Notes and Editorial Reviews
4 Sketches for Pedal Piano,
Studies for Pedal Piano,
6 Fugues on the name of BACH,
Thomas Trotter (org)
REGENT 347 (65:40)
The pedal piano is an odd instrument that had its origins in the pedal clavichord and pedal harpsichord (the latter only available today via modern reconstructions). Mozart is known to have had a
fortepiano with pedals, and in 1843 Louis Schone made an upright version for Robert Schumann (which, it is said, the composer preferred). The thing is rather odd looking, with a spider’s web of pedal mechanisms coming down in the front (some, like Alkan, had a grand piano version that looks more like a standard organ pedal setup and is not so unwieldy). There are no composers I know of who were not enthusiastic about the instrument; however, time has dictated something different and the instrument didn’t survive as anything with real musical viability, apart from an indoor practice instrument for organists who liked to stay away from freezing-cold churches in the winter.
Schumann was obsessed with the music of Bach from around 1837 on—he never deserted the master and always considered him the greatest composer the world had ever known. The years 1844–46 saw the production of these three seminal works for pedal instrument, the piano for opp. 56 and 58, and the organ (with pedal piano as an alternative) for op. 60. This last he considered his finest work up to that time, feeling that it and the other pedal works would long outlive the rest of his considerable output.
And there are some astonishingly beautiful things in this music. The op. 60 is quite the wonder, full of all sorts of Baroque techniques involving retrograde, augmentation, stretto, and many countersubjects all under a broad tent that virtually disguises any particular technique in use at the moment. Couple these with some wonderfully innate melodic gifts that suffuse this work, and you have a set of pieces that not only demonstrate Schumann’s mastery of the idiom, but serve as an example of a fully fledged romantic crafting an art that shows a natural and integral growth from what has gone before. These pieces were designed for the organ first and pedal instruments second, though the composer knew next to nothing about the “King of Instruments” except for the fact that his idol performed and wrote a lot of music for it.
are most commonly performed on the organ today, though in truth I think the work, along with the op. 56 Studies, demands an instrument with more clarity. The
is a sonorous piece, true to the composer’s intentions, and hearing it played as well as Thomas Trotter does here almost convinces me of its organ viability, but not quite. I can still imagine the piece to better effect. The same holds true of the more popular Studies, given a demonstration reading in the Debussy arrangement by Eric LeSage in
33:6 (the work was also arranged for piano trio to good effect by Theodore Kirchner, as shown in 23:6).
Trotter does everything possible with these compositions, and if there is any fault in presentation it surely does not lie with him but in the very nature of the music itself, and no one buying this will be disappointed, the Ladegast organ in Merseburg Cathedral (when built in 1855 it was the largest organ in Germany) offering all of the power and color one could hope for in this music.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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