Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813 ? 1888) was a French
composer and one of the greatest pianists of his day.
His attachment to his Jewish origins is displayed both
in his life and his work. He entered the Conservatoire
de Paris at the age of six, earning many awards, and as
an adult became a famous virtuoso and teacher. Although
early in his life he was socially active and good
friends with prominent musicians and artists including
Eugène Delacroix, Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin, he
gradually withdrew from the concert platform after
1848, and he lived a reclusive life in Paris until his
death in 1888.
His compositions for solo piano include some of the
most fiendishly difficult ever written, and performers
who can master them are few and far between. "Trente
Chants" was published in 1857. and included the
romantic first piece: "Assez Vivement" (Deeply
The sweeping Assez vivement that opens the first
collection of Chants would seem to be Alkan at his most
straightforward -- peremptory, soaring, lyrically
arresting -- until a certain nagging similarity to the
first piece of Mendelssohn's first set of Lieder ohne
Worte (songs without words), Op. 19, is identified,
though it is more apparent to the performer than to the
listener. If both place an evenly spaced melody over an
accompaniment of distinctively purling arpeggios, their
effects are very different; Mendelssohn's little piece
is an invitation to domesticity, while Alkan's
elaborately justifies his direction for playing avec
There can be no doubt of Alkan's admiration -- he is
found performing Mendelssohn's works early and late.
Perhaps their similarity of temperament, tokened by a
certain primness, briskness, and fastidious elegance,
led Alkan to delineate his own characteristic features
by direct, occasionally pathological, comparison.
The first and second collections of Chants, sharing
opus number 38, were published by Richault in 1857 for
piano (in E Major) however, I created this arrangement
for Concert (Pedal) Harp in Eb Major.