Belle Époque reveals music that enchanted the salons of early 20th Century Paris
Leslie Howard and Mattia Ometto irresistibly plead the case for a long overdue revival of Hahn's instrumental music through performances brimming with the hallmarks of French musical art: luxe, calme et volupté - luxury, elegance & refinement.
Howard points out that because the surface of the music, its melody and harmony, is so beguiling it is easy to overlook how perfect the underlying craftsmanship and construction of these pieces is. Writing for two pianos and one piano, four hands, has most commonly been executed in a manner that compresses of orchestral ideas for keyboard. Hahn’s pieces are conceived with the nature of two pianos or four hands at the one keyboard to the fore, offering possibilities beyond the capabilities of the single player.
The interplay between two pianos is notable in the music of the first CD while the mastery of sonority and seamless lines are features of the piano four hands music of the second CD. Howard suggests that it is as though the music was conceived with one pianist with four hands in mind.
Hahn was the ultimate child virtuoso, admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at 10 where he became a composition student of Massenet. As a composer from the outset his peers were awed by his singular gift, the ability to capture the subtleties of language and emotion in music. It is reported that the great Victor Hugo wept when he heard the setting of one of his poems by the 16-year-old Hahn.
At the same time as many painters and sculptors were struggling to make ends meet in the garrets of fin de siècle Montmartre there were others, Proust and Hahn among them, who had sufficient wealth to afford them the possibility to develop their art in relative comfort and with the luxury of time for reflection.
Hahn’s charm and social graces allied with his musical gifts gave him entrée into Paris’s finest salons into which he introduced his friend and lover Marcel Proust. Hahn’s music blossomed in this milieu and although his music was not revolutionary, it was cherished in circles where he also was adored.
The time has come to revisit and rejoice in these perfectly constructed miniatures.