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Sigismond Thalberg (January 8, 1812 – April 27, 1871) was a composer and one of the most important virtuoso pianists of the 19th century.
He was born on January 8, 1812 in Pâquis near Geneva, Switzerland. According to legend, he was the illegitimate son of Prince Moritz Dietrichstein and Baroness Maria Julia Wetzlar von Plankenstern. However, according to his birth certificate, he was the son of Joseph Thalberg and Fortunée Stein, both of whom were from Frankfurt am Main.
Little is known about Thalberg's childhood and early childhood. It is possible that his mother brought him to Vienna at the age of 10 (the same year that the 10-year-oldFranz Lisztarrived there with his parents). According to Thalberg, he was present at the premiere offrom Beethoven 9. Symphonyon 7 May 1824 in the Kärntnerthortheater.
There is no evidence of Thalberg's early teachers. His mother, Freifrau von Wetzlar, who Wurzbach says was involved in his upbringing throughout his childhood and early adolescence, was a brilliant amateur pianist. It is possible that she gave him his first piano lessons.
In the spring of 1826, Thalberg studied with Ignaz Moscheles in London. Moscheles, according to a letter toFelix MendelssohnAugust 14, 1836 found that Thalberg had already reached a level where no further help was needed to become a great artist. Thalberg's first public appearance in London took place on May 17, 1826. In Vienna, on April 6, 1827, he played the first movement and on May 6, 1827, van Hummel's Adagio and Rondo concerto in B minor. After that, Thalberg performed regularly in Vienna. His repertoire was mainly classical, including concertos by Hummel and Beethoven. He also played chamber music. In 1828 his Op. 1, a fantasy about melodiesCarl Maria von Weber'SEuryanthe, was published.
In 1830 Thalberg met Mendelssohn andFrederick Chopinin Vienna. It is clear from their letters that they believe Thalberg's greatest strength lay in his astonishing technical prowess. More information can be found in the diary of 10-year-old Clara Wieck. Thalberg had heard it on May 14, 1830 during a concert he gave at the theater in Leipzig. He had played his own piano concerto opus 5 and a fantasy of his own. Two days earlier, Clara had played the first solo of the 2nd concertJohn fieldfor him and with him the first movement of a four-handed sonata by Hummel. In her diary, edited by her father Friedrich Wieck, Thalberg is described as "very successful". His playing was clear and precise, also very strong and expressive.
In the early 1830s Thalberg studied counterpointSimon Sechter. Therefore, some of Thalberg's fantasies about this period include passages from the canon and the fugue. An example is his Fantasy, Op. 12, about tunes fromBellinioperNorma, which contains a march theme and variations (one of which is canon) and a fugue on a lyrical theme. The fantasy was published in 1834 and enjoyed great popularity; but upon release, it was criticized by some, for example byRobert Schuman.
Thalberg successfully changed his compositional style and reduced counterpoint. Several works in his new style, including Deux Airs Russes Variés opus 17, were enthusiastically praised even by Schumann.
Thalberg arrived in Paris in November 1835. He performed on November 16, 1835 at a private concert given by the Austrian ambassador, Count Rudolph Apponyi. On January 24, 1836, he took part in a concert of the "Concerts of the Society of the Conservatory of Paris" and played his "Grande fantaisie" opus 22. Thalberg was praised by many of the greatest artists, including Rossini and Meyerbeer.
Chopin did not share the enthusiasm of his fellow artists. After hearing Thalberg play in Vienna, Chopin wrote, "He plays great, but he's not my man. He is younger than me and pleases the ladies - makes potpourris on La Muette - brings out his piano en forte with the pedal, not the hand - I take tenths as octaves and wear diamond shirt buttons.
He made his concert debut for the Conservatoire in the Revue et Gazette Musicale of January 31, 1836, which was enthusiastically reviewedHector Berlioz. The minstrel of March 13, 1836 wrote:
Moscheles, Kalkbrenner, Chopin, Liszt and Herz are and remain great artists for me, but Thalberg is the creator of a new art which I cannot compare with anything that existed before him ... Thalberg is not only the He is not only the world's leading pianist, but also a highly respected composer.
On April 16, 1836, Thalberg gave his first solo concert in Paris, and the success was again sensational. According to Rudolph Apponyi's diary, Thalberg made a profit of 10,000 francs, an amount no virtuoso had previously earned from a single concert.
Liszt had heard of Thalberg's successes in the winter of 1835/36 in Geneva, in the spring of 1836 in Lyon and in Paris. In his letter to Marie d'Agoult dated April 29, 1836, he compared himself to the exiled Napoleon. In a January 8, 1837 review in the Revue et Gazette Musicale, Liszt controversially denigrated Thalberg's compositions.
After Thalberg returned to Paris in early February 1837, a rivalry developed between him and Liszt. On February 4, Thalberg heard Liszt in concert for the first time in his life. Thalberg was surprised. While Liszt then gave more than a dozen concerts, Thalberg gave only one concert on March 12, 1837 at the Paris Conservatory and another concert on April 2, 1837. In addition, both Liszt and Thalberg played on March 31, 1837 at a benefit concert. Raising money for Italian refugees.
In May 1837, Thalberg gave a concert in London, to which the Athenaeum gave an enthusiastic review. This enthusiasm accompanied Thalberg in the following years. His Fantasy Opus 33 to melodies from Rossini's opera Moïse became one of the most famous concert pieces of the 19th century and was praised by Berlioz in his memoirs (1869). The fantasy was published in late March 1839 and studied in May 1839 by Clara Wieck, who was enthusiastic about it. In 1848, the fantasy was performed by Liszt's daughter Blandine.
After Thalberg's stay in London in May 1837, he undertook his first short tour and gave concerts in various cities in Great Britain, but fell ill and soon returned to Vienna. In the spring of 1838 he gave concerts again in Paris. An entry in the Revue et Gazette Musicale of 4 March 1838 shows that Thalberg's fame had meanwhile grown. He is now called "the most famous of our composers". Thalberg left Paris for Vienna on April 18, 1838, the very day Liszt gave a benefit concert there for the victims of a flood in Hungary. Thalberg invited Liszt to dinner and the two great pianists dined together on the 28th with Prince Moritz Dietrichstein, who told Liszt that he was delighted to have "Castor and Pollux" together in his home. That evening, Thalberg remarked to Liszt with admirable frankness: "Compared to you, I have never had more than one success in Vienna." The next day, after Liszt's concert on April 29, 1838, they went out to dinner again. Liszt and Thalberg were both Metternich's dinner guests. Thalberg did not perform at all during Liszt's stay in Vienna.
Thalberg met him in October 1838Robert Schuman. According to Schumann's diary, Thalberg played Chopin's Etudes from memory,Joseph Christoph KesslerInFerdinand Hiller. With great skill and inspiration he also played works by Beethoven, Schubert and Dussek, as well as SchumannKreisleriana, On. 16 on sight. On November 27, 1838, Thalberg attended a benefit concert and performed his new Fantasy Op. 40, to melodies from Rossini's opera La Donna del Lago ("The Lady from the Lake" after Walter Scott). At one of his own "farewell concerts" on December 1, 1838, he played three of his studies op.26, his fantasy, op. 33 on "Moïse" and his Souvenir de Beethoven, Op. 39, a fantasy about melodiesLudwig van Beethovensymphonies. As a result, an enthusiastic review by Schumann of the second book of Thalberg's Etudes, Op. 26 came out with the conclusion: "He's a god when he's at the piano."
After Thalberg's "farewell concert" in Vienna, he embarked on his first extensive European tour. On December 19 and 21, 1838, he gave two concerts in Dresden and appeared twice at court. When he received honors from the king of Saxony, he told him: "Wait till you hear Liszt!"Mendelssohnthe next day in a letter to his sisterFannie, reported enthusiastically. Mendelssohn became a friend and admirer of Thalberg.
After a second concert in Leipzig on December 30, 1838, Thalberg traveled to Berlin to give a series of concerts there. Through Gdańsk, Mitau and other places, he performed in St. Petersburg and received excellent reviews. From St. Petersburg he took a steamship to London, where he gave further concerts. He then traveled to Brussels to meet his friend, the violinist Charles de Bériot. There he gave several private performances.
After Brussels, Thalberg went to the Rhineland, where he gave a series of concerts together with Bériot. He returned to London in early February 1840 and then traveled from London to Paris with Baroness Wetzlar, his mother, to await the arrival of Liszt.
Thalberg had already announced in December 1838 during his stay in Leipzig that he would take a break at the end of his tour and would not appear at concerts during his stay in Paris in the spring of 1840.
CurrentlyMendelssohnAfter meeting Liszt, he compared him to Thalberg in a letter to his mother:
After the end of the concert season in Paris, Thalberg traveled to the Rhineland as a tourist. In early June 1840 he attended a music festival conducted byLouis Spohrin Aachen. He received an invitation from the Tsarina of Russia and performed at a court concert in Ems, but this was his only concert during his stay in the Rhineland. According to an entry in the Revue et Gazette Musicale of August 2, 1840, p. 410, Thalberg's friend, the violinistCharles Auguste de BeriotTwo days later she was to be married in Ixelles (Ixelles). His bride was a young lady, Maria Huber, born in Vienna, from Germany. Orphaned, she was adopted by Prince von Dietrichstein, Thalberg's father. So it can be assumed that Thalberg wanted to participate in the wedding party. On previous visits to the Rhineland, he just wanted to relax. He also taught Bériot's son, the pianistCharles-Wilfrid de Bériot.
The Revue et Gazette Musicale of 9 May 1841 published an essay by Fétis entitled 'Etudes d'execution transcendente', in which he praised Liszt for a new style of composing stimulated by Thalberg's challenge. In letters to Fétis on 17 May 1841 and to Simon Löwy on 20 May 1841, Liszt agreed with this analysis.
In the autumn of 1840, Thalberg performed in Brussels. He then traveled to Frankfurt am Main, where he remained until January 1841. It had been announced that Thalberg would give concerts again in Paris in the spring of 1841, but he changed his plans. In Frankfurt he took part in a benefit concert only on January 15, 1841 and played his fantasies on La Donna del Lago andThe Huguenots. He was busy composing new works; his Second Don Giovanni Fantasy op.42 and the Fantasy op.51 on RossiniSemiramiscome from this period.
In the second half of January 1841, Thalberg traveled from Frankfurt to Weimar, where he made three appearances at the Grand Duke's court and also in the theatre. Then he went to Leipzig, where he visited Mendelssohn and Schumann. On February 8, 1841 he gave a solo concert in Leipzig, which was enthusiastically reviewed by Schumann, in which he played his "Second Don Giovanni Fantasy" opus 42 and his "Andante final de".Lucia von Lammermoor', opus 44, his 'Thême et Etude' opus 45 and his Caprice opus 46 on melodies from Bellini's La Sonnambula.
Clara Schumann noted in her diary:
Thalberg came to visit us on Monday and to our delight played beautifully on my piano. There is no mechanism more advanced than his, and many of his piano effects are meant to mesmerize the connoisseur. He doesn't miss a note, his passages are like strings of pearls, his octaves are the most beautiful I've ever heard.
Mendelssohn's pupil Horsley wrote of his teacher's encounter with Thalberg:
We were a trio and after dinner Mendelssohn asked Thalberg if he had written anything new, whereupon Thalberg sat down at the piano and played his fantasy from the Sonnambula ... of the time, and Thalberg was undoubtedly the inventor of these strange passages. Mendelssohn was very impressed with the new effect and greatly admired his ingenuity... He told me to be with him at 2 o'clock the following afternoon. When I got to the door of his study I heard him playing to himself, constantly practicing that passage which had impressed him so much the day before. I waited at least half an hour, listening in amazement at the ease with which he applied his own thoughts to the cleverness of Thalberg's mechanism, and then entered the room. He laughed and said, "Listen, isn't it almost like Thalberg?"
After his stay in Leipzig, Thalberg gave concerts in Breslau and Warsaw. He then traveled to Vienna and gave two successful concerts there. A review in the Leipziger Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung described Thalberg as Liszt's only rival.
Thalberg gave concerts in Italy during the winter of 1841-1842, while Liszt gave a series of concerts in Berlin from late December 1841 to early March 1842. Thalberg achieved Liszt's successes in Berlin. He then returned via Marseille, Toulon and Dijon, arriving in Paris on April 11, 1842. The next day he gave his first and on April 21 his second concert. According to Berlioz, Thalberg made a profit of 12,000 francs on his first concert and 13,000 francs on his second concert. The concertos were reviewed in the Revue et Gazette Musicale by Henri Blanchard, who two years earlier had nominated Thalberg as Caesar, Octavian or Napoleon of the piano in his review of Liszt's concerto of April 20, 1840. In the spring of 1842, Blanchard sought new superlatives that even surpassed his previous one. In his review of Thalberg's second concerto, he wrote that in 100 years Thalberg would have been canonized and that all future pianists would be called Saint Thalberg. According to Berlioz, at the end of Thalberg's second concert, a golden crown was thrown onto the stage.
In addition to his own concerts, Thalberg took part in a concert by Emile Prudent. He then traveled via Brussels to London. Later in 1842, Thalberg was awarded the Cross of the French Legion of Honour. He traveled to Vienna, where he remained until the autumn of 1842. In the second half of November to December 12, 1842, he undertook another tour of Britain and returned to Paris in January 1843. At the end of March 1843 he appeared at a private concert by Pierre Erard, but this was his only concert appearance that season.
In March 1843, Heinrich Heine wrote about Thalberg:
His performance is so gentlemanly, so completely without forced brilliance, so completely without the familiar brutality that is only a poor cover for inner insecurity. Healthy women love him. So is sick women, though he doesn't arouse their sympathy by having epileptic fits at the piano, though he doesn't tense their overworked, delicate nerves, even if he doesn't tickle or provoke them.
In the winter of 1843/44, Thalberg gave concerts in Italy again. At the end of March 1844 he returned to Paris, where Liszt was expected at the same time. Liszt arrived on April 8 and gave a first concert on April 16 with his recently released Norma Fantasy. Liszt had used many Thalberg effects when composing his fantasy. In his later years he told August Göllerich, one of his students:
When I met Thalberg, I told him: "I copied everything from you here." "Yes," he replied, "there are passages by Thalberg that are actually indecent."
Shortly after Liszt's concert on May 11, 1844, Thalberg left Paris. He traveled to London and gave a concert there on May 28, 1844. At another concert in London, he played togethermoschelesand Mendelssohn. He also attended a Jules Benedict concert. In August 1844 he returned to Paris, where he remained until 1845. In the winter of 1844/45 he taught a piano course for selected students at the Paris Conservatory. On April 2, 1845, he gave a concert in Paris and played his fantasies opus 63 to Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" and opus 67 to Donizetti'sDon Pasqualeand further on.52AubersLa Muette de Portici and his "Varified Funeral March" opus 59 and the "Barcarolle" opus 60.
In the spring of 1848, Liszt met Thalberg again in Vienna. On May 3, 1848, Thalberg gave a benefit concert in which Liszt also participated. According to a report by his student Nepomuk Dunkl, Liszt sat on stage, listening intently and clapping loudly. It had been 11 years since he first heard his rival's game.
On July 22, 1843, Thalberg married Francesca ("Cecchina"), the eldest daughter ofLouis Lablache, First bass at the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris. Thalberg went to Italy with his wife, where they spent the winter of 1843-1844.
In 1855, after Thalberg's operas "Florinda" and "Cristina di Svezia" failed, he realized his ambition to give concerts in America. From July to December 1855 he performed with overwhelming success in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. He returned to Europe, but after spending several months in Paris, he went to North America on the steamship Africa, arriving in New York on October 3, 1856. After Thalberg's debut there on November 10, 1856, a marathon of performances followed, during which he gave concerts five or six days a week for eight months. Occasionally he gave two or even three concerts a day. On Sundays, concerts were generally only allowed with "sacred music", but Thalberg nevertheless performed several times, playing pieces such as his Moïse Fantasy after a prayer from Rossini's opera or his Huguenot Fantasy with the chorale "Ein Feste". "Castle is our God" as the main theme. His Andante opus 32 and the Marche funèbre varié opus 59 were also admitted.
Thalberg's first American season ended with a concert on July 29, 1857, in Saratoga Springs, NY. On September 15, 1857, he gave another concert in New York, opening his second season. With only a few breaks he was busy until his last concert on June 12, 1858 in Peoria, Illinois. By then he had visited nearly 80 cities and performed more than 320 regular concerts in the United States and 20 concerts in Canada. In addition, he gave at least twenty free concerts to many thousands of school children. Thalberg has also given a series of solo matinees in New York and Boston, performing both his own work and chamber music. From 1857 the violinistHenry Vieuxtempstoured with Thalberg. They played works by Beethoven and duets composed by Thalberg.
Thalberg's financial success during these tours was immense. He averaged about $500 per concert and probably made more than $150,000 over his two seasons, which is about $3 million today. Much of his appeal on these tours was his unpretentious and humble personality; He did not resort to publicity gimmicks or cheap crowd tricks, but instead delivered exquisitely polished interpretations of his own compositions already well known in America. He rose from the piano and was always the same quiet, respectable, self-possessed middle-aged gentleman as he was at the hotel dinner table. He played works by Beethoven, including the sonatas opus 27 nr. 2 (“moonlight”) and opus 26 (“mourning march”) and the first movements of the third and fifth piano concertos. His cadenza on Beethoven's Third Concerto was admired. He also played works by Bach, Chopin,Hummel,Mendelssohnand several other composers. The New-York Musical Review and Gazette of July 24, 1858, wrote:
The "unexpected conclusion" referred to the June 1858 announcement in Chicago that Thalberg would perform only one of three scheduled appearances before immediately returning to Europe. Thalberg did not even perform at this concert, but left the concert very hastily. His wife had come from Europe after Thalberg allegedly had an extramarital affair. This caused further confusion when the opera singer Zare Thalberg made her Covent Garden debut in 1875. She had been one of his students, but was misidentified as his daughter.
The real reason why Francesca Thalberg left for America in June 1858 and hurriedly returned to Europe with her husband shortly afterwards is unknown. The death of Thalberg's father-in-law Lablache on 23 January 1858 could be a reason for this. Another possibility is that consideration was given to legitimizing Thalberg to enable him to succeed his biological father, Prince Franz Joseph von Dietrichstein.
After Thalberg's return to Europe, he settled in Posillipo, near Naples, in a villa owned by Lablache. Thalberg lived there in silence for the next four years. In the spring of 1862 he gave concerts again in Paris and London and was as successful as ever. After a last tour in Brazil in 1863, he ended his career. He suggested accepting a position as a piano professor at the Naples Conservatory, but this was rejected because Italian nationality would be required. A year later he received an offer from the same conservatory, which he declined. Vitale's claim to have published instructive editions of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier andMuzio ClementiThe "Gradus ad Parnassum" was recently contested by Chiara Bertoglio. When he died on April 27, 1871, he left behind a collection of many hundreds of signatures of famous composers, including Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and others, even Liszt. The collection was sold after Thalberg's death. He is buried in the Nuovo Cemetery in Napoli (Naples), Italy, in the Doganella district of Naples
Thalberg was one of the most famous and successful piano composers of the 19th century. In the 1830s and 1840s, his style had a decisive influence on European piano playing. He was very fashionable and imitated by others. In 1852 Wilhelm von Lenz wrote:
“Today's piano playing, to tell the truth, consists only of simple Thalberg, modified Thalberg, and exaggerated Thalberg; "Scratch what's written for the piano and you'll find Thalberg."
Ten years later, in 1862, a London correspondent wrote for the Revue et gazette musicale:
Expressions such as 'over the top', 'twisted' and 'tortured' suggest that some of his contemporaries began to feel jaded by his style. At this point Thalberg's career as a composer and virtuoso ended.
In the late 19th century, Thalberg's fame rested on his association with a single piano technique, the "three-handed effect." Carl Friedrich Weitzmann wrote about this in his history of piano playing (1879).
The following example from the Mosè Fantasy, apparently written after 1836, is typical of Thalberg's style of play.
A review in the Revue et gazette musicale describes the finale of Thalberg's Mosè Fantasy as follows
It's not a difficult trick and it sounds (and looks) a lot harder than it is, but it was new in the 1830s and caused quite a stir. The audience was mesmerized and rose from their seats to see Thalberg do it.
While Thalberg was still in Vienna, Liszt's review of some of Thalberg's piano works appeared in the Revue et Gazette Musicale of January 8, 1837. Liszt claimed that in the Grande fantaisie opus 22, the left hand played arpeggios all the time and nothing else. The description was polemical, since in large parts of the piece the left hand plays different firms: thumb melodies, however, were not mentioned by Liszt.
In response to Liszt's review, Fétis claimed in his essay “MM. Thalberg et Liszt" in the Revue et Gazette Musicale of April 23, 1837 that Thalberg had created a new piano style by uniting two different schools. While playing brilliant passages, Thalberg played a vocal melody at the same time. Liszt wrote in his reply in the Revue et Gazette Musicale of May 14, 1837:
Fétis protested Liszt's insinuation. But Thalberg had first played his Moses Fantasy at his concert at the Paris Conservatoire on March 12, 1837. The audience noticed a magical effect. You could see Thalberg playing bass and accompanying with his left hand in the final. His right hand was engaged in rapid arpeggios. But in addition there was a broad melody to be heard. Liszt's explanation of thumb melodies was correct. This characterization of his style accompanied him to the end of his life.
In the late 19th century, Thalberg was often referred to simply as "Altes Arpeggio"; his musical innovations went unnoticed or fell into oblivion. Others have been tempted by the success of Thalberg's work to flood the music world with imitations ad nauseam. Ultimately, his reputation was eroded by the trivial productions of his imitators.