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
Alkan: Organ Works Vol 2 / Kevin Bowyer
Release Date: 06/10/2008   Label: Toccata Classics  
Catalog: 31   Number of Discs: 1
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Charles-valentin Alkan: Complete Piano Duos And Duets, Vol. 1
Release Date: 03/08/2011   Label: Toccata Classics  
Catalog: 70   Number of Discs: 1
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Charles-valentin Alkan: Complete Recueils De Chants, Vol. 1
Release Date: 02/26/2013   Label: Toccata Classics  
Catalog: 157   Number of Discs: 1
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Alkan: Complete Recueils De Chants Vol 2 / Mccallum
Release Date: 11/19/2013   Label: Toccata Classics  
Catalog: 158   Number of Discs: 1
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Charles-valentin Alkan: The Complete Vianna Da Motta Transcriptions
Release Date: 06/10/2014   Label: Toccata Classics  
Catalog: 237   Number of Discs: 1
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Browse 26-50 of 64 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: 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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  • 35.
    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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  • 36.
    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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  • 37.
    Alkan: Grand Sonata Op 33, Etc / Ronald Smith
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 64280 Release Date: 10/12/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Ronald Smith
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  • 38.
    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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  • 39.
    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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  • 40.
    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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  • 41.
    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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  • 42.
    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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  • 43.
    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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  • 44.
    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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  • 45.
    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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  • 46.
    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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  • 47.
    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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  • 48.
    Alkan: Piano Works / Ronald Smith
    Label: Emi Classics Special Import   Catalog: 75649 Release Date: 04/08/2003   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Ronald Smith
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  • 49.
    Alkan: Esquisses Op 63 / Laurent Martin
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8555496 Release Date: 05/21/2002   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Laurent Martin
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  • 50.
    Alkan: Piano Music Vol 1 / Bernard Ringeissen
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8555495 Release Date: 10/16/2001   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Charles Valentin Alkan
    Performer:  Bernard Ringeissen
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