The works in this volume, chosen to reflect the breadth of narrative and characteristic piano music, illuminate certain largely forgotten musical histories. The highly popular genre of the descriptive piano fantasia, conceived and produced for the musical tastes and technical capabilities of amateur pianists, grew out of eighteenth-century narrative works such as Johann Kuhnau’s “Biblical Sonatas” (1700) and the anonymous Battle of Rosbach (ca. 1780). Starting with František Kocžwara’s Battle of Prague (ca. 1788) and continuing chronologically through the nineteenth and into the early twentieth centuries, these works help to contextualize nineteenth-century aesthetic debates of descriptive versus idealistic music (and later programmatic versus absolute music), and the partisanship they engendered, by demonstrating the ubiquity of this repertoire throughout Europe and the United States. Such fantasias reflected cultural preoccupations, based as they often were on historical or fictional events, and were particularly important in Poland, where national upheaval and political marginalization provided fertile ground for musical representation and catharsis. The descriptive fantasias cross generic boundaries and interact in unexpected ways with the canonic repertory, offering insights into compositional techniques and strategies used by such composers as Fryderyk Chopin, Franz Liszt, and Johannes Brahms, and illuminating modes of listening familiar to their audiences.
Descriptive Piano Fantasias (Recent Researches in the Music of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries)
By: Halina Goldberg , Jonathan Bellman