Gold Medalist of the 2008 New Orleans International Piano
Competition, Spencer Myer is garnering stellar audience and critical
acclaim from around the globe, rapidly establishing himself as one of
the most outstanding pianists of his generation. In 2004, Spencer
Myer captured First Prize in the 10th UNISA International Piano
Competition in Pretoria, South Africa, as well as special prizes for the
best performances of Bach, the commissioned work, the semifinal round
recital, and both concerto prizes in the final round. He is also a
laureate in the 2007 William Kapell, 2005 Cleveland, 2005 Busoni (where
he was also awarded the Audience Prize), 2004 Montréal, and 2003 New
Orleans International Piano Competitions. Winner of the 2006 Christel DeHaan Classical Fellowship from the American Pianists
Association, Mr. Myer also received both of the competition’s special
prizes in Chamber Music and Lieder Accompanying. He is also the
winner of the 2000 Marilyn Horne Foundation Competition, and
subsequently enjoys a growing reputation as a vocal collaborator. Mr.
Myer was a member of Astral Artists performance roster from 2003-2009, a
result of his having won that organization’s 2003 national auditions. Spencer Myer is a graduate of The Juilliard School, where he studied
with Julian Martin. Other teachers include Peter Takács, Joseph
Schwartz, and Christina Dahl. He spent two summers at the Music
Academy of the West, studying with Jerome Lowenthal and, later, Vocal
Accompanying with Warren Jones and Marilyn Horne. During the
course of his undergraduate studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of
Music, he was the recipient of numerous awards from that institution,
while, in 2000, he was named a recipient of a four-year Jacob K. Javits
Memorial Fellowship from the United States Department of Education. His Doctor of Musical Arts degree was conferred by Stony Brook
University in 2005. In January 2007, Mr. Myer performed Gershwin’s
Rhapsody in Blue at the Inaugural Festivities of Ohio’s Governor Ted
Strickland. For more information, see Spencer Myer’s Web site at
Spencer Myer is a Steinway Artist.
Recordings: harmonia mundi usa, NAXOS, Dimension Records.
Spencer Myer appears by arrangement with Parker Artists, 382 Central Park West #9G, New York, New York 10025.
Joseph Haydn (born Rohrau, Austria, March 31, 1732; died Vienna, May 31, 1809)
Sonata no. 54 in G major, H. XVI:40 (composed 1783-1784)
Haydn was never the boy genius on the keyboard that Mozart was. Nor was he the legendary piano virtuoso that Beethoven was. Unlike
his symphonies and string quartets, Haydn’s piano sonatas did not define
the very shape and form of their genre. By rough count, Haydn
wrote about as many solo piano sonatas as Mozart and Beethoven combined,
although never specifically for his own performance. For whatever
reason, Haydn’s sonatas have never received the attention, respect, or
performances that Mozart’s or Beethoven’s did.
Until around 1771, Haydn’s sonatas were conceived for harpsichord, and by the late 1780s, they were clearly piano works, taking greater advantage of the piano’s range and power. This Sonata no. 54 in G major, H. XVI:40 dates from the transitional period when Haydn was writing his keyboard works for either harpsichord or piano. Although Haydn had the amateur player in mind, these works have challenges and depths of their own.
In 1783, the future Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II married Princess Marie Hermenegild. The next year, the German publisher Bossler brought out a set of three piano sonatas (H. XVI:40-42) that Haydn dedicated to the young princess. The set of two-movement works was almost certainly a belated wedding gift intended to ingratiate the composer with the prince who would be Haydn’s final patron among the Esterházy family. The Sonata in G major opens with a set of variations that wander between major and minor, growing more complex but never losing their title innocence. The concluding “Presto” brims with humorous touches, from its surprise key changes to its syncopated minor mode midsection.
Claude Debussy (born St. Germain-en-Laye, August 22, 1862; died Paris, March 25, 1918)
Préludes, Book I (composed 1909-1910)
Danseuses de Delphes: Lent et grave
Le vent dans la plaine: Animé
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir: Modéré
Les collines d’Anacapri: Très modéré
Des pas sur la neige: Triste et lent
Ce qu’a vu le Vent d’Ouest: Animé et tumultueux
La fille aux cheveux de lin: Très calme et doucement expressif
La sérénade interrompue: Modérément animé
La cathédrale engloutie: Profondément calme
La danse de Puck: Capricieux et léger Minstrels: Modéré
Sketches for several of the works in Claude Debussy’s “Préludes, Book I”
may date from as far back as 1907, but most of them were written in a
creative flood between December 1909 and February 1910. By mid-April,
the set of twelve had been published and by early the next year, he had
performed nearly all of them around Paris.
Early in 1909, Debussy had received a diagnosis of cancer and by the time of the outbreak of World War I, he was noticeably unwell. He had been able to travel to the Netherlands, Rome, and London in 1914, but had to abandon any thought of touring the United States and elsewhere with violinist Arthur Hartmann. In December 1915, he had the first of two operations for colon cancer. The second surgery in late 1917 left him in terrible shape and he died on March 25, 1918, even as the German military was shelling Paris.
In their initial publication, each of the “Préludes” in Book I was identified by its number and its tempo marking, with the descriptive title appearing parenthetically at the end of the piece, almost an afterthought. This downplaying of the titles reflects Debussy’s attitude toward the whole notion of “what imbeciles call impressionism, just about the least appropriate term possible,” as he wrote to his publisher Durand in 1908.
So as not to succumb to imbecility in the composer’s eyes, it seems prudent to resist the strong temptation to debate whether “Voiles” evokes “veils” or “sails;” to mention Leconte de Lisle’s poem “La fille aux cheveux de lin” as the inspiration for the eighth prelude; or to refer to the Breton legend of the Cathedral of Ys rising from and sinking back into the sea in “La cathédrale engloutie.” Lest we do succumb, remember what Shakespeare’s Puck, depicted in the eleventh prelude, said about us: “What fools these mortals be.”
Franz Liszt (born Raiding, Hungary, October 22, 1811; died Bayreuth, July 31, 1886)
Three Sonetti del Petrarca, from Années de pèlerinage, 2e année, Italie
Sonetto 47 del Petrarca (Benedetto sia ’l giorno)
Sonetto 104 del Petrarca (Pace non trovo) (composed 1846-1858)Sonetto 123 del Petrarca (I’vidi in terra angelici costumi) (composed 1846-1858)
As a child wonder on the piano, Franz Liszt was steeped in musical
history. His father, Adam Liszt, was an amateur cellist and in the
employ of the Esterházy family, the former patrons of Joseph Haydn. Adam had known Haydn as well as other Esterházy musicians, including
Luigi Cherubini and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Franz himself would
study with Carl Czerny and Antonio Salieri, and would meet and play for
both Beethoven and Schubert. By the time he was twelve and moved
to Paris, Liszt was famous. During the next dozen years, he became
Europe’s foremost piano virtuoso, the nineteenth century equivalent of a
In 1833, Liszt began his liaison with the Comtesse Marie d’Agoult, estranged from her considerably older husband Charles. Together, Marie and Franz produced three children, the most notable of whom was their daughter Cosima, born in 1837 and the future wife of Hans von Bülow and then Richard Wagner. The years Marie and Franz spent together were among Liszt’s most productive, during which time he toured the continent and gathered material for the first two of his three collections entitled Années de pèlerinage (“Years of Pilgrimage”). Depicting natural scenes in Switzerland was the theme of the first book of Années de pèlerinage, whereas the second was inspired by various works of Italian art and literature.
At the center of Années de pèlerinage, 2e année, Italie, are the Tre sonetti di Petrarca. The medieval poet Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), among the first to write in vernacular Italian, wrote 366 sonnets to his female ideal, Laura. During his 1838-1839 sojourns in Italy, Liszt set three of those passionate sonnets for high tenor with piano accompaniment. In 1846, he published solo piano versions, revising them again for the 1858 publication of Années de pèlerinage, 2e année. Later still, he published simpler versions of the solo vocal works.
Generally considered the least successful of the three, Sonetto 47 del Petrarca (“Benedetto sia ’l giorno” or “Blessed be the day”) exudes the warmth and sadness of young love, tracking the original song closely. In the piano version of Sonetto 104 del Petrarca, Liszt again follows both the meter and the alternating moods of the poem, “Pace non trovo, e non da far guerra” (“I find no peace, nor reason to make war”). Only in its final measures does it achieve a sense of repose. That calm carries over into the introduction of the Sonetto 123 del Petrarca (“I’vidi in terra angelici costume” or “I saw on earth angelic grace”). Here, Liszt grows less dependent on the original, instead ornamenting the tune with symbolic references to the text.
Just as the Sonetto 104 del Petrarca embraced opposites, so did Liszt’s life itself. He had years-long affairs with married women and carried on with other women decades younger than he. And yet, after retiring from the concert hall, he received minor orders to become Abbé Liszt in April 1865 after years of religious study. In these later years especially, he composed numerous sacred works, including the massive oratorio Christus. Go figure.
Isaac Albéniz (born Camprodón, Spain, May 29, 1860; died Cambô-les-Bains, Spain May 18, 1909)
Iberia, Book IV (composed 1907-1908)
Born near Spain’s border with France, Isaac Albéniz showed incredible
talent at an unusually early age. By the time he was five, he’d
performed publically on piano in Barcelona. In 1867, he impressed
the jury with his entrance exam for the Paris Conservatoire, although
they ended up rejecting him as too young and immature. (According
to legend, he shattered a mirror, and his chances, while roughhousing
with a ball.) During the next dozen years, he attended
conservatories in Madrid, Leipzig, and Brussels between performing tours
throughout Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico, South America, the United States,
Returning to Barcelona in 1883, he met and studied with the musicologist and composer Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922), a strong proponent of national musics built on the foundations of indigenous folk traditions. Pedrell’s teachings would serve as the inspiration for Albéniz’s lifelong pursuit of a truly Spanish musical idiom. Over the next decade, his reputation as a piano improviser and composer grew throughout Western Europe. At the same time, he grew increasingly disenchanted with the conservative politics and culture of his native country, moving to London in 1890 and then Paris in 1894. Although Albéniz regularly performed in Spain, Paris would be his home for most of the remainder of his life.
Ironically, it was his close friendships with such French luminaries as Vincent d’Indy, Gabriel Fauré, Ernest Chausson, and Paul Dukas that helped him evolve into a more mature composer. Albéniz began work in December 1905 on what is widely considered to be his masterpiece, “Iberia,” a series of twelve “new impressions” in four books. The French pianist Blanche Selva (1884-1942) premiered each of the four books as they were completed in 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1909, respectively. But after hearing a performance by the Catalan pianist Joaquín Malats (1872-1912) of “Triana” from Book II, Albéniz tailored the music to his countryman’s exceptional prowess.
“Iberia, Book IV,” dedicated to Édouard Lalo’s daughter-in-law, was premiered by Selva in Paris on February 9, 1909. “Málaga” (marked “Allegro vivo”) takes its name from the southwestern Spanish seaport and features the Andalusian dance, the malagueña. “Jérez” is the western Andalusian town known for sherry; this “Andantino” evokes both guitar and voice. “Eritaña” was a club in Seville known for flamenco; this joyous “Allegretto grazioso” prompted Debussy to write, “Never has music achieved such diversified, such colorful impressions; one’s eyes close, as though dazzled by beholding such a wealth of imagery.”
Moritz Moszkowski (born Breslau, August 23, 1854; died Paris, March 4, 1925)
Caprice Espagnol, op. 37 (composed 1885)
Born into a well-off Jewish family of Polish descent, Moritz Moszkowski entered the conservatory in Dresden at the age of eleven. By the time he was seventeen, he was invited to join the faculty of Berlin’s Neue Akademie der Tonkunst, where he would teach for the next quarter century. Before he was twenty, he was touring Europe as one of the most celebrated pianists of his time. In 1875, he and Franz Liszt shared a stage in a two-piano version of Moszkowski “Piano Concerto in B minor, op. 3,” which was subsequently lost.
During the 1880s, Moszkowski’s health began to suffer, cutting into his performing schedule but allowing him more time to compose and teach. His first wife left him for a poet in the early 1890s. His second wife left him for his closest friend in 1910. The fortune he had amassed as a performer and composer had been invested in Russian, Polish, and German securities that lost all their value when World War I broke out. In spite of the efforts of friends and former students, he spent the last decade of his life in relative poverty.
The great Polish piano virtuoso Ignace Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) declared that “after Chopin, Moszkowski best understands how to write for the piano.” Written in 1885, “Caprice Espagnol, op. 37” brims with Spanish rhythms that made it a concert favorite of such great twentieth century pianists as Josef Hofmann (1876-1957) and Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969).