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     Alkan, Charles-Valentin (30th November 1813-29th March 1888)

    He was a virtuoso pianist and composer born Charles-Valentin Morhange in Paris as the second of six children.  His father was a music teacher who ran a preparatory school and his siblings were all successful musicians who used their father's Christian name, Alkan, instead of their given surname.  A child prodigy, he started his musical education at the age of six at the Paris Conservatoire where he concentrated on the organ and piano.  His teacher had already taught the composers Georges Bizet, Cesar Franck, Ambroise Thomas and Charle Gounod among others and by the age of eight he had achieved first prize for solfege (score reading).  This prize would be followed by two more firsts for organ and harmony later in his education.  The composer Luigi Cherubini became acquainted with him when he was nine years of and said that he had an extraordinary ability and technique.  When he was 14 he released his first opus, and by the time he was in his twenties he was performing concerts and recitals.  Between 1829 and 1836 he was a repetiteur in solfege at the Conservatoire and his students include the father of Nadia Boulanger.  He became known as one of the greatest virtuoso pianists of his day and his circle of friends included Franz Liszt, who is known to have said, "he had the most perfect technique he had ever seen", Frederic Chopin and Victor Hugo.  Personal problems hampered him from the time he was in his mid-twenties and he withdrew from public life to spend the rest of his life concentrating on private study and composition.  It is known he also mastered and wrote several pieces for the almost unknown instrument, the pedalier, during these years in isolation.  He corresponded with the German composer Ferdinand Hiller and his letters reported that his intense interest in the Talmud and the Bible had led him to translating the Old and New Testaments into French.  These translations have been lost along with numerous compositions that he was known to have written, including a symphony.   His existing compositions comprise at least 76 Opuses with numerous works for piano, including 25 Preludes, Grande Sonate and 48 Equisses, which are known for their complicated techniques and difficulty to play.  On very few occasions he would perform publicly, although he did give a series of "petits-concerts" in later life, and apart from a small tour of England and an appearance in Metz during his lifetime, he spent the remainder of his years in Paris.  He died in Paris when he was 74 with the many versions of the facts surrounding his death coming into question as they have ranged from a long illness to a bookcase falling on him.  The Alkan Society was set up in 1977 to inform people of the life and work of the composer and is a registered charity in the United Kingdom.

     

    Recordings

     

    Concerto da camera No. 2 in C-sharp Minor

    Southwest German Chamber Orchestra / Paul Angerer; Michael Ponti - piano - VOX 0 47163 50982

     

    Sources:

    1. http://newcriterion.com:81/archive/11/may93/alkan.htm
    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-Valentin_Alkan
    3. http://www.alkansociety.org/about.htm

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     



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