Born: April 10, 1864; Glasgow, Scotland
Died: March 3, 1932; Riga, Latvia
Pianist and composer Eugen d'Albert was a key figure in German post-Romanticism, born to German parents in Glasgow, Scotland. His father, Charles Louis Napoléon d'Albert, was a popular orchestra leader in the U.K. who specialized in light music. D'Albert began his musical training under his father, continuing it with Sir Arthur Sullivan and others. In 1881, D'Albert went to Weimar to study with his idol, Franz Liszt, whose impact onRead more D'Albert's work both as a pianist and a composer proved crucial. Armed with endorsements from Liszt, Clara Schumann, and Anton Rubinstein, D'Albert went on to an enormously successful career as a concert pianist, which lasted for decades. His Piano Concerto No. 1, composed in 1884, was probably the first post-Romantic piano concerto and is one of the most ambitious composed before that of Ferruccio Busoni. Like Liszt, D'Albert was a prolific transcriber of non-original works, and in his time D'Albert's editions of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach were held in the same regard as Busoni's.
By the early 1890s, D'Albert began to turn his compositional activity away from the keyboard in favor of opera, and he scored his first hit, Die Abreise, in 1898. On November 15, 1903, D'Albert's masterwork, the opera Tiefland, opened in Prague. Tiefland's was an alluring and innovative mixture of Italian verismo and Viennese operetta, and proved a success beyond D'Albert's wildest hopes, although he would never again match it. D'Albert devoted his remaining compositional activity to opera, and his worklist contains a number of interesting looking projects that await revival. Notable entries would include D'Albert's opera of Die Toten Augen (1912) written with the notoriously decadent novelist Hannes Heinz Ewers, the music drama Der Golem (1926) and the Zeitoper Die schwarze Orchidee (1928), which like Brecht and Weill's Der Dreigroschenoper incorporated the style of continental jazz. D'Albert's final opera, Mister Wu, was left unfinished at his death and was completed by conductor Leo Blech.
Portly, and short in stature, Eugen d'Albert was nonetheless quite a ladies' man and married six times. His most famous marriage was a brief and stormy union to the renowned Spanish concert pianist Teresa Carreño. D'Albert left behind a prodigious amount of recordings and piano rolls, both of his original compositions and those of others, which regrettably remain largely un-documented as of this writing. D'Albert's posthumous reputation has suffered, owing to his deeply felt pro-German sentiments and his apparent unwillingness to adapt to twentieth century trends. D'Albert was not the first to jump on stylistic bandwagons, but even late in life he was able to stylistically move forward in his music. As to the first complaint, and its implied association with National Socialist values, D'Albert never had to face the prospect of accepting or rejecting Nazism, as he died the year before Hitler came to power. Although D'Albert's place in music history is not yet properly evaluated, it is useful to see him as somewhat similar to Richard Strauss, a conservative, but a somewhat eclectic late Romantic. Tiefland remains popular in German-speaking lands and has kept D'Albert's name in circulation even during times of low or non-existent critical approval of his work; there is certainly no marginalizing its tremendous power, beauty, and effectiveness. Read less
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