The piano is the perfect vehicle for Salon music; music more suited to the drawing-room as opposed to the concert hall. This genre was popular in Europe in the Nineteenth Century. During this period, many composers were also performers, and they loved to write little pieces to perform at house recitals or soirées, showcasing their talents in relatively short but nevertheless effective bursts of flamboyance. Salon or Parlour pieces can be elegant, attractive works. They are usually brief and in a Romantic style, focusing on virtuoso display or emotional, sentimental character. Salon style pieces have continued to be very popular throughout the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century too, and whilst ‘house party’ recitals which were so popular in the Romantic era, are less common today, many performers still enjoy presenting these exquisitely formed miniatures.
Composers who wrote works that fall into this genre include Thalberg, Chopin, Chaminade, Moscheles, Paderewski, Satie, Gottschalk, Moszkowski, Grainger and Franz Liszt. Some of Liszt’s many Operatic Transcriptions could be considered Salon music, and the ultimate Salon piece must surely be the Grand Galop Chromatique S.219 which was a regular addition to Liszt’s recitals. Complete with popular tunes of the day, Liszt’s transcriptions were suitably taxing technically to have no doubt impressed all who heard them. Salon style works weren’t really intended to be profound, but rather viewed as enjoyable ‘entertaining’ outpourings, however, many of these works are beautifully crafted and to dismiss them as irreverent is surely a mistake.
Norwegian composer Christian Sinding (1856-1941) was regarded as the successor to Edward Grieg, primarily because he wrote highly romantic, lyrical music. His compositions include a large number of songs, pieces for the piano, the violin (he was a violinist) and chamber music (however, he also wrote symphonies, concertos and choral music). Whilst popular in his lifetime, his music is now relatively obscure except for one piece; Frühlingsrauschen, Op. 32, No. 3, normally known as the Rustle of Spring. This delightful little piece has been very popular with pianists over the years and was composed in 1896. It falls consummately into the Salon genre and provides a wonderful opportunity for pianists to explore colour as well as demonstrate dexterity.
The Rustle of Spring is defined by its beautiful melody which is mostly resplendent in the left hand and consists of sweeping dotted note phrases and rapid scalic patterns. This is accompanied by rippling, scintillating arpeggio figurations which cascade around the keyboard creating waterfalls of sound, and are occasionally split between the hands. There are a few technically challenging sections, but generally this work falls easily under the hands and the restless, agitated atmosphere creates the excitement of Spring-time, as suggested in the title. Marked Agitato, the tempo is equally as important as expression; too fast and the character and sentiment will be lost.
Like many Salon works, the success of this piece relies on the frequent repetition of the theme in various guises and the florid, forward moving figurations which create an urgent, passionate feel. Sinding employs chromatic shifts which briefly move away from the home key of D flat major, generating drama and restlessness. This piece requires judicious pedalling as it’s easy to swamp the rapid passagework. I recorded the Rustle of Spring in 2002 at the Wigmore Hall in London and had the good fortune to play it on a fabulous Steinway model D instrument.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
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