Charles Valentin Alkan

Biography

Born: November 30, 1813; Paris, France   Died: March 29, 1888; Paris, France  
Charles-Valentin Alkan was one of the great composer/pianists of the nineteenth century and a major influence on many subsequent musicians. He wrote some of the most unusual and technically difficult music of his time, an output that no less an authority than Ferruccio Busoni called "the greatest achievement in piano music after Liszt."

Alkan was an extraordinary prodigy: he entered the Paris Conservatoire when he was 6
Read more years old and won first prizes for solfège at age 7, for piano at 11, for harmony at 14, and for organ at 21. He quickly made a name for himself in the Paris salons as a gifted young pianist and played some London concerts in 1833 to great acclaim. From 1829 to 1836, he was a part-time teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, but he never joined the regular staff.

Alkan was well known in intellectual circles -- he counted among his friends Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Frédéric Chopin -- but he was always something of an introvert and misanthrope; at age 25 he dropped out of society, the first of his frequent and sometimes lengthy withdrawals. Over the next 35 years he appeared in public only rarely; not very much is known about his life in those years. Only in 1873 did he make a return to the concert stage, playing a series of Petits concerts at the Salle Erard (where he also taught classes in the afternoons).

Alkan was devoted to his Jewish faith and was quite a scholar on the subject. One curious, but untrue, legend has it that he died when, as he reached for a copy of the Talmud on top of a large shelf, the bookcase fell over and he was crushed to death.

Alkan published his first music at age 14; ultimately his catalog extended to 76 opus numbers, most of them works for solo piano. The earliest of his compositions were in the familiar forms of the day: opera paraphrases and collections of studies that showed off his unusual facility. His compositions started to get more ambitious in the 1840s -- the harmonies bolder, the rhythms more irregular -- and many of the works called for extravagant, nearly superhuman technique. These works range from larger works like the Grande sonate "Les quatre âges," Op. 33 (1848), to shorter pieces like Le chemin de fer, Op. 27 (1844), the first musical portrait of the railroad, and the humorous and peculiar Funeral March for a Dead Parrot.

Perhaps his most ambitious opus is the set of Twelve Études in all the minor keys, Op. 39 (1857). The 12 pieces aggregate to form (in order) a four-movement symphony, a three-movement concerto, a set of variations, an overture, and three independent pieces. They are very demanding of a performer -- pianist Raymond Lewenthal has called them "a ride in Hell." The first movement of the concerto alone contains 1,343 measures (more than the entirety of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata) and lasts half an hour.

Alkan played his own works very rarely in public. He did however play a range of music unusual for his time, including the then-unfashionable late Beethoven sonatas, various Schubert sonatas, and much Baroque music. His playing style was noted for its clarity, its restraint in rhythm and dynamics, and its intellectual quality. Alkan and his music were largely neglected during his lifetime, and he was nearly forgotten upon his death. But with the attention of Ferruccio Busoni, Kaikhosru Sorabji, Egon Petri, and other giants of the early-to-middle twentieth century, as well as the later advocacy via recordings of Petri, Lewenthal, and Ronald Smith, Alkan's position in music history has been assured. Read less
Browse 26-50 of 74 Available Recordings
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  • 26.
    Rarities Of Piano Music At 'schloss Vor Husum' From The 1987 And 1988 Festival
    Label: Danacord   Catalog: 299 Release Date: 09/14/2010   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Adolf Henselt,  Moritz Moszkowski,  Frédéric Chopin,  Carl Tausig  ... 
    Performer:  Michael Ponti,  Boris Bloch,  Daniel Berman,  Rainer Maria Klaas  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Duo Quatre Mains
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  • 27.
    Chopin & His Contemporaries Played On Pleyel
    Label: Brilliant Classics   Catalog: 94048 Release Date: 08/10/2010   Number of Discs: 6
    Composer:  Franz Liszt,  Charles Valentin Alkan,  Carl Maria von Weber,  Frédéric Chopin  ... 
    Performer:  Fred Oldenburg,  Stanley Hoogland,  Jan Vermeulen,  Cor de Groot  ... 
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  • 28.
    Chopin: Sonate Pour Violoncello Et Piano; Alkan: Sonate De Concerto Pour Violoncello Et Piano
    Label: Mirare   Catalog: 107 Release Date: 04/13/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Frédéric Chopin,  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Jan Neuberger,  Jean-Frédéric Neuburger,  Tatjana Vassiljeva
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  • 29.
    Alkan: Piano Works / Stanley Hoogland, Alan Weiss
    Label: Brilliant Classics   Catalog: 94033 Release Date: 03/23/2010   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Alan Weiss,  Stanley Hoogland
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  • 30.
    The Devil's Music
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8578085-86 Release Date: 09/29/2009   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Charles Gounod,  Robert Schumann,  György Ligeti,  Johann Strauss Jr.  ... 
    Performer:  Samuel Ramey,  Idil Biret,  Laurent Martin,  Ashley Wass  ... 
    Conductor:  Julius Rudel,  Johannes Wildner,  Alfred Walter,  Christian Benda  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Radio Orchestra,  Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Kosice Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra  ... 
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  • 31.
    Berceuses / Alfonso Alberti
    Label: Concerto   Catalog: 2027 Release Date: 08/25/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  François Couperin,  Robert Schumann,  Adolf Henselt,  Frédéric Chopin  ... 
    Performer:  Alfonso Alberti
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  • 32.
    Shostakovich: 24 Preludes;  Alkan: 25 Preludes / Mustonen
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 433055 Release Date: 01/30/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Dmitri Shostakovich,  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Olli Mustonen
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  • 33.
    Alkan, Chopin: Cello Sonatas / Alban Gerhardt, Steven Osborne
    Label: Hyperion   Catalog: 67624 Release Date: 10/14/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Frédéric Chopin,  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Alban Gerhardt,  Steven Osborne
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  • 34.
    Alkan: Cello Sonata, Op 47;  Liszt / Bertrand, Amoyel
    Label: Harmonia Mundi   Catalog: 501758 Release Date: 09/09/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Franz Liszt,  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Pascal Amoyel,  Emmanuelle Bertrand
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  • 35.
    Alkan: Organ Works Vol 2 / Kevin Bowyer
    Label: Toccata Classics   Catalog: 31 Release Date: 06/10/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan,  George Frideric Handel
    Performer:  Kevin Bowyer
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  • 36.
    Alkan: Piano Music / Alan Weiss
    Label: Brilliant Classics   Catalog: BRIL93568 Release Date: 05/20/2008   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Alan Weiss
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  • 37.
    Frederic Chopin & John Field: The Complete Nocturnes
    Label: Brilliant Classics   Catalog: 2192202 Release Date: 05/20/2008   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  John Field,  Frédéric Chopin,  Camille Pleyel,  Frederic Kalkbrenner  ... 
    Performer:  Bart Van Oort,  Peter Arts,  Agnieszka Chabowska
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  • 38.
    Alkan: The Chamber Music / Kang, Chiffoleau, Gardon
    Label: Timpani   Catalog: 1139 Release Date: 04/29/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Dong-Suk Kang,  Olivier Gardon,  Yvan Chiffoleau
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  • 39.
    Rarities Of Piano Music At Schloss Vor Husum 2006
    Label: Danacord   Catalog: 669 Release Date: 11/06/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ilmari Hannikainen,  Leff Pouishnoff,  Antonio Soler,  Charles Valentin Alkan  ... 
    Performer:  Jonathan Plowright,  Eldar Nebolsin,  Marc-André Hamelin,  Hamish Milne  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tal & Groethuysen Duo
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  • 40.
    Alkan: Concerto For Solo Piano, Etc / Marc-André Hamelin
    Label: Hyperion   Catalog: 67569 Release Date: 09/11/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Marc-André Hamelin
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  • 41.
    Francesco Libetta - Live At La Roque Dantheron
    Label: Video Artists International   Catalog: 4375 Release Date: 01/09/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan,  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky,  Camille Saint-Saëns,  György Ligeti  ... 
    Performer:  Francesco Libetta
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  • 42.
    Romantic Pieces For Piano - Alkan, Liszt, Prokofiev / Roma
    Label: Challenge   Catalog: 72154 Release Date: 10/10/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Sergei Prokofiev,  Franz Liszt,  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Igor Roma
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  • 43.
    Alkan: 12 Etudes In The Minor Keys Op 39
    Label: Abc Classics   Catalog: 4765335 Release Date: 07/17/2006   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Stephanie McCallum
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  • 44.
    Alkan: Organ Works Vol 1 / Kevin Bowyer
    Label: Toccata Classics   Catalog: 30 Release Date: 06/13/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Kevin Bowyer
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  • 45.
    Rarities Of Piano Music - 1989
    Label: Danacord   Catalog: 349 Release Date: 02/03/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan,  Sergei Rachmaninov,  Leopold Godowsky,  Zez Confrey  ... 
    Performer:  Ronald Smith,  Michael Ponti,  Marc-André Hamelin,  Jozef De Beenhouwer  ... 
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  • 46.
    Rarities Of Piano Music At Schloss Vor Husum (1994)
    Label: Danacord   Catalog: 429 Release Date: 01/18/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan,  Sigismund Thalberg,  Frank Martin,  Xavier Montsalvatge  ... 
    Performer:  Marc-André Hamelin,  Paul Badura-Skoda,  Enrique Perez de Guzman,  Stephen Hough  ... 
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  • 47.
    Music Of Tribute Vol 4 - Scarlatti / Viktoria Lakissova
    Label: Labor Records   Catalog: 7077 Release Date: 11/08/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  György Kurtág,  Walter Steffens,  Domenico Scarlatti,  Leopold Godowsky  ... 
    Performer:  Viktoria Lakissova
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  • 48.
    Nocturnes - Chopin, Field, Et Al / Bart Von Oort
    Label: Brilliant Classics   Catalog: 92202 Release Date: 06/28/2005   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Louis J.A. Lefébure-Wely,  Ignacy F. Dobrzynski,  Maria Szymanowska,  Mikhail Glinka  ... 
    Performer:  Bart Van Oort,  Agnieszka Chabowska
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  • 49.
    Alkan: 12 Etudes Op 35, Etc / Bermard Ringeissen
    Label: Marco Polo   Catalog: 8223351 Release Date: 06/25/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Bernard Ringeissen
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  • 50.
    Alkan: Esquissess / Steven Osborne
    Label: Hyperion   Catalog: 67377 Release Date: 05/13/2003   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Steven Osborne
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1 2 3

Charles Valentin Alkan


MOST POPULAR WORKS
Douze études dans les tons mineurs, Op. 39: Symphonie: Allegro moderato, No. 4
Symphonie: Marche funèbre, No. 5
Symphonie: Menuet, No. 6
Symphonie: Finale, No. 7
I. Allegro molto
II. Allegrettino
III. Adagio
IV. Finale alla saltarella: Prestissimo
WORKS
I. Etude in A major
II. Etude in D major
III. Etue in G major
IV. Etude in C major
V. Etude in F major (Allegro barbaro)
VI. Etude in B flat major
VII. Etude in E flat major (L'incendie au village voisin)
VIII. Etude in A flat major
IX. Etude in C sharp major (Contrapunctus)
X. Etude in G flat major (Chant d'amour - Chant de mort)
XI. Etude in B major
XII. Etude in E major
Douze études dans les tons mineurs, Op. 39: Symphonie: Allegro moderato, No. 4
Symphonie: Marche funèbre, No. 5
Symphonie: Menuet, No. 6
Symphonie: Finale, No. 7
I. 20 ans: Tres vite
II. 30 ans: Quasi-Faust: Assez vite
III. 40 ans: Un heureux menage (A happy household): Lentement
IV. 50 ans: Promethee enchaine (Prometheus enchained): Extremement lent
I. quarter note = 63
II. L'istesso tempo: quarter note = 63
III. L'istesso tempo: quarter note = 63
IV. L'istesso tempo: quarter note = 63
No. 1 in A flat major: Allegro
No. 2 in C minor - E flat major: Allegro moderato
No. 3 in B flat major: Moderement
No. 1. Minuet in E-Flat Major: Tempo giusto
No. 2. Minuet in G Minor: Tempo debole
No. 3. Minuet in G Major: Tempo nobile
No. 1 Andantino
No. 2 Très vif
No. 1. Ma chere liberte
No. 2. Ma chere servitude
No. 1 in C major: Tempo giustissimo
No. 2 in A major: Andantino
No. 3 in D minor: Quasi-adagio
No. 4 in G major: Assez doucement
No. 5 in D minor: Lentement
No. 6 in B flat major: Majesteusement
No. 7 in F major: Molto moderato
No. 8 in A minor: Assez vite
No. 9 in E flat major: Assez lentement
No. 10 in D minor: Moderement
No. 11 in A minor: Dolcemente
No. 1. Assez vivement
No. 2. Serenade: Quasi-allegretto
No. 3. Choeur: Allegro
No. 4. L'Offrande: Andantino
No. 5. Agitatissimo
No. 6. Barcarolle: Andante
No. 1. Hymne: Adagio
No. 2. Allegretto
No. 3. Chant de guerre: Allegro
No. 4. Procession-Nocturne: Andantino
No. 5. Andantino
No. 6. Barcarolle en choeur: Andante
No. 1. Neige et lave
No. 2. Chanson de la bonne vieille
No. 3. Bravement
No. 4. Doucement
No. 5. Appassionato
No. 6. Barcarolle
No. 1. Duettino
No. 2. Andantinetto
No. 3. Allegro vivace
No. 4. La voix de l'instrument
No. 5. Scherzo - Coro
No. 6. Recapitulation - Barcarolle
I. Allegro molto
II. Allegrettino
III. Adagio
IV. Finale alla saltarella: Prestissimo
I. Allegro vivace
II. Allegramente
III. Scherzo-Minuet
IV. Coda: Tempo giusto
I. Assez largement
II. (Scherzo): Tres vite
III. Lentement
IV. (Finale): Vite
No. 1. Vivante
No. 2. Esprits follets: Prestissimo
No. 3. Canon: Assez vivement - Assez doucement
No. 4. Tempo giusto
No. 5. Horace et Lydie: Vivacissimo
No. 6. Barcarolle: Assez lentement
Introduction
Theme: Venite pur avanti
Variation 1
Variation 2
Variation 3
Variation 4
Variation 5
Finale: Finch' han dal vino