Many of us, I’m sure, know Moszkowski because of Horowitz. Moritz Moszkowski was a composer and pianist who lived from 1854 to 1925. Vladimir Horowitz was the great and fabled pianist who lived from 1903 to 1989. I suppose I should give their nationalities. That is not as easy as you might think. Moszkowski was a Polish Jew from Breslau who was German, more or less. Horowitz was a Russian-Jewish American, you could say. The twentieth century was tremendously dislocating, and dangerous.
In any event, Horowitz took Moszkowski all around the world. He played three of his pieces, over and over again, usually as encores. He played them on every continent in every decade. Two were études—belonging to the 15 Études de Virtuosité, Op. 72. Horowitz played No. 6, in F major, and No. 11, in A flat. He also played a piece called “Étincelles”—“Sparks”—from Moszkowski’s 8 Morceaux Caractéristiques. (Moszkowski was always writing morceaux.) All of these pieces were scintillating, in Horowitz’s hands. He gave them his own endings, as was typical of him. He did it to Rachmaninoff, too—to Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor, in particular.
People are still playing those Moszkowski pieces—especially if they are pianists with an Old World pedigree, or who have a love for that world. I’ve noticed on YouTube that Mikhail Pletnev played the Étude in A flat as an encore in Beijing in 2018.
Comes now the first disc, the first volume, in Moritz Moszkowski: Complete Music for Solo Piano. The label is Toccata Classics. The series is to be chronological, evidently. Publicity tells us that the first volume “features the composer’s early works, many of which have never been recorded before.” The pianist is Ian Hobson, an Englishman who is an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois and a professor at Florida State University.
From the excellent liner notes of Martin Eastick, I learned many things. I’ll give you two morceaux. Among Moszkowski’s students were Josef Hofmann, Wanda Landowska, and Thomas Beecham. And get this: Moszkowski married a younger sister of Cécile Chaminade—Henriette.
Eastick quotes Harold C. Schonberg, the famed critic and historian of pianists. Writing about Moszkowski’s output, Schonberg says that “no better salon music has ever been composed, or any so gratefully conceived for the piano.” The music in Volume 1 of the new series has some familiar titles. What I mean is, they are familiar from other music: “humoresque”; “moments musicaux”; “fantaisie-impromptu.” One heading, I had never seen: “Skizzen,” i.e., sketches.
In those liner notes, Martin Eastick tells us that Moszkowski was a star—a hit—at the end of the nineteenth century. But
[t]he more sober artistic climate of the early 21st seems to have less time for music now regarded as the frivolity of a more innocent age. Moszkowski’s piano music had indeed been very popular, but a gradual decline set in after the cultural and social changes brought about by the Great War.
Eastick ends as follows:
Moszkowski’s important contribution to his own particular genre of piano music is in perfect accord with its own historic and social context. For a century, received opinion looked down its nose at such music, but now it can be enjoyed for what it is, as its appreciative first audiences already understood.
Far be it from me to look down my nose. And I, for one, am a ready audience for Moszkowski. As a rule, I like music that other people consider old-fashioned, dated, and perfumed. But I found many of the pieces in Volume 1 forgettable—pleasant, yes, and also forgettable. But we are only at the beginning: the beginning of Moszkowski’s output. There are surely more memorable pieces to come—such as those Horowitz winners.
Incidentally, Moszkowski wrote a treatment of Bizet’s Carmen. I mention this because Horowitz did too, quite famously.
In any case, Ian Hobson—our pianist, our Moszkowski advocate—plays the repertoire at hand with skill and affection. This is just what you need. Hobson is a conductor, too, and has recorded the orchestral music of Moszkowski, with the Sinfonia Varsovia.
Long ago, a conductor and I were talking about new music—the obligation that performers feel to program new music. “Well and good,” he said. “But I also believe that we should program music of the past—music that has been under a bushel and deserves to see the light of day.”