is Europe’s largest conference and exhibition for anyone involved in music & drama education. Over two days, the event will offer the chance to attend over 60 seminars, workshops and debates.


Taking place on 9 & 10 February 2017 at London’s Olympia Central, both days of the show will be packed with hours of useful CPD, fun practical workshops, inspiring keynote lectures, high-quality performances and unparalleled networking opportunities.

Delegates will also have the chance to browse hundreds of education products, trying them out before they buy and bagging some exclusive discounts. Piano Street is presenting educational material and new features of at stand I20 at the exhibition. We hope to see you there!


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Immersed in Mozart – Roberto Prosseda on Recording the Early Sonatas

The Italian pianist Roberto Prosseda has previously recorded Mendelssohn’s complete piano works. Now he is embarking on a new, slightly less encyclopedic but equally ambitious project, that of recording Mozart’s complete sonatas. The first instalment, a double CD with Sonatas 1-6, was released earlier this year. At the Cremona Mondomusica Piano Experience, where Prosseda was engaged as artistic advisor, Piano Street’s David Wärn had the chance of talking to him about the risks and rewards of playing and recording Mozart’s piano music.

NEW! Click the album cover to listen to the complete album:
Roberto Prosseda - Mozart Sonatas 1-6
(This is a new feature available for Gold members of pianostreet.com)
Buy the CD from amazon.com

What similarities do you see between Mendelssohn and Mozart?

Well, there are many things in common. Both Mozart and Mendelssohn were great pianists, with a very transparent piano language. You absolutely cannot cheat with their music. You cannot use too much pedal; you need to always play with great clarity, and with what I would like to call integrity. If you don’t keep the integrity of phrasing, of expression, this music doesn’t work.
Both Mendelssohn and Mozart were child prodigies, and their piano oeuvres are very large, even though they both died before 40. We have a lot of pieces composed when they were very young – this is especially true of Mendelssohn.

And what would you say are the main differences?

A lot of things are different, of course, but let me tell you what was the main difference for me: When I recorded Mendelssohn’s complete piano works, I was the first one to do this. There are other, almost complete, recordings – by Martin Jones for example – but they don’t include the whole of Mendelssohn’s production. Because only a few years ago, many pieces were not discovered yet. Some of them are still unpublished.
So, I felt a responsibility to give a vision which was quite clear and objective. Of course, I’m always trying to be natural and personal in my playing, but when I recorded Mendelssohn I knew that, for many of the pieces, mine was the only recording. That’s why my sole aim was to show Mendelssohn’s intentions as faithfully and exactly as possible.
In Mozart, the situation is very different. We have plenty of recordings of Mozart’s piano sonatas. Everything has already been discovered and recorded many times over. My personal favorite is Lili Kraus, but there are so many good recordings, from Gieseking to András Schiff, and the recent recording on fortepiano by Kristian Bezuidenhout… just to mention some of the complete recordings.

NEW! Click the album cover to listen to the complete album:
Lili Kraus plays Mozart
(This is a new feature available for Gold members of pianostreet.com)

Does that mean that your goal was different when recording Mozart?

Yes, it had to be! I needed to emphasize my own vision of this music, to do something a little bit unusual. I also thought: is this really important? Does anybody need another recording of all Mozart’s sonatas? Probably not! At least not if I couldn’t find a unique, entirely valid but also very personal approach.
I enjoy playing the fortepiano and always try to go deeper into the understanding of Mozart’s articulation signs. I also thought that it would be worth it to try to emphasize the lyricism and the dramatic strength of this music, especially of the first six sonatas. These are usually considered very ornamental – decorations rather than serious, powerful works of art.

Do you think that we misunderstand Mozart when we view him as the model of refined elegance?

I think that you can have decorative music which is also very strong and profound. The two things do not exclude each other. In Mozart there are always several different layers of reading – the surface level is often something very elegant and refined. But if you go deeper, you will find in this elegance a lot of ambiguity and double meanings. There is even a lot of sarcasm. So, I’m trying to approach the Sonatas from this other, hidden side, which I think has been ignored in many other interpretations.
To achieve this, I have thought a lot about the sound of the piano. I was looking for a sound which was not so, let’s say, standard. In the end, I chose a Fazioli F 278. It’s a new instrument, but it has been tuned in a different way, with unequal temperament. Which of course isn’t anything particularly new, because this used to be the normal way of tuning a keyboard.

Could you please explain the concept of unequal temperament?

In Mozart’s time, there were many different ways of tuning with unequal temperament. But the main concept was that each key should sound with its own flavor. For this reason, I think that it’s very important to feel the ‘harmonic geography’ of these sonatas. So that when you move from C major to, let’s say, E-flat major, you really change perspective. With unequal temperament tuning, this is much easier. It makes you feel the harmonic changes much deeper and with more intensity.
Studying historically informed performances has helped me to find my own way, and provided me with some of the best arguments for recording yet another set of Mozart sonatas. I’m playing a modern piano, but I am also trying to reproduce some effects and expressions coming from period performance practice, in a way that hasn’t been done before.

In your recordings, you add quite a lot of ornamentation.

Yes, I never play a repeat in exactly the same way, because I don’t think it makes any sense. You can’t just copy and paste, especially when you are recording. I cannot imagine that Mozart would play the same thing twice. Even if he didn’t write down all the suggested ornaments, of course we must do them. At the fermatas, I improvise small cadenzas. I think that is what Mozart would have done.
Of course, when you do these things you need to take some risks. Today, we have the idea that we should give a perfect, exact image of Mozart’s own playing. This is of course impossible – and if you just play the notes, with no ornamentation or improvised cadenzas, this is very far from Mozart’s playing, fur sure! I prefer to take my own risks, rather than being too much on the safe side.

How do you practice the skill of improvising an ornament or cadenza?

Since I always liked to improvise, this is not something that I find uncomfortable or difficult. Of course, it still deserves a lot of attention – you want to add things that are worthy and stylistically appropriate. I would say that my main method is to try to immerse my creativity in Mozart’s thinking.
There are a few pieces and movements that are very important to study in this respect, for example the A minor Rondo K 511, or the second movement of the Sonata K 332, or the adagio variation of K 284. Those are important because they exist in 2 versions: one is the manuscript version, which is without ornamentation, and then there is the first edition version – which Mozart must have approved – where the ornamentation is written out. This is a great opportunity to study exactly how ornamentation was used at the time. I try to apply the same concepts to other movements.
You also need to understand exactly which parts you can play with, and which parts must remain the same – otherwise you will lose the sense of structure. You can only improvise cadenzas in very particular places: before the recapitulation, for example, or in some fermata points which are clearly empty if you don’t do anything. But again, if you do too much, it will ruin the rest.
Before recording the sonatas, I also studied many other recordings – not to copy or to steal ideas, but rather to check if my own ideas are completely original. I know that many pianists are very cautious about listening to others, but I think it’s a good way to be more aware of what I’m doing. I found it very interesting to see how others, pianists and fortepianists, are dealing with all these problems.

For most pianists, tuning to unequal temperament would be impractical, and very few will have the chance to play a handpicked, extremely touch-responsive Fazioli… What is the most important thing to focus on to make Mozart’s piano music interesting and alive in more ‘ordinary’ circumstances?

I would say that the most important thing in general is having a clear idea before playing. Even the unequal temperament, or the response of the piano, is a consequence of your own idea. Today, many musicians don’t think enough about that. First they play and then, according to what comes out, they adjust their playing. And it will always be an adjustment.
I think the best thing is focusing on a very clear idea of the piece – an idea of the music’s drama. You need to find out about the different characters, the same way a film director or screenplay writer would do. When I interpret a piece of music, I feel as if I’m a screenplay writer, a film director, many actors, and a director of photography as well! Because at the piano, you can also work with depth of field: you can choose what is in focus, and what is in the background.
All of this you must manage with only two hands, on one piano. It’s a challenging task, but I think it’s essential that we try all these different perspectives – that we form an exact, focused idea of the music’s drama, in order to achieve a clear ‘staging’ of the pieces. In short, that we think before we play.

In 2014, Roberto Prosseda completed his 10-year project of recording Mendelssohn’s complete piano works, including a number of world premieres. An active proponent of Italian music, Prosseda has also recorded the complete piano works of Petrassi and Dallapiccola. His albums have won much acclaim in the press, including the CHOC from Le Monde de la Musique Classique, the Diapason d’Or and Chamber Music CD of the Month in the UK’s Classic FM magazine. Prosseda has also given concerts on the pedal piano, rediscovering original compositions by Schumann, Liszt and Alkan. He wrote the book “Il pianoforte. A listening guide to piano music”, and made three documentary films dedicated to Mendelssohn, Chopin and Liszt.

Read more:

Roberto Prosseda: Mozart Sonatas 1-6 – CD from amazon.com
World Premiere: Piano Piece in G by Felix Mendelssohn
Italian and International Excellence in Cremona
Sheet music: Mozart’s Piano Sonatas (complete) – Piano Street Urtext
Artist website: robertoprosseda.com


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New Chopin Photo Found!

The Swiss physicist and Chopin connoisseur Alain Kohler, already known for discovering in a private German home a Pleyel piano that once belonged to Frédéric Chopin, has made another sensational find. Kohler, together with Gilles Bencimon of Radio France Internationale, recently announced that they have unearthed a new, previously unknown photograph of Chopin.

The portrait was discovered by pure coincidence, in the private home of a music-lover Kohler was visiting. In the middle of a discussion, Mr. Kohler noticed on the wall the disturbing image of a character still fairly young, elegant and with a dark face. Kohler immediately made the connection. Aware that the image was unknown to the Chopin iconography, he convinced its owner to authorize him to make a copy of the document in order to study it carefully.

Kohler contacted several specialists in various fields and was actively assisted by Mr. Gilles Bencimon in making careful comparisons with other portraits of the composer – photographic, painted, drawn and carved. The two researchers came to the conclusion that what they had found was in all likelihood a photographic reproduction of a daguerreotype performed in 1847 in the studio of Louis-Auguste Bisson. Bisson also made one of the two other existing photographs of the composer: the similar background decor suggests that the photo was taken in the same studio.

Like the other daguerreotype by Bisson, this new photograph shows Chopin marked by illness and depression. Chopin himself never mentioned the portraits in any of his correspondance, but his pupil Jane Stirling apparently knew about them, and wrote to the composer’s sister Ludwika Jedrzejewicz after his death: “Tell the dear Mother that the daguer[reotypes] are really too ugly – they will not resemble him or her at all” (February 9, 1850).

Reader question

Does this new photo change your view of the person Frédéric Chopin in any way? Please post your comment below!

Press release: Polish Institute in Paris
High resolution photo

Link to this article:

Recommended reading:

The Women Behind Chopin’s Music
Chopin is more popular than football – at least in Warsaw
Chopin’s 200th Anniversary, March 1 2010


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