March 29, 2008

March 29 | Charles-Valentin Alkan

November 30, 1813 - March 29, 1888: Age 74

Alkan was a French composer, teacher, and recluse. As a young man he played alongside such celebrated musicians as Liszt, Rubinstein, and Chopin. But in his 30s a couple of professional disappointments and his natural tendencies drew him out of the limelight, preferring to teach and compose in relative seclusion for the latter half of his life.

He also spent a lot of time studying the Bible and the Talmud, and himself translated both the Old and New Testament into French from the original Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek.

One story goes that in 1888 he was reaching to get a copy of the Talmud from a high shelf, and the bookcase fell on him, killing him. A catchy story (it caught me!) but untrue. A more believable and no less bizarre version, attested in a personal letter written by one of his students, was that he died when trapped beneath a falling coatrack. Those coats can get heavy, even in late March. Another myth that went around was that his obituary read, "Alkan is dead. He had to die in order to prove his existence." However this is also probably untrue.

If, like me, you've never heard of him before, here is a link to a YouTube of a virtuoso performing one of his compositions: proof that his relative obscurity is a function of his lack of personal promotion and the difficulty of his compositions. Nobody is going to try to play this piece for their Grade 8 exam!

Source: Wikipedia

1 comment:

daap said...

Thanks for the post of Jack Gibbons, it was fantastic!