Ignaz Moscheles

A few days ago I awoke to the sound of really sparkly Schubert piano music. Well, not actually Schubert, but Ignaz Moscheles, a fascinating figure from the transition from high classicism to full-blown romanticism in music. A man of two musical worlds, devoted to the music of Beethoven but also close to Mendelssohn. And a man of two religious worlds, Jewish and Christian. (He was given a notably Jewish personal name, Isaac, at birth, but later changed that to the notably Christian Ignaz, a German version of the Latin Ignatius, a name borne by several Roman Catholic saints, most prominently Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuit order. But he kept his notably Jewish family name — related to the biblical name Moses  — and maintained close relations with his Jewish family and with other Jewish musicians of the time.)

From Wikipedia:

(Isaac) Ignaz Moscheles … (23 May 1794 – 10 March 1870) was a Bohemian composer and piano virtuoso, whose career after his early years was based initially in London, and later at Leipzig, where he succeeded his friend and sometime pupil Felix Mendelssohn as head of the Conservatoire.

Moscheles was born in Prague to an affluent German-speaking Jewish merchant family. His first name was originally Isaac. His father played the guitar and was keen for one of his children to become a musician. Initially his hopes fixed on Ignaz’s sister, but when she demurred, her piano lessons were transferred to her brother. Ignaz developed an early passion for the (then revolutionary) piano music of Beethoven, which the Mozartean Bedřich Diviš Weber, his teacher at the Prague Conservatory, attempted to curb, urging him to focus on Bach, Mozart and Muzio Clementi.

After his father’s early death, Moscheles settled in 1808 in Vienna. His abilities were such that he was able to study in the city under Albrechtsberger for counterpoint and theory and Salieri for composition. At this time he changed his first name from ‘Isaac’ to ‘Ignaz’. He was one of the leading virtuosi resident in Vienna during the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna and it was at this time that he wrote his enormously popular virtuosic Alexander Variations, Op. 32, for piano and orchestra, which he later played throughout Europe. Here too he became a close friend of Meyerbeer (at that time still a piano virtuoso, not yet a composer) and their extemporized piano-duets were highly acclaimed. Moscheles was also familiar with Hummel and Kalkbrenner. Among the virtuosi of the 1820s, Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Cramer, Herz and Weber were his most famous rivals.

… Moscheles was still a practising Jew in Vienna in 1814-15. His wife notes that he was a member of the congregation in Vienna, and that he wrote for the Vienna Jewish community an oratorio celebrating the peace. Throughout his life, like many other musicians of Jewish origin, he remained close to other musicians of similar descent such as Felix Mendelssohn, Anton Rubinstein, Joseph Joachim and Ferdinand Hiller. He also remained in contact with patrons of Jewish origin such as the Eskeles family in Vienna, the Leo family in Paris, and the Rothschilds in England. He married Charlotte Emden, daughter of a Jewish banker and a cousin of Heinrich Heine, in the Frankfurt synagogue in 1825. Nonetheless, after he settled in England he clearly found it convenient to be, technically at least, a member of the Church of England. His children were all baptised at birth and he and his wife were baptised in 1832. Moscheles travelled extensively in Europe as a pianist and conductor, eventually settling in London from 1825-1846 where he became co-director of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1832. He never disavowed his Jewish origins and frequently took his family to visit his relatives in Prague, all of whom had retained their Jewish allegiances.

… It … fell to Moscheles to lead the counter-attack on Wagner after the latter’s snide attack on Mendelssohn (and Meyerbeer) in his notorious article Das Judenthum in der Musik (“Jewry in Music”), which he did by requesting the resignation from the conservatory’s board of Wagner’s editor, Brendel. Like Mendelssohn, Moscheles believed that music had reached its Golden Age during the period Bach to Beethoven, and was suspicious of (although not necessarily antagonistic towards) new directions such as those shown by Wagner, Liszt and Berlioz.

His music is showy, virtuosic, and, well, lots of fun. You can watch a performance of his Grand Duo for 2 pianos, 8 hands, in two YouTube parts (here and here), as played by four student pianists: at piano 1, Kseniia Vokhmiaina and Low Wei Yang; at piano 2, Liew Jie Ying and Samuel King.

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