Emil Wilhelm Emilius Zinn Hartmann – Piano Concerto in F minor
(21.02.1836 Copenhagen – 18. July 1898 Copenhagen)
Preface Siegfried Wagner, Franz Xaver Mozart, Axel Gade – all these names are examples of composers who fall into the unloved category of „children of musical geniuses“. Among them is the Danish composer Emil Hartmann. As the son of Johann Peter Emilius Hartmann (1805-1900), he was always only „the son of the great Hartmann“ in his home country and could hardly hold his own against the powerful shadow of his father. From 1830 until his death in 1900, his father was, along with Niels Wilhelm Gade, Denmark‘s leading composer and made a lasting contribution to the „national tone“ of Danish art music. Under these circumstances, it was extremely difficult for the son Emil Hartmann to secure a place in the domestic concert scene. This was not at all necessary, because in Germany Emil Hartmann was frenetically celebrated. His works conquered the German musical capitals and made him the most popular Danish composer there next to Niels W. Gade. Nevertheless, the shadow of his father, under which he saw the „light of day“ in 1836, made him all his life think with sorrow of his Danish homeland, where he was denied any individuality and a personal style. However, this does not correspond to the facts, which can easily be verified by his Nordic-influenced works with Mendelssohnian influence.
Hartmann did not receive any musical training in the true sense of the word. Apart from a few piano lessons with Niels Ravnkilde – a pupil of his father – there is no evidence of any official musical studies, although his father was certainly helpful at the beginning. At the age of 22 Emil Hartmann celebrated his debut as a composer. On the occasion of a Holy Thursday service, his Passionspsalme for soprano, choir and orchestra were performed, with which his career slowly gained momentum. This was followed by the ballet Fjeldstuen (The Mountain Hut) at the Royal Theater, which became a great success. Due to the steadily growing hopes in the young musician, he received the Anckersche Legat in 1867, which enabled Hartmann to go on a six-month study trip to Germany. The budding composer was extremely enthusiastic about the vibrant musical life of the neighboring country and therefore wished to „set the tone“ there himself one day. And indeed – Hartmann began to gain a foothold in German musical life relatively quickly. Although his wife Bolette and children were waiting at home in Denmark, Germany increasingly became Hartmann‘s second center of life. His breakthrough came in 1868, when Carl Liebig played his E minor symphony, later not counted, on several occasions in Berlin with great success. Further works and performances followed, so that Hartmann was able to report with pleasure to his wife about his triumphal procession across the German concert podiums. He owed his success not least to the numerous contacts he had found over the years who were willing to support his work. In order to get performances, he harassed them in a sometimes penetrating manner, which, however, also led to his success – Hartmann is mentioned around 1870 in the same sentence with Niels Wilhelm Gade, Anton Svendsen and Edvard Grieg!
In addition to his symphonic works, his concertos for soloists in particular brought Emil Hartmann great success. Before the composer began writing this piano concerto between 1887 and 1890, he had already composed a violin concerto and a cello concerto. Of the three works, the piano concerto found the least circulation, which is certainly due to the fact that it is not a typical virtuoso piece. The technical challenges are not very high, but the work requires a musically sensitive performance.
The concerto begins with a stormy theme in the main key of F minor, which is followed by a very lyrical secondary theme in A-flat major (letter B) that contrasts sharply with the propulsive main theme because of its rhythmically broad shaping in half notes. The development, beginning on page 27, pits the two themes against each other, with the lyrical secondary theme seeming to gain the upper hand. In the cadenza that follows, however (beginning on page 51), Hartmann handles the minor theme in virtuoso fashion, which ultimately also brings the first movement to a powerful close.
The second movement in D flat major, titled Canzonette, begins directly with the ingratiating, song-like main theme by the piano. Distinctly romantic and discreetly accompanied by the strings, it gives the performers the best opportunity to display their musical expressiveness. In the brief B section (letter B), Hartmann allows revelry motives to resound in the orchestra, chordally played around by the piano. In the concluding repetition of the A section, the main theme is heard again, whereby Hartmann has the piano accompanied by the orchestra with extremely intimate orchestration. In pur major , this romantic movement exhales.
A dotted motif forms the beginning of the last movement. After a brief intensification of this motif, Hartmann leads into the joyously moving F major final theme, unmistakably characterized by its upbeat with a sixth leap. Subsequently, various short motives are inserted and varied, resulting in a thematically varied movement that nevertheless maintains its structure of tension through the recurrence of motives. Joyful major-key runs in the piano end the approximately 25-minute work to great effect.
In contrast to Hartmann‘s Violin Concerto, which was frequently performed during the composer‘s lifetime, there are only two recorded performances of his Piano Concerto. The premiere took place in March 1891 at the Copenhagen Musikverein. Niels Wilhelm Gade was supposed to conduct the concerto, but he died in December of the previous year, so Emil Hartmann took up the baton himself as his successor. The piano part was played by the young pianist Agnes Hansen (1865-1935, later Agnes Adler). The concert was received extremely warmly, with each movement applauded separately, and the Canzonette had to be repeated. A critic in the newspaper „København“ marveled that the audience was „in seventh heaven,“ although the concerto „tasted too much like sugar water.“ The work, which was indeed extremely melodious, nevertheless pleased the critics as well – they praised the composer‘s mastery of form, but also agreed that Hartmann had created more important works. At a later performance in Berlin, one critic remarked that it was „pure German music“ and placed it near Weber‘s soloist concertos.
When Emil Hartmann died in 1898 – he had been ill with nerves for an early period – things quickly became quiet about him. In the following years, Germany develops into a stronghold of musical currents, through which Hartmann‘s music is quickly displaced. In Denmark, on the other hand, he never received the recognition that he should have received as an important representative of Danish musical art. This was explained by the fact that the „Nordic tone“ was perceived abroad as something strange and special, but in Denmark it was mundane. Only in recent years has Hartmann been rediscovered, with his chamber music in particular enjoying renewed popularity and being performed. The piano concerto was released in 2004 with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra under Hannu Lintu with Per Salo as soloist and is just waiting to be performed again in the concert hall.
Christian Biskup. 2021